Red Bull Racing lock out front row in Bahrain

Sparks fly behind Max Verstappen navy Red Bull Racing car

Max Verstappen has led a Red Bull Racing front-row lockout ahead of teammate Sergio Perez for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Verstappen saw off a challenge from Perez by just 0.138 seconds in a tightly fought qualifying session, but he had the benefit of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc abandoning his final effort in a strategic play to keep fresh tyres for the race.

It was a burden eased for the Dutchman, who has been struggling to get his car into the dominant sweet spot he found during preseason testing.

“It’s been a bit of a tough start to the weekend, yesterday and today, not really finding my rhythm, but luckily in qualifying we manage to put the best pieces together,” he said. “I was actually positively surprised to be on pole after the struggles I had in practice.

“Having such a strong car with Checo up there as well, it’s amazing, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Perez was satisfied to secure the front row and said the team had more to come in the race.

“I think to get this start for the team is really special,” he said. “If anything, we prepared much more to do the race. We have more of a Sunday race car at the moment underneath us.”

Leclerc qualified third, and despite not setting a final lap, the Monegasque said he was pleasantly surprised by his car’s pace.

“I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise, to be honest, because I did not expect that.”

Carlos Sainz will share the second row with his teammate, albeit he was close to half a second off pole.

Fernando Alonso qualified a sensational fifth for a surging Aston Martin. Though his final lap, coming in at 0.627 seconds off the pace, didn’t quite match the pre-qualifying hype that he might be a pole contender, it’s nonetheless an enormous step up the grid for last year’s seventh-best team.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will start sixth and seventh on a lukewarm day for Mercedes than ended close to 0.7 seconds off the pace. It was an improvement on expectation but still drops the team down to fourth in the pecking order.

Lance Stroll lines up eighth in the second Aston Martin car as he continues his recovery from surgery on the wrist he broke in a bike accident two weeks ago.

Esteban Ocon was ninth for Alpine ahead of returning Nico Hülkenberg in his Haas.

Lando Norris qualified 11th after missing out on the top-10 shootout by 0.25 seconds.

Valtteri Bottas will lead Alfa Romeo teammate Zhou Guanyu in 12th and 13th, the pair split by only 0.03 seconds, with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda following in 14th.

Thai driver Alex Albon will line up alongside rookie teammate Logan Sargeant in 15th and 16th, the American the quickest first-timer of the day.

Kevin Magnussen was 17th for Haas, outqualified by his teammate, the returning Nico Hülkenberg.

Australian rookie Oscar Piastri put his McLaren 18th ahead of AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries on his first weekend as a full-time driver.

Pierre Gasly will line up 20th after having his best lap time deleted for driving off the track, though the infringing time would have been good enough for only 17th anyway.