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Qualifying report
Formula 1 Bahrain GP

F1 Bahrain GP: Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 for season opener

Max Verstappen led a Red Bull 1-2 in qualifying for Formula 1’s 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix season opener, with Charles Leclerc third but unexpectedly missing the final Q3 fliers.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Carlos Sainz finished fourth ahead of his compatriot Fernando Alonso, with the Aston Martin driver only running once in the final segment due to having one set fewer of the soft tyres compared to the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers.

Verstappen had led Leclerc after the first runs in Q3 by 0.103s, but just as the action was due to reach qualifying’s climax the latter was suddenly climbing from his Ferrari and was shuffled down to third by Perez’s final lap improvement.

Ahead, Verstappen had already gone even quicker on his second run to post a 1m29.708s, which meant he ended up clear of his team-mate by 0.138s and Leclerc by 0.292s.

Sainz was able to make a second Q3 flier and set a personal best, but ended up fourth behind his team-mate.

Then came Alonso and George Russell, who led his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in sixth and seventh – the Black Arrows cars also completing just a single run in Q3.

Lance Stroll did likewise, albeit running shortly after Alonso, and he took eighth while running with his injured right wrist.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon took ninth ahead of new Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, who marked his first time back in qualifying as a full time F1 driver since 2019 by making Q3 but lost his only time in it for going too far beyond track limits at Turn 4.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

In Q2, Stroll’s last-gasp improvement to sneak through in 10th knocked out McLaren’s Lando Norris, who himself had only just progressed from Q1.

All of the drivers eliminated in Q2 set personal bests on their final runs but were shuffled back, bar Yuki Tsunoda, whose best effort for AlphaTauri just cemented his place in 14th.

Alex Albon also did not improve on his final lap for Williams, which was offset from the rest, with four minutes of Q2 remaining.

Running solo, Albon ended up abandoning the lap after appearing to understeer off and beyond the heavily scrutinised Turn 4 track limit, after which he also went off cutting behind the Turn 7 fast left and so toured back to the pits still in 15th.

Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu were the other drivers eliminated in the middle segment.

Before that, Q1 had barely begun when it was red flagged after Leclerc lost two pieces of his front wheel fairing running down the pit straight ahead of his first run on the mediums.

The first part flew off shortly after he opened his DRS and then when he braked and locked up – likely as a result of the missing aero piece – a second, larger piece fell off the underside of the Ferrari and came to rest on the track, after which race control opted to stop the session so the pieces could be recovered.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Erik Junius

When the action restarted after an eight-minute delay, Leclerc returned to the track after Ferrari repaired his car and he went through with the third quickest time behind Sainz and Russell.

With a significant track evolution factor, all the drivers bar Sainz were running when the opening segment concluded, with Kevin Magnussen completing his final lap with a personal ahead of the chequered flag emerging but being shuffled down as others improved later and the Dane was out in 17th.

That was initially where Pierre Gasly finished his first qualifying for Alpine, but running too far beyond track limits on his last lap out of the final corner meant he was dropped to the rear of the field.

That elevated Nyck de Vries one spot on his first regular F1 appearance, the AlphaTauri driver finishing behind Oscar Piastri, who could not escape the drop zone having languished there with Norris after they had completed their Q1 banker laps on used softs as their first runs on new ones had been ruined by the red flag.

Norris only squeaked through into Q2 as the final 2023 rookie, Logan Sargeant, set an identical time on the final lap of Q1 and so was dumped out in 16th per the rule that means a driver that set a time first is placed ahead if a rival subsequently matches their effort exactly.

Full qualifying results:

Cla Driver Time Gap Interval
1 Netherlands Max Verstappen 1'29.708    
2 Mexico Sergio Perez 1'29.846 0.138 0.138
3 Monaco Charles Leclerc 1'30.000 0.292 0.154
4 Spain Carlos Sainz 1'30.154 0.446 0.154
5 Spain Fernando Alonso 1'30.336 0.628 0.182
6 United Kingdom George Russell 1'30.340 0.632 0.004
7 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton 1'30.384 0.676 0.044
8 Canada Lance Stroll 1'30.836 1.128 0.452
9 France Esteban Ocon 1'30.984 1.276 0.148
10 Germany Nico Hulkenberg      

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