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Formula 1 Bahrain GP

Verstappen "positively surprised" by pole as Red Bull warns of better race pace

Max Verstappen is “positively surprised” to have landed pole for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix as Red Bull warns Formula 1 rivals that its race pace will be even stronger.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

After Red Bull appeared to be the strongest team by some margin during pre-season testing last week, Verstappen had to persevere with more understeer during Friday practice as a result of Red Bull electing to raise the ride height of its RB19.

That left team-mate Sergio Perez - more comfortable with a lazy front axle - to top FP1 before Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso ran fastest in FP2 and FP3.

But then two-time world champion Verstappen stormed to his 21st F1 pole position by 0.138s over Perez.

Charles Leclerc, who missed the final shootout as part of a deliberate move to carry over an extra set of soft tyres for the race, led an all-Ferrari second row ahead of Alonso in fifth.

That turnaround left Verstappen “positively surprised” to have set the pace.

The Dutch racer said: “I was actually positively surprised being on pole after the struggles I had in practice. So that's positive and, normally, our race car is better. I think it's been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today.

“Not really finding my rhythm. But luckily, in qualifying, I think we managed to put the best pieces together.

“Compared to last year, I think everyone knows a bit more what they're doing with the car. So naturally, I think you already start off better and more competitive.

“The changes I think slowed down the car a bit, but we are still going faster.

“So that's, of course, a great thing to see. I think again, throughout the year, you will see that everyone is increasing their performance again a lot.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

The top seven cars were split by under 0.7s in Q3 while less than 1.2s spanned the entire field in Q1.

Perez, who was still not entirely happy with the RB19’s balance, reckoned he could not recall a tighter qualifying session.

However, he warned rivals that Red Bull still had capacity to pull clear in the grand prix as a result of the team being much better prepared for the race and having compromised car set-up for qualifying.

The Mexican said: “I wasn't totally comfortable with the balance. I believe certainly, you can always improve a tenth on your lap.

“But I think to get this start for the team is really special.

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“If anything, we prepared much more to the race. We have more of a Sunday race car at the moment underneath us. We knew we had to do some compromises for quali, which we ended up doing.

“They were not ideal. But hopefully tomorrow it pays out and we can have a very strong race.”

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