Max Verstappen took the first pole position of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix after Charles Leclerc abandoned his shot at a final lap.
Verstappen led Leclerc by 0.103s after their first laps, but Ferrari opted to save Leclerc’s set of soft tires for the race rather than burn them in a pole attempt, handing the Dutchman an open goal.
The reigning champion didn’t need to be asked twice, improving his time to cement top spot for the first pole of the year ahead of teammate Sergio Perez.
But after a scrappy weekend so far, Verstappen was surprised to be able to lock out pole
“It’s been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today not really finding my rhythm,” he said. “I was actually positively surprised to be on pole after the struggles I had in practice.
“Luckily in qualifying we managed to put the best pieces together.
“Having such a strong car with Checo up there as well, it’s amazing, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Perez’s second lap was quick enough to force Verstappen to improve his first time, and the Mexican said he was looking forward to having better race pace on Sunday.
“I wasn’t totally comfortable with the balance – certainly you can always improve a tenth on your lap – but 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 a Sunday race car at the moment underneath us.”
Leclerc completed the top three with his original lap time, which put him 0.3s off pole, describing Ferrari’s pole-contending pace as a pleasant surprise.
“I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise, to be honest, because I did not expect that.
“However, we need to keep in our mind the race run. We seem to be a little bit on the back foot compared to Red Bull.”
Carlos Sainz, having looked uncomfortable in the car all weekend, was fourth but almost half a second adrift.
Fernando Alonso qualified fifth in only a minor deflation of the hype around Aston Martin this weekend. The Spaniard was more than 0.6s off the pace but squeezed out George Russell for the sport by 0.004s, with Lewis Hamilton fractionally further back in seventh.
Lance Stroll was eighth in the sister Aston Martin machine ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas drive Nico Hulkenberg, who had his fastest lap deleted for track limits.
Lando Norris will start 11th on the grid after missing out on Q1 by a quarter of a second. Alfa Romeo teammates Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu follow in 12th and 13th at 1.1s adrift.
Yuki Tsunoda qualified 14th for AlphaTauri ahead of Williams driver Alex Albon, who didn’t set a time in Q2 due to damage to his front wing.
Logan Sargeant set an identical time to Lando Norris in his bid to escape the bottom five but was knocked out in 16th by virtue of setting the time later than the Briton.
Both were a remarkably close 0.659s to the benchmark time in a Q1 session that saw the entire field spread over just 1.188s.
Kevin Magnussen didn’t complete his final flying lap on his way to 17th on the grid for Haas ahead of rookie McLaren driver Oscar Piastri.
Nyck de Vries was 19th in his first F1 qualifying session for AlphaTauri, some 0.7s slower than teammate Yuki Tsunoda.
Pierre Gasly’s first Saturday in Alpine colors was one to forget. The Frenchman qualified 17th but had his best lap time deleted for exceeding track limits, dropping him to last on the grid.