BY ROBERT HAILE
Red Bull have started the season in pole position as Max Verstappen beats everyone as they carry over their dominance from preseason testing.
Verstappen took pole in the first qualifying session of the season with a 1:28.997 with Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton 0.388 behind in second followed by team mate Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc for Ferrari.
Pace setter Verstappen said: “”It’s a great feeling to be on pole and I haven’t experienced a season start like this.
“After the victory in Abu Dhabi the whole Team has been pushing really hard and even more motivated.
“There is still no guarantee for the rest of the year but everyone here and back at the factory have done a great job to give me a car like this and they should be very proud. Honda have also been working very hard this winter, just like every year.
“They are flat out all of the time and like us they just want to win. It is really enjoyable working with them and they are very passionate which I like, so a big credit to Honda for the result today as they have had a great winter.
“After testing it is always difficult to know where you are and we really didn’t know how it would be in qualifying but when you have a lap like that in Q3 and such a good feeling in the car you can be happy. We have to finish it off tomorrow but if I can have a good start I’m confident we can do a good job.”
Seven time world champion Hamilton said: “Max did a great lap, nearly 0.4 is a big gap so we have some work to do. The car was feeling good in Q1 and Q2, we took until the last minute trying to find the right set-up and it felt sweet.
“Just at the end I couldn’t get any more from it but still, it was exciting. I’m immensely proud of everyone. We’ve worked very hard over the last week to try and understand the package that we have.
“We made some steps forward but we couldn’t compete with that last lap Max did. P2 puts us in a position to cause Red Bull trouble tomorrow.”
Bottas said: “Today was a lot better than testing. Throughout qualifying I was feeling more and more comfortable. At least we are closer to Red Bull than we were in testing. We have two cars to battle against one Red Bull tomorrow.
“I had to use two sets of tyres in Q1 so I only had one new set for Q3 which put me at a disadvantage. But starting from third at this track isn’t bad so I’m looking forward to it. Red Bull seem to have more stability, particularly in the wind. We have two cars in the top three so we can definitely still fight for the win.”
AlphaTauri continued to impress as Pierre Gasly starts fifth ahead of both McLarens as Lando Norris was beaten by new team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s new driver Carlos Sainz will start on the fourth row after qualifying in eighth as the returning Fernando Alonso in the Alpine came ninth before Aston Martin made there return to Formula 1 with a tenth place in qualifying.
Red Bull’s second driver troubles continued as Sergio Perez went out in the second session of qualifying, although Perez can fight his way through the field after coming from last place in the second Bahrain Grand Prix.
Alfa Romeo were split by AlphaTauri’s rookie Yuki Tsunoda as Antonio Giovinazzi beat former world champion Kimi Räikkönen.
The first of the Williams drivers, George Russell, will start in fifteenth.
Then comes the other Alpine driven by Esteban Ocon followed by Nicholas Latifi for Williams.
Four times world champion Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin is a surprise name at the back as Haas complete the back row of the grid with Mick Schumacher beating Nikita Mazepin.
Rookie Schumacher said: “I enjoyed the experience a lot. In general, I was happy with my performance today, I’d say I was about 95 percent happy with my lap. I had one little moment with it where I felt I could have done better. To be honest, after having had a disruptive run, it was kind of ok.
“The car had felt good coming from FP3 and the communication with the team was really good. There’s definitely room for improvement on my side, so I’m just looking forward to being able to get into another qualifying soon. The race is going to be interesting as we see how the cars are going to behave in windier conditions. My main focus is to learn and to gain experience and build on that for the future.”
At the end of the first qualifying session Mazepin span at turn one bringing out the yellow flags which mean drivers following had to slow down this seems to have affected Vettel and Ocon.
Pole position – Max Verstappen – 1:28.997
Q1 (Third Session) – Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Lando Norris (McLaren), Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin).
Q2 (Second Session) – Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), George Russell (Williams).
Q3 (First Session) – Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nikita Mazepin (Haas)