Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Verstappen leads Red Bull front row lock-out after Leclerc sits out last run

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying

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World champion Max Verstappen has secured pole position ahead of Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez for the opening round of the Formula 1 season in Bahrain.

Verstappen improved on his own provisional pole time on his final attempt of the session to beat Perez to pole by a tenth of a second. The Red Bulls were the only cars to breach the 1’30 barrier, with the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr occupying the second row. Fernando Alonso will start fifth for Aston Martin.


The first truly competitive session of the 2023 Formula 1 season began under the lights with track temperature hovering just below 30C and slowly dropping. The two AlphaTauris of Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries were first to join the track, quickly followed by the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr.

But as Leclerc exited the final corner to begin his first qualifying lap of the season, part of a wheel arch on his SF-23 flew off along the pit straight. Leclerc immediately locked up under braking for the first corner and abandoned his run. Around a minute later, the session was red flagged to recover “several pieces of debris” on the circuit.

After a brief delay, the session restarted and all 20 cars swiftly took to the track. Tsunoda held the early top spot with the first flying lap of the season with a 1’32.124, but that was quickly beaten by the majority of the field.

Unexpectedly, it wasn’t the Aston Martin and Red Bull drivers who headed the times at this early stage. After each driver had set their first representative laps, Sainz was quickest for Ferrari, just over half a tenth ahead of George Russell’s Mercedes and Leclerc third in the second Ferrari.

Lance Stroll’s first lap time was deleted for breaching track limits at turn 13, dropping him to the back of the field, the only driver not to be credited with a lap time. As the field all returned to the pits after their first runs, the drop zone consisted of Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas, the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant’s Williams and Stroll in 20th.

As the minutes ticked down, the entire field peeled out of the pit lane for a second run, aside for Sainz on top of the times. Red Bull chose to send both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez out on fresh soft tyres, while Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin opted to stay on used softs.

Stroll successfully completed a legitimate lap time to move comfortably safe up in fifth, as did Hulkenberg on his return to Formula 1. It was not a good session for the three rookies, however, with Sargeant the first driver eliminated in 16th, with Piastri and De Vries also both knocked out in 18th and 19th, respectively.

Lando Norris squeezed through into Q2 by the narrowest possible margin, having set an identical time to Sargeant within three-thousandths of a second. But there was frustration for both Kevin Magnussen, whose session ended in 17th, and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who was out of the top 15 positions before having his best time deleted for exceeding track limits, dropping him to the rear of the pack in 20th.

Q1 result

155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’30.9936
263George RussellMercedesW141’31.0570.0646
316Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’31.0940.1018
414Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’31.1580.1656
518Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’31.1840.1916
627Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-231’31.2040.2118
71Max VerstappenRed BullRB191’31.2950.3026
822Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red BullAT041’31.4000.4079
923Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW451’31.4610.4686
1011Sergio PerezRed BullRB191’31.4790.4866
1177Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’31.5040.5116
1231Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’31.5080.5156
1344Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’31.5430.5506
1424Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’31.6150.6226
154Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’31.6520.6597
162Logan SargeantWilliams-MercedesFW451’31.6520.6596
1720Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-231’31.8920.8996
1881Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’32.1011.1087
1921Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri-Red BullAT041’32.1211.1289
2010Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’32.1811.1886

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The fans in the grandstands were treated to a few minutes of quiet as the teams were content to remain in the garage as the second phase of qualifying began. Eventually, 14 of the 15 drivers headed out for their first runs of Q2, only Albon opting to stay in the comfort of the garage.

Red Bull again chose to use fresh tyres for their first flying lap attempts and it seemed to be an effective move as Verstappen went quickest with a 1’30.503, almost a quarter of a second faster than team mate Perez. The Mercedes of Hamilton and Russell went third and fourth after their first attempt of the session, with Alonso fifth ahead of the two Ferrari drivers.

With the track clear, Albon took advantage to make his first attempt. However, a mistake at turn six ruined his lap and he returned to the pit lane, opting not to make a second run.

It was therefore a battle to see which four drivers would also join Albon in being eliminated from the session, with Zhou Guanyu, Stroll, Ocon and Tsunoda all needing to improve if they wanted to reach the third and final phase. The Aston Martin driver was the obvious candidate to progress, Stroll having used old tyres for his first run in Q2, and having lost time when he didn’t see a late signal instructing him to stop at the weigh bridge and had to be pushed back to the pit entrance by his team.

Zhou failed to improve by enough to put himself safe, with Tsunoda also eliminated a full second behind the Alfa Romeo drivers. Ocon, however, did put in a good enough lap to reach the top ten, knocking Valtteri Bottas out in the second Alfa Romeo. That was relief for Alpine, as the other car of Gasly had gone out in Q1. The same situation played out at Haas where the returning Nico Hulkenberg reached Q3, Magnussen having gone out in the previous session.

As the chequered flag flew, only Stroll had the opportunity to move himself out of danger with his final lap. He duly did so, moving up to tenth by two tenths of a second, knocking out Norris in 11th place.

Leclerc ended the session quickest of all with a 1’30.282, making use of a fresh set of softs to lower the quickest time of the weekend heading into the all important pole position shoot-out.

Q2 result

116Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’30.28214
21Max VerstappenRed BullRB191’30.5030.2219
363George RussellMercedesW141’30.5070.22512
444Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’30.5130.23112
555Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’30.5150.23312
614Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’30.6450.36312
711Sergio PerezRed BullRB191’30.7460.4649
827Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-231’30.8090.52714
931Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’30.9140.63212
1018Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’31.1270.84512
114Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’31.3811.09913
1277Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’31.4431.16112
1324Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’31.4731.19112
1422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red BullAT041’32.5102.22815
1523Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW45No time8

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With the top ten from Q2 separated by just 0.845s, the final 12 minute battle for pole position looked set to be one of the most intense in years. The Red Bull and the Ferrari pairs were the first cars onto the track, joined by Stroll’s Aston Martin who, unlike the others, was sent out on a used set of soft tyres.

Verstappen was the first car across the line to set a benchmark time and he delivered a 1’29.897, the first time anyone had breached the 1’30 barrier all weekend. Perez could not match his team mate, almost a quarter of a second slower, while Leclerc stopped the clock at exactly 90 seconds, his 1’30.000 leaving him a tenth off the world champion. Sainz was four tenths slower after an error exiting turn seven, while Stroll was considerably off the pace on his used tyres.

As the Red Bulls and Ferraris returned to the pits, Alonso and the two Mercedes headed out for their only attempts of the session. Alonso could only manage a 1’30.336, putting him fourth behind Perez but ahead of Sainz. Mercedes also could not trouble the provisional pole sitters, with Russell going fifth and Hamilton seventh, almost half a second from Verstappen’s best.

Red Bull headed back out in the final minutes, as Alonso and the Mercedes came back in to the pits, their qualifying over. Surprisingly, Leclerc was not sent back out by Ferrari, leaving the battle for pole position as a shootout between the Red Bulls and Sainz.

Verstappen improved to a 1’29.708, lowering his own provisional pole time, but while Perez did break into the 1’29s, it was not enough to deny his team mate the first pole of the season. Sainz could only manage fourth, jumping ahead of Alonso but remaining behind team mate Leclerc.

The two Mercedes finished the session sixth and seventh, with Stroll in eighth after improving on his first run in the final moments. Ocon secured ninth on the grid for Alpine, while Hulkenberg will start tenth on his return to the F1 grid.

Q3 result

11Max VerstappenRed BullRB191’29.70815
211Sergio PerezRed BullRB191’29.8460.13815
316Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’30.0000.29217
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’30.1540.44618
514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’30.3360.62815
663George RussellMercedesW141’30.3400.63215
744Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’30.3840.67615
818Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’30.8361.12818
931Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’30.9841.27615
1027Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-23No time17

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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    Will Wood
    Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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    66 comments on “Verstappen leads Red Bull front row lock-out after Leclerc sits out last run”

    1. Is Hamilton still trying new experimental parts sacrificing performance in favour of Russel like last year?

      1. No, they built the car to suit their Nr1 driver.

        1. There wasn’t much to choose between them last year, in a way hamilton drove like senna (faster but threw away points), russell like prost (bit slower but a safer points-scorer), too early to speak about number 1 drivers, unless hamilton starts declining ofc.

      2. It’s just four hundreds between them. Points are given tomorrow.

      3. Yeah, because he’s starting 10 places down on Russell, right?

      4. Russell is running a higher downforce setup that Hamilton. On a track with 3 drs zones you can understand why he would have the edge in the corners and also in preserving his tires til the end. No advantage really gained by Hamilton on the straights to offset this. Where were you when he was ahead all weekend?

    2. The championship is over :)

      1. It was always going to be tough for any team to overhaul such a huge advantage as Red Bull had last season, with Verstappen winning the most races in a single season of all time. That Pérez comfortably takes 2nd today just underlines the advantage they have.

        It’s one of the problems with F1’s obsession with regulation shake-ups and then limiting development both in scope via highly prescriptive regulations and limits on real and virtual testing. It locks in advantages and makes it impossible for teams to differentiate themselves in areas where the leader might be a little weaker. It forces everyone to be good at one or two things, and that just never happens.

        1. It was obvious that the highly upgraded RB19 will carry on from where the RB18 has finished. RBR this year with the handicap they have with the budget cap penalty will throw everything at developing the RB19 and closing the championship earlier than usual. Ferrari aren’t that far behind. Leclerc was a tenth of Verstappen’s time in his first Q3 run.

          Theoretically speaking they can still mount a title challenge if they can stick with RBR in the first part of the season and developing the car at a higher rate doing something similar to what Mercedes did in 2021 when they started the season on the back foot and sorted all their issues by Silverstone. The issue is that Ferrari isn’t Mercedes and don’t have the sale champions mentality and experience.

          1. Budget cap penalty, hasn’t really been that effective yet!

            1. But will be a problem in 2024 as this car was developed in 2022 ….

            2. But will be a problem in 2024

              Only if RBR need to develop the car. If they are as far ahead as they seem right now, they’ll be difficult to catch even if they stand still. Therefore, it’s not completely unrealistic that they may put all of their development into next year’s car, or at least things which will benefit both this and next year’s car.

          2. @tifoso1989 The qualifying runs were a bit difficult to read. Leclerc could probably have gone quicker on a final run on fresh tyres, but equally the gap between Pérez and Verstappen was unusually small so it very much seems like neither actually got the most out of their car (which is perhaps normal at the first race).

            The straight line speed of the Ferrari seems better, but the tyre performance will be crucial. Last year Ferrari tended to fade further into the stints as the Red Bull was just better at keeping the tyres in the right window (except for Austria, where they made the wrong setup decisions).

            Too early to say how fast Ferrari can respond and develop with personnel being moved around.

      2. @tifoso1989 If Alonso was in snapping distance, I’d say not. But Stroll is over a second off the pace. Even with FA wringing the car dry, still half a second down. Hmm. Still some hope left for a title battle, but this was disappointing. I don’t think Red Bull and Max will walk it as they did after Spa last season. But right now they look too smoothly ahead to be seriously troubled.

        1. AM will be 4th fastest car by half season, if not before. Alonso may get a couple of early-season podiums, maybe even a win if things go his way (and the AM race pace is not terrible), but the idea he might challenge for the title is quite far-fetched IMO.

        2. @david-br
          Just to add that Perez is already P2 which suggests that the RB19 is the fastest car. RBR are even better than qualy in terms of race pace and Verstappen still don’t have the car to his liking.

          1. @tifoso1989 but Perez being second is a bit distorted by Leclerc not doing a second run. Leclerc was sitting in P2 after the first run in equal conditions, and could probably have done the same in a second run.

    3. How Ferrari never fail to disappoint in new ways. Where was Leclerc’s final run?
      Ferrari, Mercedes and Alpine look like they’ve a season-long battle ahead – among themselves at least.
      Verstappen hasn’t even got the car sorted to his liking this weekend.

      1. They saved a set of tyres for tomorrow. I think it’s worth to give up a position today to have a better chance for it tomorrow. They don’t have any chance of winning, though, unless Red Bull fails to finish with both cars.

        1. Yet Sainz was out there. And the track was constantly improving, so if it was one run, why so early? And if one of the Ferrari drivers is going to put in a storming final run, we know chances are it’s going to be Leclerc. I guess we’ll see tomorrow if the strategy makes any difference.

          1. @david-br
            Ferrari are already thinking damage limitation. The RB19 showed no sign of tyre wear during testing and during the Bahrein GP weekend. Leclerc was always going to lose to Verstappen in similar fashion to last year. If he can save a set of tyre and focusing on exploiting race variables (SC, VSC….) is better than focusing on Verstappen who is unreachable at the moment in normal race conditions.

            1. @tifoso1989 But that suggests it’ll make little difference either way. So may as well try for pole and have a bit more control over the early stage of the race. Plus: it’s Ferrari. We’ll have to see if their race strategies improve this season.

          2. My guess is that Leclerc’s first set in Q1 was ruined, while Sainz could or can reuse that one.

            1. didn’t he use mediums in run 1?

    4. I’m getting major vibes from Lecler’s body language that he wants to leave Ferrari as soon as possible. Similar to Vettel in 2020.

      1. Even if that’s true, there is no team that can (or is willing to) offer him a better chance to win a championship. Eight teams are doing worse than Ferrari, most of them far worse, and Red Bull doesn’t need him.

        Let’s give Vasseur some time to sort out the personnel, and then see what that leads to in terms of performance. This is very much still a car and engine made under Binotto’s leadership.

        1. + 1. There’s no where for him to go is there. He’s not getting a seat soon at RBR or Mercedes. So staying is a no brainier. Ferrari are hardly miles behind and can improve.

        2. Maybe Audi?

      2. Seb was fired from Ferrari, he didn’t make that choice.

        1. Seb wasn’t fired, Ferrari chose not to retain him, that’s way different.
          Besides, parent poster has a legitimate point. Even though Vettel had no choice in staying, it was visible how worn-out he looked those mid-to-late years. Sometimes I look at Leclerc (and Norris for that matter) and recall his countenance.

          1. so, he was fired, but very politely, is that it?

            1. Nice try. But no.

            2. His contract was done and they didn’t offer him a new one ….

            3. Most people don’t realise the large difference between not extending a fixed-term contract and “being fired”…

            4. Some people don’t realise the small difference being replaced at the end a fixed term contract or before it.

      3. He is maybe thinking of joining McLaren.

      4. Leclerc (and everyone else) will be a LOT happier if the team makes fewer mistakes. They might not have been in a position to win last year had they not, but it wouldn’t be been wrapped up with four races to go.

        For now, he’ll be happy to have the seat he does, as nothing else will be close that has a seat anytime soon.

    5. Ian Mark Gondwe
      4th March 2023, 17:17

      As a Lewis Hamilton fan from his F2 days I am probably the last one to say that processions are boring but apart from the Rosberg, Vettel, and Verstappen years I actually found myself watching less races as Mercedes and Hamilton were in such harmony that it truly was a question of when and not if he would win the championship.

      Given last year, and the fact that Perez comfortably took second on the grid I fear we are in for a few years of Redbull complete dominance.

      With the cutting down of both physical and virtual testing and the budget caps I can’t see anyone developing a car that can close the gap.

      I can’t for the life of me see why just as the field is closing up F1 decided to switch up the regulations. Teams at the front can only develop so much and make marginal gains which means with time those behind will eventually close the gap as happened in the last year of the former regulations. Now we start the cycle again.

      1. I don’t get the regulation switch either. I think they were originally going to pair the ground effects with active suspension and maybe that would have made it closer sooner with a spec system. Seems dumb, but they have done this before. I guess they are looking for a season of Brawn GP to liven up things, but just have another Red Bull period of dominance.

      2. Perez comfortably took second on the grid

        I don’t think that’s a valid way to use “comfortably”. In equal conditions Perez was P3 behind Leclerc, and with an improved track and Leclerc not doing a second run Perez was able to take P2 back by .15s, All of which is, in my book, not “comfortably”.

        Max in that first run was also only about .15s ahead of Leclerc which I wouldn’t call that comfortable either.

        I can’t for the life of me see why just as the field is closing up F1 decided to switch up the regulations.

        Regulation changes are planned years in advance. They didn’t decide to switch them up “just” as the field was closing up. The 2022 regulation changes were first to be introduced in 2021 actually, and were pushed a year back to 2022. Already in 2017 it was announced there would be new regulations in 2021, and at the end of 2019 they were pretty much finalized and announced. 2019, just to remind you, was a pretty dominant year for Mercedes with not a hint of other teams being able to take the fight to Mercedes.
        We have already known for 2 years now that the next shake-up will be in 2026.

        And the “why” of regulation changes should also be easy. New aerodynamic rules to enable closer racing (which is definitely the case) and a cost cap to level the playing ground and let smaller teams catch up or get a look in, eventually of course – the effect of the limitless spending is still to be felt now as bigger teams have been able to prepare and still put a lot of money towards the new reg cars.

        1. Can’t you see, people here are trying to paint the Red Bull as utterly dominant. Your facts don’t fit in with all that.
          Merc fans should be angry at their own team, they could easily be up there or even ahead of RB. Look what Aston Martin have achieved using ‘half of their car’.
          I’ll wait to see a trend of race runs before I decide who is dominant and who isn’t.

      3. Konstantinos
        5th March 2023, 11:17

        I think that with coming regulation changes successful teams slow down and focus on the new regs while teams that are close enough make a final push in the hopes of gaining an advantage which is one of the reasons why it seems that the change comes as it is becoming good. This time it was even more pronounced with the delay in the change due to covid.

        Of course with time teams get closer but I have a feeling that the 2021 would not have been what it was without the regulation change the next year.

    6. Season over…..

      1. Itsmeagain (@)
        5th March 2023, 9:05

        Image what 10 years of dominance by one team did to the sport.

    7. It looked like we could be on for a thriller after Q1 and Q2, then red bull go and find 8/10ths for Q3 and it looks like a continuation of the second half of last season. Could still be an interesting race…

    8. Everyone now breaking the cost cap as the penalty seems to have no effect.

    9. I wonder how many of the new fans will make it through this season that has already been decided?

      1. @darryn Does that include genuine Verstappen fans? Even they seem to be quiet…

        1. Them too. Things seem really dead overall heading into this season. I’ve actually met a couple American’s recently that both new what F1 is and follow it a bit. I had never met anyone in the States that had heard of F1 in the first 40 years of following it. There is so many sports in the US that people follow more closely that I am just wondering how long these hype fans will hang around when F1 is really quite boring to casual fans. We had the best season in maybe 30 years in ’21 and now we are back to the status quo. I think the Dutch will go the way of the Germans when Verstappen finishes.

          1. For sure, then i’m back to being the crazy guy watching cars drive in circles. And i might prefer it.

      2. Much more disappointing is how F1 immediately showed its modern Mickey Mouse form by throwing a red flag for a tiny scrap of debris. They’ll probably throw SCs now for someone spinning and rejoining the track.

      3. This discussion is just better than stand-up comedy. Mercedes/Lewis winning 8 years straight was never an issue, but .. forbid that now someone else might be successful for a second year in a row! That’s awful!

        1. Exactly. No mention of a team turning engines down to hide pace and witholding engine modes from customers. The start of the hybrid era was a complete farce.
          It was really close for true pace last year only Ferrari were chewing up tyres and turbos.
          This year has barely started and has been pretty close through quali yet everyone is looking to hand the title to RedBull. It’s crazy.

      4. Itsmeagain (@)
        5th March 2023, 9:15

        Image what those 10 years of dominance by one team did to the sport. Like Lewis attracted many new fans to the sport earlier, they will leave the sport in a few years. Not cuze one team wins two years in a row, but only cuze they want to see ‘their’ driver seeing battling. Nowadays ‘fans’ are more attracted by the appearance of drivers instead of interested in the sport in general, and that didn’t start with a few fans from the netherlands…..

        1. and is heavily stimulated by the Sports owners…

    10. This is ridiculous. It’s the first event out of 23 and the race hasn’t even started yet. No points have been given out and no trophies splashed with Champagne.
      It was later than this last year and everyone was writing off Red Bull and ready to give the trophy to Ferrari. Look what happened.
      Yes, Red Bull has the front row locked out here and now, they look fast, polished and unbeatable. It’s the FIRST race.!
      Let’s regroup after 5 or 6 races, re-look at all these postings and be prepared to have a good laugh.
      I for one am looking forward to enjoying the ride.

      1. @rekibsn :)
        I’m actually looking forward to the season more than I expected. The problem with RBR is that it’s a one driver team so if they’re well ahead by halfway, like 2022, it’s basically all over. But there’s a ton of stuff still to look forward to if Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin are so close to each other – and an off chance that one or more teams catch up enough to bother Max seriously.

      2. @rekibsn It is indeed too early to call the season over, but the writing is on the wall. While it’d be great if the next few races reveal a truly competitive field, having ‘a good laugh’ about the current expectations is perhaps overly optimistic.

    11. Forcing a move from Alpine to McLaren worked out well, Oscar.

      1. True, however neither of them really impressed me with the last few year’s performance, they seem very stagnant, he gambled and didn’t work.

    12. Disappointing that the Alonso threat didn’t really materialise but good to see Aston in the mix for 3rd/4th team. Stroll shouldn’t be in the car with his injury though.

      Good return for the Hulk, no superstar moments from the rookies though. McLaren need to get their act together.

      Looking forward to the racing.

      1. Pretty impressive qualifying place considering he only did one run and didn’t come close to nailing it.

    13. Cheers guys, let’s try enjoying the sport again in 2024!

    14. I wonder whether Stroll can pull his signature rocket start from this far up? That could make things interesting…

      1. Alonso is much more famous for rocket starts and basically never, ever bins it. So, I think that’s someone more exciting to be focused on. Though he might play it safe since their race pace is expected to be much stronger than Mercedes and slightly better than Ferrari’s and it sucks so much to be out at the first turn of the first race when. It’s amazing at all we’re in a place where qualifying 5th was considered a huge let down for Alonso.

    15. As developments are freezing more and more + very less gap in quali times means a team having experienced drivers has advantages. This ia where AM is good along with top 3. Others mostly focusing on new talent but might be risky

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