Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024

Verstappen starts season with pole in Bahrain ahead of Leclerc

2024 Bahrain GP qualifying report

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World champion Max Verstappen secured the first pole position of the 2024 season, two tenths of a second quicker than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Despite Verstappen expecting that his final Q3 effort would be beatable, Leclerc could not deny the Red Bull driver his first pole of the season at the end of qualifying.

George Russell secured third on the grid for Mercedes, with Carlos Sainz Jnr in fourth and Sergio Perez fifth in the second Red Bull.


The first qualifying session of the season looked set to be an incredibly tight one. The opening phase began with conditions near-identical to those drivers had experienced in Thursday’s second practice session, unusually cool with blustery winds.

Ferrari were the first out on track with Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc leaving the garage together, both on the medium compound tyres. They were also joined by the two Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, also on mediums, with Sainz setting the early pace with a 1’31.208, half a tenth quicker than his team mate.

Eventually, the rest of the field headed out on track with all 16 choosing softs. After everyone had completed their first run on the softs, Sainz improved to retain his position as quickest of all with a 1’29.909, a tenth ahead of Max Verstappen in second with Lando Norris third and Fernando Alonso in fourth. A margin of just 1.372 seconds covered the entire field of 20 cars.

Yuki Tsunoda, RB, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024
Queueing in the pits is still in vogue
As the field headed out onto the track with under four minutes remaining, the two Saubers of Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen in the Haas and both Alpines were sat in the drop zone and in need of improving. With the exception of pace-setter Sainz, all the driversventured out for a final Q1 effort.

Some were less willing than others, however: Leclerc expressed that he did not agree with the decision to send him back out on a fresh set of softs. Ferrari brought him in before he set a time, after concluding the track was not improving quickly enough for his position to be at risk, and McLaren did the same with Norris, who complained he had unnecessarily put a lap on a new set of tyres.

After the chequered flag flew and everyone who opted to finish a lap had, only Magnussen had successfully escaped the bottom five to compete in Q2. That meant that both Saubers and both Alpines were knocked out, while Williams driver Logan Sargeant joined them in 18th. The entire field of 20 cars were only covered by just over a second.

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Q1 result

155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-241’29.909
218Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR241’29.9650.056
31Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB201’30.0310.122
44Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL381’30.1430.234
514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR241’30.1790.270
611Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB201’30.2210.312
716Charles LeclercFerrariSF-241’30.2430.334
863George RussellMercedesW151’30.3500.441
923Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW461’30.3970.488
1044Lewis HamiltonMercedesW151’30.4510.542
1122Yuki TsunodaRB-Honda RBPT011’30.4810.572
1281Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL381’30.5310.622
133Daniel RicciardoRB-Honda RBPT011’30.5620.653
1427Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-241’30.5660.657
1520Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-241’30.6460.737
1677Valtteri BottasSauber-FerrariC441’30.7560.847
1724Zhou GuanyuSauber-FerrariC441’30.7570.848
182Logan SargeantWilliams-MercedesFW461’30.7700.861
1931Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5241’30.7930.884
2010Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5241’30.9481.039

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Most of the field chose to stick with used soft tyres for their first efforts of the second phase of qualifying, including Leclerc in the Ferrari. He posted the best time of any driver with significantly used softs with his first run, producing a 1’30.094, almost three tenths faster than Hamilton.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024
Stroll failed to join his team mate in Q3
A handful of drivers did fit fresh tyres, including the Red Bull pair Verstappen and Sergio Perez.The latter beat Leclerc’s time by over a tenth, but Verstappen made a strong statement of intent when he beat his team mate by half a second with a 1’29.374 – comfortably the quickest time of the weekend.

As drivers returned to the pit lane to prepare for their final attempt of the session, Hulkenberg was in danger of elimination in 11th, followed by Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo in the RBs, then Albon and Magnussen.

All drivers made sure they were on track in the final minutes, with Sainz using a fresh set of softs to go second, just under two tenths slower than Verstappen’s best. But when the chequered flag flew, Leclerc showed Verstappen had real competition by setting the new quickest time of 1’29.165, beating the world champion by two tenths. Hulkenberg also produced a superb lap to secure himself a place in Q3.

Albon, Ricciardo and Magnussen all failed to put themselves into the top ten with their final efforts. As the final seconds ticked down, Mercedes drivers Hamilton and George Russell were at risk of joining them.

Fortunately for Mercedes, both drivers improved on their last laps and secured their places in Q3. They arrived at the expense of Tsunoda and Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll, the latter lapping almost four tenths of a second slower than his team mate. Albon, Ricciardo and Magnussen also failed to progress any further.

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Q2 result

116Charles LeclercFerrariSF-241’29.165
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB201’29.3740.209
355Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-241’29.5730.408
444Lewis HamiltonMercedesW151’29.7180.553
514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR241’29.8010.636
627Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-241’29.8510.686
763George RussellMercedesW151’29.9220.757
811Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB201’29.9320.767
94Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL381’29.9410.776
1081Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL381’30.1220.957
1122Yuki TsunodaRB-Honda RBPT011’30.1290.964
1218Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR241’30.2001.035
1323Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW461’30.2211.056
143Daniel RicciardoRB-Honda RBPT011’30.2781.113
1520Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-241’30.5291.364

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The battle for the first pole position of 2024 appeared to be a straight fight between Red Bull and Ferrari as the third and final 12 minutes of qualifying got underway. The main contenders wasted no time in heading out, with the two Mercedes both doing so on used tyres to start with.

Russell’s first lap was the better of the pair as he broke into the 1’29s for the first time. But Verstappen on new softs went even quicker, posting a 1’29.421 to set the provisional pole time.

Leclerc headed out on a set of softs that he had run for just a single lap at the end of Q1 and he was closest to Verstappen with his first effort, just over half a tenth behind. Sainz sat fourth after his first lap, with Norris ahead of Perez in fifth.

Aston Martin chose to wait until the other nine drivers were back in the pits before they sent Alonso out on track for his sole Q3 push lap. He set a purple middle sector on his way to a provisional third place, just behind Leclerc.

The Mercedes were the first over the line to start their final laps, with Verstappen benefitting from a slight tow from Oscar Piastri as the Red Bull started its lap while the McLaren finished his. Russell and Hamilton both improved, but neither was enough to beat Verstappen’s provisional pole time.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024
Leclerc couldn’t repeat his Q2 time
The world champion was next over the line, improving to a 1’29.179. He warned his team over the radio he did not think his lap would be good enough for pole, but he was proven wrong when Leclerc failed to match Verstappen’s effort, meaning that car number one will start the first grand prix of the season from position number one.

Leclerc was two tenths off, but secured a front row start. Russell took third, with Sainz fourth and Perez fifth in the second Red Bull.

Alonso’s sole lap was good enough for a top six start, just ahead of the two McLarens of Norris and Piastri. Hamilton took ninth on the grid, with Hulkenberg completing the top ten for Haas.

Following an announcement from race control that Russell would be investigated for exceeding the maximum lap time, a message at the end of the session confirmed no further action would be taken against the Mercedes driver and his third place was safe. There was just a single time deleted due to a track limits infringement across all three sessions, Gasly’s first flying lap attempt in Q1.

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Q3 result

11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB201’29.179
216Charles LeclercFerrariSF-241’29.4070.228
363George RussellMercedesW151’29.4850.306
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-241’29.5070.328
511Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB201’29.5370.358
614Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR241’29.5420.363
74Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL381’29.6140.435
881Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL381’29.6830.504
944Lewis HamiltonMercedesW151’29.7100.531
1027Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-241’30.5021.323

2024 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

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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39 comments on “Verstappen starts season with pole in Bahrain ahead of Leclerc”

  1. I’ll be amazed if Ferrari still want Hamilton by the end of the season. Sainz is incredibly underrated and only 0.1 behind Leclerc.

    Hamilton is 0.2 off Russell in a car designed around him. It’ll be an absolute domination by Leclerc at Ferrari.

    Maybe Mercedes were right and it is time he retires after all.

    1. way too many conclusions taken from way too little information.

      1. Let’s see. Towards the end of last season Russell had the edge on Hamilton. If Hamilton continues to struggle those 0.2-0.4 seconds can cost him several places or even making Q3.

        We will see at the end of the season, but I’ll be surprised if Hamilton out qualifies him 5 times this season. He just doesn’t seem to have that edge any more.

        1. Yellow Baron
          1st March 2024, 18:19

          Hamilton generally tends to favour a setup that is more race biased, even before Russel joined.

        2. Towards the end of last season Russell had the edge on Hamilton

          Over the last five races both finished, Hamilton beat Russell 4-1. I fail to see how that’s Russell having an edge.

          1. Jonathan Parkin
            2nd March 2024, 4:58

            Also don’t forget in 1984 Niki Lauda didn’t qualify on the front row and only started ahead of Alain Prost once. Didn’t stop him winning the title though

        3. You must not have a good memory. I’m not a Lewis fan, but he was way stronger than GR during the entire second half of the season.

    2. Leclerc didn’t maximize his Q3 lap. He is the only driver slower in Q3 than Q2. Had he done that the gap between Leclerc and Sainz would have been about 3-4 tenths.

      1. And more importantly, he’d have been on pole!

  2. Leclerc actually fastest across the three sessions – must be gutted not to reproduce it.

    We seem to be where we left off last year, i.e. really close battle in qualifying, ultimately edged by Max (who may well have a larger advantage in race trim).

    Curious to see how the race goes. Do Red Bull still have the long run advantage, or will Ferrari be neck-and-neck throughout?

    1. From Charles’ interview, he was on used tyres for his final time, which explains why he slowed:

      So Max ahead in part due to Ferrari strategy calls. Another familiar theme…

      1. Yes he was. But on his first run I think. And those tires only had one warm up lap after which he came back into the pits.
        He actually didn’t improve on new sets so although it wasn’t ideal it wasn’t probably not that big a deal.
        Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but in the first qualifying of the year with so little knowledge of the other teams real pace Ferrari opted to be better safe than sorry in Q1.
        As did all other drivers ahead of Leclerc except for Sainz so I wouldn’t consider it an error.

    2. Yellow Baron
      1st March 2024, 18:21

      Regarding the race, my thought is the cars may be close on race pace with vwrstaop6ahead but due to the red bulls better tyre life it won’t be close at all. Similar to two seasons ago. Is the Ferrari bad on it’s tyres? Don’t know but the redbull seems to be exceptional in that areA

    3. We are, but Red Bull might have a bigger advantage to start this year. Newey sacrificed qualifying pace for race pace with this car, so its a very ominous sign.

  3. Max is making at least 2/10ths difference, I am almost certain.

    Without him, Ferrari would have been fighting for pole.

    Alonso putting himself in the shop window for Mercedes to see!

    1. The general consensus is that Red Bull are also very fast in race trim, so my below question is already likely irrelevant.

      But – if Red Bull had built the second-fastest car, would we ever know about it? Max can pull the absolute best out of any machinery to the extent that he creates a category of speed entirely for himself. And Perez is so far off his pace it’s not even worth comparing.

      1. At the end of the day, the questions will forever remain unanswered about how fast a driver is. Teammate comparison is flawed as driver setups and preferences affect pace to begin with. Doing relative pace with respect to teammate just aggregates error across teammates. It is a moot exercise at some level but still over multiple seasons an indication of rough ability but nothing more. For instance, it is clear that Max, Charles, George, Lewis, Fernando, Lando, Oscar etc are very quick drivers.

        I think at some level the most important trait for these quick drivers is to be consistent. Max’s biggest strength is consistently being at the front. It is a very understated aspect of his and that is why it is very hard to beat him over a season, especially without a car+driver advantage.

        And it’s easy to count the number of truly bad races he has had since 2018 with one hand — that is 6+ years of being metronomic and counting.

      2. In 2020 Red Bull did build the second fastest car and we definitely knew about it. So, yes, if it happened again, we would know.

        1. True, I should have specified a “close second” car!

          1. I dare say the 2021 red bull was a very close second car: yes, it had races where it was the best, but on balance mercedes had a very slight margin.

      3. We would know. Over three seasons, Daniel out qualified him and outscored him with even worse reliability. He’s not a had a single strong teammate since. Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s one of F1’s GOATs, but it’s no coincidence he’s only become unbeatable since he got the second best car. Why do you think Perez was 2nd in WDC despite performing so badly?

        1. Yes, there’s no question the red bull is the strongest car nowadays, and it’s also true what RH said: verstappen is hardly ever off the pace compared to other top drivers, very few times in several years, while if you take a driver like hamilton, it happens several times a year.

    2. Ferrari were fighting for pole anyway.

      1. Max’s pole position was achieved by nipping in behind Norris (finishing his lap) for a tow up the home straight. That was probably worth a solid two tenths.

      2. Even with Max finding a tow down the home straight to start his lap, Leclerc still beat his time in his brilliant Q2 lap. The pace was there: he just couldn’t do it twice.

      1. And if verstappen hadn’t managed to improve his first q3 lap, which put him on provisional pole, leclerc’s final lap would’ve put him on pole too.

    3. Yes. The Red Bull either isn’t a qualifying car or they have the confidence to prioritise the race. It’ll be interesting to see how the other teams have progressed with their race pace. That’s what made the Red Bull so good last year. The medium-shod fuel runs in FP1 had the two Ferraris, Max, Lando and then Lewis with the best average pace. If you’re in the top four and are set up for the race, you’ve got a good chance.

      1. It’ll be interesting to see how the other teams have progressed with their race pace. That’s what made the Red Bull so good last year.

        Exactly, we’ve seen this before. It won’t matter a bit if Red Bull can just waltz off into the distance while others are still stumbling around trying to make the tyres last.

    4. I thought it was the consensus in the paddock that Leclerc was generally the fastest over a single lap?
      With Perez right in that top pack, you have to assume the Red Bull is likely the fastest. Still we’ll never really know, all just opinions I guess

  4. That slowish, almost catchable RBR…
    Just look how much faster it goes when they take the sandbags out.

    1. Zero space in those sidepods for sandbags.

  5. Stroll was talking on the track again.

    1. From the moment I read that article I was waiting for this comment. Not that I want to see the guy fail, he’s really not that bad. But his phrasing is another area he could improve on.

    2. José Lopes da Silva
      1st March 2024, 21:22

      He qualified just 0,7s behind Alonso. And 0,4 when both in Q2. Not bad, from him.

  6. Instead of keeping a driver who again and again fails to deliver in the fastest car (Ferrari was the one in Bahrain, but Leclerc choked as usual) and hiring somebody who is 0.2s slower than his Mercedes team mate, Ferrari should have moved heaven and earth and spend billion or whatever it takes to get Max in their car. Max is truly the greatest of all time and as long as he’s driving a competetive car, there is 0 chance for other teams to win anything. But alas, Ferrari chose wasting over 400 milion on a driver who’s simply inferior – well, good luck then. 17 years since their last title and I can 100% assure you the streak won’t be broken any time soon.

    1. You really are an armchair expert. Max isn’t making the difference. Newey is. If they wanted Max, they’d be much better advised for moving heaven an earth by giving Newey both the $ and contractual guarantees in terms of control he’d want.

      Despite having a terrible season, Perez finished P2 in the WDC. That’s how you know it’s the car making the biggest difference. I think Max is one of the GOATs, bur a really fast car is 10x more important than a really fast driver.

      1. Yes, agree with this, compared to the 90s the importance of the car increased a lot compared to the driver, furthermore I don’t think verstappen would accept a ferrari offer: why would he move to a team that can’t keep up with development over a season when he already has a great one in this department?

    2. Leclerc is faster than Max over a single lap, and he proved it many times with slower cars, many times. He did it again yesterday aswell, he put the fastes lap of qualificatins with a slower car than Max.

  7. Imagine if Alonso is still driving for Alpine, he would most likely end his F1 career driving for the slowest team. He and Aston did pretty well today, maybe just behind Ferrari, but fight Mercs and Macs.

  8. I think losing Alonso AND Piastri is what caused them to make the GENIUS decision of firing their most respected and senior engineer when the car had just finished 4th in Alonso’s final season. Especially considering the PU is their primary weakness.

    I’d be tearing my hair out if Fernando was still there. And, based on how the minds of the F1 media and fans work, you know everyone would be saying his time was up and he no longer had the speed to compete.

    1. Just like some people said villeneuve had lost it, but mathematical models show he was still driving at 1997 level in his years with bar.

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