Verstappen takes Bahrain pole

27/03/2021
NEWS STORY

So here we are, after a couple of weeks of endless 'what we have learned' articles, we're finally going to get some idea of the truth.

Over the next hour we are going to learn who's hot and who's not, who has been feeding us BS and who hasn't.

On the evidence thus far, having previously dominated pre-season testing, it appears Red Bull and Max Verstappen have the advantage.

However, as has been pointed out so many times in the last two weeks, Mercedes has seven successive braces of titles to its credit, so it would be extremely foolhardy to think its reign is about to come to an end.

Even if the car is, as Valtteri tells us, "undriveable" at times, the German team has the experience and resources to get on top of the situation, therefore, even if it does lose out today, we can expect the Brackley-based outfit to come back at Red Bull in the months ahead.

Despite its strength in testing and over the course of this weekend's practice sessions, Red Bull is taking nothing for granted, and why would it, for Max and his team are aware that the Black Arrows is more than prepared for the long haul.

And so to the midfield, a veritable minefield of misinformation, conjecture, confusion and outright intrigue.

Sticking our necks out we'll say McLaren is at the front, possibly even snapping at the heels of the 'big two', ahead of AlphaTauri and Ferrari.

In terms of confusion, Alfa Romeo looked good in testing and again this weekend, but has the Italian (Swiss) team really taken such a significant step forward?

The two big disappointments thus far are Aston Martin and Alpine, though both have a reputation for coming back stronger as the season progresses.

However, where that falls apart is the massive overhaul of the rules next season, which means that teams simply cannot afford - literally - to run significant development programmes alongside their preparations for 2022, so at what point does the call go out to call time on 2021?

While Haas has clearly written off this season, one only has to think back to Alonso in the Minardi to know that a great driver can still impress with a crap car, and the early signs are that Mick Schumacher is aware of what he has let himself in for and is prepared for the long, hard slog that lies ahead.

We're not quite sure to make of Williams, for while testing went quite well, the FW43B hasn't impressed so far this weekend. Then again, like the aforementioned Mr Alonso, that doesn't usually prevent George Russell pulling the odd surprise or two.

And as if the overall team order isn't enough, there is the added bonus of the various in-house battles as teammates old and new seek to establish themselves.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 30 degrees C, while the track temperature is 36 degrees.

The lights go green and the quartet of drivers most likely to miss the cut are first out... Russell followed by Schumacher, Mazepin and Latifi.

In the first sector, Latifi is quickest, while Russell opts to abort his lap. Mazepin spins in Turn 13 as three of the drivers pit without posting a time. Schumacher gets proceedings underway with a 33.861.

At which point Norris, Hamilton, Bottas, Sainz, Raikkonen, Perez and a whole host of others head out.

Indeed, suddenly there are nineteen drivers are on track, Schumacher having pitted.

Norris posts 31.754 but the timing screen is about to go crazy as his 18 rivals post their times.

Leclerc goes quickest, then Sainz, then Bottas then Hamilton, the Briton crossing the line at 30.617.

Perez splits the Mercedes with a 31.165, only to be demoted when teammate Verstappen posts a 30.499.

Tsunoda goes second (30.607) and Gasly fourth (30.848) while Stroll goes 11th and Vettel 13th.

Alonso goes twelfth while teammate Ocon is down in 16th.

Surprisingly, the Alfa pair are 14th and 15th.

Verstappen asks his team to check his floor after running wide in Turns 2 and 3.

With 4:30 remaining, Ocon, Latifi, Russell, Mazepin and Schumacher comprise the drop zone, with Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Vettel and Alonso hovering.

As they head out for a final run, Hamilton is one of several drivers to stick with used softs. Verstappen and the Alphas don't appear to be coming out again.

Lots of greens in the first sector with Russell, in particular, looing set to improve.

Indeed, Russell goes seventh, while Mazepin spins at Turn 1.

As issue for Sainz, who stops on track before getting going again, the Spaniard having complained of vibrations after running over the kerb at Turn 2. Like Mazepin elsewhere on the track, this brings out the yellows.

Norris goes fifth, and Leclerc 4th.

Alonso improves to seventh and Ricciardo fifth.

Ocon goes 15th but is demoted when Stroll improves, while Vettel appears to have lost out following Mazepin's spin and the resultant yellow flag. Ocon also.

Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Tsunoda, Hamilton, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Gasly, Alonso, Norris, Giovinazzi and Perez.

We lose Ocon, Latifi, Vettel, Schumacher and Mazepin.

At which point the stewards announce that a number of lap times will be investigated... after the session.

The Mercedes pair lead Verstappen out for the start of Q2. As more drivers head out there is a mixture of mediums and softs. The Mercedes and Bulls are on mediums, while the Ferraris are on softs.

Bottas sets the early pace in S1, while Tsunoda is building a head of steam on his out lap.

Bottas posts 30.559 but Verstappen responds with a 30.318. However, Hamilton stops the clock at 30.085 to go top. Game on.

Norris goes fourth, ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, however, Perez and Ricciardo have their times deleted.

Consequently, behind Norris, it's Sainz, Alonso, Leclerc, Gasly and Tsunoda. However, the Ferraris and Alonso are on softs.

Stroll goes tenth with a 32.047.

With just over 5 minutes remaining, Russell has the track to himself. The Williams driver is on softs.

Russell posts a 33.430 to go 13th as Perez and Gasly lead the final assault.

Currently, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Russell, Ricciardo and Perez comprise the drop zone, the latter two yet to post times after their previous times were deleted.

Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Tsunoda and Perez stick with the mediums. Verstappen appears to be on softs.

Gasly goes third with a 30.513, but is demoted when Bottas posts 30.186.

Perez goes fifth (30.369), only to be demoted when Leclerc (softs) goes quickest (30.010) before he too is demoted by Sainz.

Alonso goes eighth and Hamilton third, as Verstappen aborts his lap.

Phew! Sainz is quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Hamilton, Norris, Bottas, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Gasly, Alonso and Stroll.

A string of expletives from Perez, who misses the cut, along with Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Raikkonen and Russell.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.

Other than Ferrari scoring a 1-2, albeit on the softs, the big shocks were Perez and Tsunoda, both no doubt suffering due to the fact that they stuck with the mediums as opposed to the softs.

Alonso did well to claim tenth, while McLaren will be pleased with fourth and sixth, again, albeit on softs.

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen and Gasly all posted their best times on the yellow-banded rubber.

Ricciardo is first out as the lights go green for Q3, followed by the Mercedes pair, Norris, Verstappen and Gasly.

While Red Bull will have assured Verstappen that there is no significant floor damage, the Dutchman is sure to be at a psychological disadvantage.

Gasly sets the initial pace in S1, until Hamilton goes quicker. In S2 the AlphaTauri driver again sets the pace as Ricciardo posts a benchmark 31.384.

Gasly goes quickest as Norris goes third.

Hamilton posts 29.579 to go top but Verstappen responds with a 29.526.

That's a difference of 0.023s!

Bottas is fourth, behind Gasly, ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo and Norris.

Stroll heads out, like Leclerc and Alonso the Canadian has yet to post a time.

Remarkably, Verstappen wasn't happy with his lap, complaining that he was losing the rear.

Stroll goes sixth with a 30.601 as Leclerc and Alonso head out along with the others.

Gasly is warned that "people are playing games in the final sector" as the usual Q3 bunching-up for track position returns.

Bottas is on a hot lap, but Hamilton goes quicker in S1. However, Verstappen is even quicker in the opening sector.

Bottas loses ground in S2, as Gasly improves.

At the line Bottas goes third, Hamilton responds with a 29.385 but Verstappen crosses the line at 28.997 to grab pole by 0.388, the Dutchman quickest in all three sectors.

So, Verstappen takes pole, ahead of Hamilton and Bottas, with Leclerc fourth, ahead of Gasly, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz and Alonso.

The Dutchman is understandably delighted, admitting that it was "perfect" lap. "Oh finally mate, great job!" responds Christian Horner.

However, it's not all smiles for Red Bull, for once again, come tomorrow the Dutchman has no support, with Perez starting from the sixth row.

Behind Perez, it's Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Raikkonen, Russell, Ocon, Latifi, Vettel, Schumacher and Mazepin.

So, it would appear that Max and Red Bull do indeed have the edge and Mercedes finally has a fight on its hands.

What with the Ferraris, McLarens, Gasly and Alonso in the mix we could be in for a great race tomorrow, while Perez and Tsunoda are just two drivers with points to prove.

"We had a great test week but there were no guarantees," says Verstappen. "The car has been working really well and is so enjoyable to drive.

"My first lap in Q3 wasn't amazing," he admits, "but finally the balance was there. Luckily when it mattered, we could perform."

Looking ahead to tomorrow, he adds: "There are no guarantees, we need to keep pushing very hard."

"Gave it everything I had," says Hamilton. "We did a good job from testing to come here and be closer to the Red Bulls, to be that close is testament to the team."

"This morning wasn't easy, a lot of issues," adds Bottas. "In Q3 I only had one set of new tyres, and it was difficult to compete.

"It wasn't too bad," the Finn continues, "not where we wanted to be but starting third, anything is still possible."

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.

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Published: 27/03/2021
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