Max Verstappen led a Red Bull 1-2 in qualifying for Formula 1’s 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix season opener, with Charles Leclerc third but unexpectedly missing the final Q3 fliers.
Carlos Sainz finished fourth ahead of his compatriot Fernando Alonso, the Aston Martin driver only running once in the final segment due to having one set fewer of the soft tyres compared to the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers.
Verstappen had led Leclerc after the first runs in Q3 by 0.103s, but just as the action was due to reach qualifying’s climax, the latter was suddenly climbing from his Ferrari and was shuffled down to third by Perez’s final lap improvement.
Ahead, Verstappen had already gone even quicker on his second run to post a 1m29.708s, which meant he ended up clear of his team-mate by 0.138s and Leclerc by 0.292s.
Sainz was able to make a second Q3 flier and set a personal best, but ended up fourth behind his team-mate.
Lance Stroll did likewise, albeit running shortly after Alonso and he took eighth while running with his injured right wrist.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon took ninth ahead of new Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, who marked his first time back in qualifying as a full-time F1 driver since 2019 by making Q3 but lost his only time in it for going too far beyond track limits at Turn 4.
In Q2, Stroll’s last-gasp improvement to sneak through in 10th knocked out McLaren’s Lando Norris, who himself had only just progressed from Q1.
Running solo, Albon ended up abandoning the lap after appearing to understeer off and beyond the heavily scrutinised Turn 4 track limit, after which he also went off cutting behind the Turn 7 fast left and so toured back to the pits still in 15th.
Before that, Q1 had barely begun when it was red-flagged after Leclerc lost two pieces of his front wheel fairing running down the pit straight ahead of his first run on the mediums.
The first part flew off shortly after he opened his DRS and then when he braked and locked up – likely as a result of the missing aero piece – a second, larger piece fell off the underside of the Ferrari and came to rest on the track, after which race control opted to stop the session so the pieces could be recovered.
When the action restarted after an eight-minute delay, Leclerc returned…
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