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Max Verstappen dominated the first qualifying session of the season in Bahrain on Friday. The Red Bull driver was ahead of Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and George Russell (Mercedes).

He hasn’t lost any of his phenomenal skills. We left him as the pole-winner and winner of the last Grand Prix of 2023, in Abu Dhabi, and we found him again this Friday in Bahrain, where he has already won the first pole position of the season. Max Verstappen did justice to his third world championship title by dominating the competition in qualifying. With a time of 1:29.179, the Dutchman claimed his 33rd career pole position, equalling two legends of the discipline, Alain Prost and Jim Clark.

The Red Bull driver, whose car is particularly innovative compared to the competition, will be joined by Charles Leclerc on the front row of the grid for this Saturday’s race.  He set a steady pace over one lap, but he may also have some regrets. With a time of 1:29.407 in the final part of qualifying, he failed to set a faster lap than in Q2, where he turned in a time of 1’29″165, faster than Verstappen’s time in Q3 and which would have given him pole position.

Close Gaps
The second row will see the first Mercedes show the tip of its spoiler, whose upper flap is the subject of debate, even though it has not been judged by the FIA to be non-compliant with the technical regulations. It won’t be Lewis Hamilton’s, as the man who will join Ferrari in 2025 set a disappointing 9th time in Q3, ahead of the surprising Nico Hülkenberg in his Haas, but it will be that of his young teammate George Russell, third fastest in the session. He squeezed in between the Ferraris of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

Sergio Perez set the 5th fastest time, ahead of Fernando Alonso, who opted for a single attempt in Q3. But, what was most striking about this first meeting of the season were the small gaps between the leading cars. Between Verstappen and Hamilton, there are just 531 thousandths. It remains to be seen whether the same will be true of the race pace.

This post is originally from L’Équipe