Hopes of a multi team world championship battle intensify as Red Bulls Verstappen takes the opening pole from the two Mercedes.
Verstappen set an all ‘purple sector’ lap in the final run of qualifying session 3 to grab pole by 0.388 seconds from Hamilton, followed closely by his teammate Bottas. The result shows promising speed shown by the Red Bulls in testing compared to the Mercedes appears to be real. This sets up a competitive season as Hamilton attempts to secure a record 8th world title and Verstappen tries to clinch his first.
Verstappen was pleased with how the Red Bull is driving stating “There are no guarantees, but the whole week the car has been working so well and been really enjoyable to drive. It all worked out perfectly so of course very happy with pole position”.
Going in to Q3 there were concerns that damage sustained in Q1 to Verstappen’s car may hinder his ability to fight for the pole, however it seemed to have little impact. His teammate Perez had a disappointing start to his Red Bull career, dropping out in Q2 and starting the race in 11th. Perez failed to set a marker lap at the start of Q2 after his lap was deleted for exceeding track limits. His risk to attempt his second lap on the more durable but slower medium compound tyres didn’t pay off.
Ferrari will also be pleased with their performance after a tough season last year. Leclerc secured a superb P4 whilst Sainz will start in 8th. The Ferrari’s were also the two fastest cars in Q2 albeit on the soft tyres meaning they start on an alternate, and slightly less optimised strategy to the other main contenders.
The other top performers were Gasly who secured P5 and Alonso who outperformed his Alpine car to secure P9. Gasly’s teammate Tsunoda suffered an up and down day, finishing second fastest in Q1 before dropping out in 13th after Q2. George Russell is also worthy of a mention as he escaped Q1 in the Williams and continues his run of never being beaten by his teammate when driving a Williams.
The biggest shocks were suffered by Vettel and Ocon who both dropped out in Q1. Both drivers were left frustrated as a spin by Haas’s Mazepin effectively destroyed there chances as they were faced with yellow flags on their critical second runs. Vettel would have been hoping to turn a corner with his new Aston Martin after a tumultuous year at Ferrari, so this was not the start he was after. Both of their teams may be concerned with the pace of their cars with Stroll in the Aston Martin securing 10th and Alonso’s Alpine 9th. It appears they have stiff competition from the Mclaren’s and Ferrari’s for the midfield battle, who at this stage look faster.
images: Red Bull Racing Honda & Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team
Full qualifying results: