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Leclerc on pole for season opener in Bahrain

Leclerc on pole for season opener in Bahrain

FORMULA ONE: Charles Leclerc claimed the 10th pole position of his career in an unexpected victory over Max Verstappen in the first qualifying session of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday (Mar 19).

By Michael Lamonato

Sunday 20 March 2022, 11:14AM

Charles Leclerc will start the Bahrain Grand Prix at the front of the grid. Photo: AFP

Charles Leclerc will start the Bahrain Grand Prix at the front of the grid. Photo: AFP

Red Bull Racing had been the pre-weekend favourite for pole, and Verstappen had the run of the Sakhir circuit through practice and into qualifying, but Ferrari was thereabouts throughout and held some pace in hand.

Carlos Sainz led Leclerc to a provisional Ferrari front-row lockout after the first set of laps, only for the second set of runs to swap their positions.

Verstappen, who was last among the three to set a time, was lapping at roughly the same pace with his final tour and was slightly ahead as he entered the penultimate corner, but by the end of the lap he’d lost out fractionally and slipped into second, easing Leclerc’s way to top spot.

“I’m very happy with today,” said the Monegasque. “It’s been a very tricky qualifying session. I wasn’t completely happy with my driving, but I managed to do that lap in Q3, and we’re starting from pole, so I’m very happy.”

He also paid credit to the team, which has endured some deep struggles in the last two years, for capitalising on this year’s major regulation change to move up the grid.

“The last wo years have been incredibly difficult for the team. We were quite hopeful that this new opportunity for us was an opportunity to be back at the front.”

Verstappen was giving nothing away in defeat, though the Dutchman said he was expecting his Red Bull Racing machine to be more competitive in race trim.

“It was a bit of hit and miss,” he said. “Q2 seemed quite good; Q3 was a struggle with the balance and to get it together.

“But we have a good race car and it is a good start for tomorrow.”

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Carlos Sainz seemed genuinely pleased to qualify third despite the lost pole attempt, the Spaniard pointing to a difficult Friday and a strong turnaround as a source of satisfaction.

“I’m really struggling with this car, understanding how to drive it,” he said. “I’ve been more than half a second off all weekend.

“To be even fighting for pole position today in qualifying was good news for me.”

Sergio Perez put the sister Red Bull Racing car fourth, just 0.363s off the pace.

Mercedes’s struggles have dominated the weekend, and Lewis Hamilton’s fifth will do nothing to mute negative headlines about the reigning constructors champion. The Briton was 0.68s off the pace - he said afterwards this was a good result compared to Friday expectations - and his teammate, George Russell, qualified a second slower way back in ninth.

The team is still trying to understand how to get the most from its new aerodynamic package, and though it appeared to get a better handle on it during practice yesterday, the speed wasn’t forthcoming when the wick was turned up.

Valtteri Bottas slotted into sixth, the Mercedes-turned-Alfa Romeo drive a second off the pace.

Haas returnee Kevin Magnussen was seventh on the American team’s return to the midfield, with Fernando Alonso slipping into eighth.

Russell will start ninth ahead of Pierre Gasly in 10th for AlphaTauri.

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