Leclerc takes maiden pole in Bahrain as Ferrari lock out front row
Charles Leclerc became the second youngest pole-sitter of all time at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, beating his team mate (and the youngest pole sitter of all time) Sebastian Vettel to secure a front-row lock-out for Ferrari.
Leclerc established a new track record on his final lap for good measure, going around the Bahrain International Circuit in 1m 28.866s, 0.294s up on Vettel’s time.
Behind the Ferrari duo came the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, the silver cars having at least managed to close what had looked to be a yawning gap to Ferrari throughout the free practice sessions in Bahrain, Hamilton ending up 0.324s off Leclerc’s headline time.
Max Verstappen was fifth in the sole Red Bull to make it into Q3 – Pierre Gasly having dropped out in Q2 – with the Dutchman ahead of the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and the McLaren of Carlos Sainz.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Hulkenberg the surprise early casualty as Norris and Grosjean have near-miss
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg had been lightning across the free practice sessions, going as high as P5 in FP2 as team mate Daniel Ricciardo struggled. But as qualifying got underway, it was ironically Ricciardo who dumped the German out in Q1 to create the biggest shock of the segment.
Q1 nearly witnessed a nasty moment, meanwhile, as Lando Norris, on a hot lap in his McLaren, came across Romain Grosjean loitering on the corner. Norris had to jump on his brakes to avoid what could have been an almighty shunt with the Haas, with Grosjean duly called to the stewards after qualifying. Norris had to regroup and go again, but impressed to wind up P4, as Leclerc and Vettel continued to show Ferrari’s advantage, with Hamilton in P3 over seven-tenths down on Leclerc.
As predicted, the Williams pair were the slowest runners in Q1, Russell ahead of Kubica in P19 and P20, with the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi in P16, Hulkenberg 17th and Lance Stroll in P18, as Racing Point continued to struggle.
Q2 – Gasly and Ricciardo fall out in Q2
Pierre Gasly failed to make it into Q3 for the second race in a row, only managing 13th and complaining to the team of an issue with his throttle. He was out in Q2 with Daniel Ricciardo who, despite out-qualifying a team mate for the eighth time in eight appearances in Bahrain, couldn’t convert Renault’s apparent pace into a Q3 slot.
Having shown good speed throughout the free practice sessions, both Toro Rossos fell in Q2, along with Sergio Perez, who still hasn’t made a Q3 appearance in Bahrain since 2014.
Happier would have been the McLaren pair of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, as they gave the team their first double-Q3 appearance since Malaysia 2017 – Sainz in P6 and Norris in P9 in the segment – while Kimi Raikkonen got Alfa Romeo into Q3 here for the first time since 2012 (when they were Sauber).
Leclerc was once again fastest in the segment, with Vettel second, ahead of the Mercedes pairing of Hamilton and Bottas, with Magnussen and Sainz both ahead of the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Q3 – Leclerc takes his first ever pole – and sets a new track record in Bahrain
As Q3 got underway, one driver absent from the initial part of running was Sebastian Vettel, the German needing to sit out the first set of laps to save tyres. That left team mate Leclerc to once again head the times after the first runs, the Monegasque matching to the thousandth of a second Vettel’s record-breaking pole time from 2018.
When Vettel did finally make it out, however, he appeared to lack the confidence of his team mate in his solitary run, going cautiously through Turn 1 and Turn 10 particularly. Behind him, though, Leclerc was lapping even faster on his second run – and as Vettel popped himself into P2 and ahead of Hamilton, Leclerc improved his time to establish a new track record and claim his first-ever pole position in just his second race for Ferrari.
The two Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas were third and fourth, but would have been pleased to close down the gap to Ferrari to within four-tenths of a second – especially given their apparent advantage on long-run pace.
Haas, meanwhile, witnessed Kevin Magnussen get to within 0.005s of Max Verstappen’s time for Red Bull, the Dane leading the midfield by around half a tenth from the McLaren of Carlos Sainz, ahead of Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo, with the second McLaren of Norris rounding out the top 10.
The key quote
“Extremely happy. Obviously in the last race I was not very happy with my qualifying. I did some mistakes in Q3 and I really worked hard to try and not do the same mistakes here. It seems that we did quite a good job, front-row lock-out and yeah, extremely happy.
“It’s obviously extremely hard [going up against my team mate] because Seb is an amazing driver and I’ve learned a lot from him and I will probably learn all year long with him, but today I’m very happy to be in front of him. So it’s a good day for me.” – Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
Sunday’s race gets going at 1810 local time, which is 1510 UTC. And although there was rain predicted for Saturday – which sadly or not, depending on your standpoint, never turned up – the race is set to be dry.
Our pace analysis from Friday’s long runs suggests that Mercedes have a 0.5s advantage over both Ferrari and Red Bull around the Bahrain International Circuit in racing conditions – so don’t count on a red win just yet, even after a landmark day for 21-year-old Charles Leclerc.