Leclerc takes stunning Bahrain pole for Ferrari ahead of Verstappen and Sainz
Charles Leclerc took the first pole position of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship, ahead of reigning champion Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, in a qualifying session that went down to the wire in Bahrain.
Ferarri's Leclerc was fastest in Q1 but Red Bull's Verstappen hit back in Q2, making it to the top-10 shootout in one take. The stage was thus set for a face-off between the champion and the Scuderia in Q3.
And it was then that Leclerc set a blistering benchmark of 1m 30.558s, taking his second Bahrain GP pole. Verstappen could only come within 0.123s while Sainz couldn't improve on his first run, ending up third by 0.129s. In a distant P4 was Verstappen's team mate Perez.
Mercedes made it to Q3 – the only Mercedes-powered cars to do so – but couldn't make it into the front row. Lewis Hamilton took fifth while his former team mate Valtteri Bottas made it to a surprise sixth on the grid for Alfa Romeo.
FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2022
|1 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:30.558|
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:30.681|
|3 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:30.687|
|4 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||1:30.921|
|5 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:31.238|
For the first time since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, both Haas drivers made it to Q2 but Kevin Magnussen went all the way to Q3, qualifying seventh ahead of Alpine's Fernando Alonso. That left Mercedes' George Russell in ninth – Pierre Gasly rounding out the top 10 for AlphaTauri.
Surprise eliminations from Q2 included Lando Norris (P13) of McLaren and Alpine's Esteban Ocon (P11), with Haas's Mick Schumacher splitting them for P12.
Alex Albon, 14th on the grid, made it to Q2 on his first Williams appearance, while rookie Zhou Guanyu qualified 15th on debut for Alfa Romeo.
That was at the expense of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda in 16th, both Aston Martin drivers (substitute Nico Hulkenberg 17th and Lance Stroll 19th), plus McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo between them. Nicholas Latifi was last on the grid for Williams.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Ferrari eclipse Red Bull while Haas and Alfa Romeo star
On their first runs, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz shot to the top of the timesheets, Leclerc leading his team mate by 0.096s thanks to a flying lap of 1m 31.471s. Neither Scuderia driver emerged for a second run – nor did Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was three-tenths off and third in Q1.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas raised eyebrows by going fourth, 0.448s off P1, while Haas’s Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top five ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon – who finally showed his hand having forgone soft-tyred runs in FP3.
With AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in P7, eighth-place Lando Norris (McLaren) was the highest-placed Mercedes-powered driver, beating the Mercedes duo of George Russell (P9) and Lewis Hamilton (P10).
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez missed out on the top 10 but was comfortably through to Q2 ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso (P12) and Haas’s Mick Schumacher in P13 and nine-tenths off top spot. For the first time since the 2019 Brazilian GP, both Haas cars were into Q2.
On debut for Alfa Romeo, Zhou Guanyu made it to Q2 in P14 – ahead of Williams’ Alex Albon, the 15th-placed returnee finishing a second ahead of team mate Nicholas Latifi.
A quartet of Mercedes-powered cars joined 16th-place Yuki Tsunoda – who missed FP3 with a hydraulic issue – in the dropzone.
Neither Aston Martin made it through Q1 – substitute Nico Hulkenberg 17th and team mate Lance Stroll 19th – leaving the Williams of Latifi in P20. Splitting the Aston Martins was a disappointed Daniel Ricciardo (P18), who missed pre-season testing with Covid-19.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Stroll, Latifi
Q2 – Verstappen nails his flying effort to keep Ferraris behind
Adding to the wide-ranging set of rule changes for 2022, drivers who make it through Q2 no longer need to use the same tyres to start the race, while the soft tyre is now mandatory in Q3.
Verstappen set the fastest time so far with a 1m 30.767s and remained in the pits as the Ferraris emerged for their second runs. Sainz made it to P2, within 0.030s off Verstappen, while Leclerc was third and 0.175s off the reigning champion.
In the other Red Bull, Perez finished fourth – 0.251s off – while Mercedes’ Hamilton was narrowly off in fifth and Russell sixth.
Magnussen pulled out another stunning effort for Haas, finishing seventh in Q2 but the Danish driver was then garage-bound by a hydraulic issue. He finished ahead of Alonso and Gasly, both of whom ensured a Q3 appearance.
Bottas’s late effort put him 10th – meaning the last time he missed Q3 was in Abu Dhabi 2016. That left Ocon missing out on Q3 for Alpine by just 0.065s, while Haas’s Schumacher had to settle for P12 with a mistake on his flying effort.
McLaren failed to get either car into the top 10 as Norris finished 13th ahead of Williams’ Albon (P14) and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou, in P15.
Knocked out – Ocon, Schumacher, Norris, Albon, Zhou
Q3 – The Scuderia stand off against Verstappen
Hamilton and Russell emerged first, the seven-time champion getting a tow off his team mate. Hamilton went quicker than Russell on his first run, but neither were in the fight for pole position.
Leclerc and Sainz, however, were in the fight for P1 – and practically neck-and-neck too, followed very closely by Verstappen after the first runs. Sainz had preliminary pole position ahead of Leclerc then Verstappen – the trio split by just 0.056s.
The second runs, however, saw Leclerc improve while Sainz failed to do so. The Monegasque driver took a first pole position since the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and his second in Bahrain, with a time of 1m 30.556s. Verstappen was 0.123s off by the flag and Sainz ended up 0.129s back in P3.
With Perez back in fourth, Mercedes’ Hamilton rounded out the top five while his former team mate Bottas starred once again, putting his Alfa Romeo sixth on the grid – albeit three-tenths off Hamilton.
Seventh-place Haas driver Magnussen was also a star of qualifying, finishing ahead of Alpine’s Alonso in P8 and the other Mercedes of Russell in ninth – although Magnussen was forced to pull up on track after his final Q3 rin. Rounding out the top 10 was AlphaTauri’s Gasly.
The key quote
"Yes, it feels good," said pole-sitter Leclerc. "The last few years have been incredibly difficult for the team, and we were quite hopeful that this new opportunity for us was an opportunity to be back in the front, and I think we have worked extremely well as a team to find ourselves again in a position to fight for better places.
"So, very happy with today – it has been a very tricky qualifying session. I wasn’t completely happy with my driving but managed to do that lap in Q3 and we're starting from pole, so I'm very happy."
The Bahrain Grand Prix kicks off at 1800 local time as the 2022 Formula 1 season begins. Who will hit the ground running – and who will leave Bahrain playing catch-up?