Nico Hulkenberg was all smiles on his return to F1 qualifying as he put his Haas 10th on the grid for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The German driver did not, however, play down the challenge ahead of him…

    Hulkenberg qualified in the top 10 while team mate Kevin Magnussen – who took a stunning P5 here on his return to F1 last year – starts 17th for the opening race. Although he was happy with a Q3 appearance, Hulkenberg conceded that there was some time left on the table having had a lap chalked off for track limits.

    READ MORE: Verstappen beats Perez to pole for 2023 opener in Bahrain GP qualifying thriller

    “That’s not bad,” he said, before asking F1 correspondent Lawrence Barretto, “What do you think? What do you say? I think it’s alright. It was not perfect in Q3 unfortunately, but I think I’m not going to let that ruin my day and my mood. I think that was pretty decent, [I’m] pretty happy with how I was able to produce and deliver the laps.

    “I think we saw already yesterday that over one lap we’re in a pretty decent spot and quite competitive, but the real test will come tomorrow. So yeah, big focus and emphasis on tomorrow. I expect a really tough battle, tough race, but yeah, I’m excited – look forward to it.”

    ‘You lose a little bit and it’s game over’ – Magnussen blames traffic after dropping out in Q1

    Having had his only effort of 1m 31.055s struck off for infringing track limits at Turn 4 in Q3, Hulkenberg conceded that he would have ended up 10th anyway as ninth-place qualifier Esteban Ocon put in a lap of 1m 30.984s for Alpine.

    FACTS AND STATS: A first front row lock out in Bahrain for Red Bull, as Verstappen chases his first win here

    Magnussen was not so happy with P17 as he said, with a shrug: “I mean we got traffic on the last corner on the second run so yeah, it was so close, the whole field was bunched up... You lose a little bit and it’s game over. A little bit unfortunate, but the race is tomorrow so we’ll try and do better there.”

    “It’s OK. There’s still stuff to work on but it’s the first race so it’s only natural – tomorrow we’ll see how we do in the race,” concluded the Dane.