The F1 Bahrain GP opened up well with a solid Red Bull and Mercedes fight on Saturday, whereas Ferrari made it well in Top 10, while it was mixed for veterans.

It was a feisty run from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen eventually to take pole in F1 Bahrain GP as he tidied up in his second lap to go even quicker and beat the Mercedes duo. He felt great in the car, whether it was on the chassis side and or engine. The Dutchman ran a bit wide in Q1 which did some damage to the floor, but wasn’t huge enough to stop him.

“I had a few corners where I had a bit of loss of grip and then, of course you run a bit too wide and have a bit less traction,” said Verstappen on his first lap in Q3. “It’s just tidying those things up – and that helped a lot. This track is super-sensitive to how the tyres behave anyway – like you can gain or lose a lot of lap time, and especially when the wind is in the direction it was during qualifying, that can make a big difference and that’s what basically happened between my first and second lap.”

Despite losing to Verstappen, both the Mercedes drivers looked pleased on the outside, especially with the competition. Although, they knew that the Dutchman will be hard to beat anyways in Bahrain. Both the F1 drivers conceded that there was not much they could have done, where Valtteri Bottas noted that it showed they were not ‘sandbagging’.

On the minor regulation change from 2020 to 2021, it brought out the rake philosophy difference of Red Bull and Mercedes, where Lewis Hamilton threw it in open, which F1 outfit had the gain in that regard. “It’s no secret that that’s what the changes have… of course they’ve been done to peg us back,” he said. “We had the changes of course to our engine to do the same thing, but that’s OK, we love a challenge, we don’t look down on these things, we just work hard to do the best we can and that’s what we will do.”

To which Verstappen added: “It’s our philosophy now for a long time of course. I don’t think we can point it out on that. I think there have been a few factors, like we knew our weaknesses from last year and that’s not only the rake, it has to do with rake, so I think also from the engine side I think Honda has worked really hard to improve their engine and in general they’ve done a great job.”

Though a session led by one Red Bull in Verstappen, the other of Sergio Perez was shockingly eliminated in Q2, sitting P11 after a multitude of soft-tyre runners set quick laps at the end of the session. The Mexican’s use of medium tyres meant he couldn’t stay afloat, especially with one of his laps having been deleted on account of track limits violations.

Perez defended the decision to make use of the yellow-striped F1 compound, and speaks positively as he looks to Sunday’s Grand Prix. “On my side I wasn’t expecting to qualify in eleventh and obviously it’s not an ideal start but we are making progress and I made a good step between FP3 and qualifying, it just wasn’t enough,” he said.

“We were absolutely right to use the medium tyres in Q2 but unfortunately it just didn’t pay off and I didn’t deliver the lap I should have. I went wide at turn 13 and lost a couple of tenths and the field is so tight that it knocked me out of Q3. It’s a shame as the extra kilometres and comparison to Max would have helped me to progress.”

Perez was edged out, in part, by the striking pace of both Ferraris, who topped Q2 in surprising fashion. Charles Leclerc wound up fourth in the end of Q3, but warned that Ferrari need to “keep [their] feet on the ground” in 2021, and not get overexcited by only one F1 qualifying session.

“We know now where we are in terms of qualy pace and it’s a pleasant surprise, as we didn’t expect to be here, but we need to keep our feet on the ground. It’s only the first qualy of the year and it’s run in very strange conditions,” Leclerc, who will start Sunday’s race on soft tyres, pointed out.

“I think we should be satisfied as a team with the step we made since last year, so to be so far forward on the grid feels great. I have been struggling in FP2 and FP3 as I could not find the feeling with the car but I worked quite a lot on the driving and in qualy I was actually quite confident I would be able to do the lap I wanted.

“I feel confident but it’s going to be difficult as other cars around us seem to be very strong in terms of race pace and are starting on Mediums, so it’s going to be tricky to keep them behind. Also, it’s not going to be easy because of the wind, but that’s the same for everyone,” the Monegasque said.

Ferrari was one of just three teams to have both drivers within the top ten, with Leclerc’s teammate Sainz in eighth. The Spaniard called Saturday “very positive” for Ferrari, who touted ‘signs of progress’. He had a scare of an F1 engine issue but managed to get going well. On losing to Leclerc, he reckoned, the Q3 knowledge in the car made the difference.

After a highly promising Friday, McLaren found their drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris in sixth and seventh respectively. The former called the ‘decent result’ a ‘pleasant relief’, and shares that he is comfortable in the MCL35M – but more so on long runs than in one-lap efforts. Therefore, the Australian F1 driver seeks ‘big points’.

“It’s a pleasant relief to get the first quali out of the way and get a decent result,” said Ricciardo. “I think, after the test, I was fairly comfortable in the car but probably more so on long runs. I still felt that, if anything, my Saturdays were going to need improving – and I think they still do – but I certainly made a nice step from a couple of weeks ago and I’m happy.

“We’ve got a good platform to build on now, I’m really happy with how we approached it as a team, not putting too much pressure on me.” Norris, meanwhile, described it as a ‘tricky qualifying’. Both he and Ricciardo will be starting the F1 Grand Prix on medium tyres. “Tricky qualifying, just because it’s very close between everyone,” he said.

“I’s a good position, probably a bit more of a race track than a qualifying track, so hopefully, after focusing a little bit on that throughout the weekend.” Alpine were surprisingly low down the order in qualifying, their veteran Fernando Alonso the only of their drivers to make Q3. He ultimately qualified ninth, in what was a result which he says should leave the team ‘pleased’ given his challenges in finding the A521’s balance.

“We have to be pleased with our qualifying session,” Alonso began. “I wasn’t totally confident with the car balance in any of the practice sessions this weekend. In qualifying, though, the temperature was a lot cooler and I was able to attack and feel the car a little bit better. It was really exciting to drive these cars again with low fuel and peak performance from the tyres.

“Qualifying is always amazing to experience in Formula 1 and I have missed that feeling! The plan is to attack and score points. We’ll try to make up some positions from our starting spot but we have to be wary of the cars around us as some of our competitors are starting on the Medium tyres so it will be a close race,” the Spaniard said, as teammate Esteban Ocon described his day as “very disappointing” after coming P16.

The greatest shock of Saturday’s session remained Sebastian Vettel’s early exit in Q1, when his lap – one with “quite a bit of margin for improvement” by the German’s own admission – was only good enough for P18. Vettel’s second effort was marred by two yellow flags, eliminating the chance for improvement.

“There was a yellow flag at turn one and one later in the lap too,” said Vettel. “I was just unlucky with my position on the track. On a positive note, the car felt better in qualifying and all the work we have done since testing is taking us in a good direction, so we have the potential to be faster.

“Even though we are not starting where we want to be, it is Sunday that counts. Our job is to maximise all the opportunities and see what happens,” Vettel said. Teammate Lance Stroll made it in Q3 and eventually finished 10th, in what will be a challenge for Aston Martin to score points amid competition from Ferrari, Alpine and Alfa Romeo.

The Swiss F1 outfit did put up a good show with Antonio Giovinazzi 12th and looking in a better shape than 2020. They also managed to beat one AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda, who was left disappointed after a pace drop on the medium tyres. At the same time, Pierre Gasly managed to made it stick and end up fifth, using medium tyres in Q2.

“I’m a bit disappointed if I’m honest, I showed I had the pace on the medium tyre in Q1 and I felt confident with our strategy going into Q2, but I just didn’t have the grip during those final laps,” said Tsunoda. “It’s a shame to not be starting the race further up the grid but we know the race pace is there, so let’s see what we can do.”

At the back, Williams’s George Russell made it into Q2 but with Vettel and Ocon missing out, it made it slightly easier. While the Brit felt a bit okay, Nicholas Latifi continued to be hurt by balance struggle. Meanwhile, at Haas, it was similar scenario, where Mick Schumacher found things fine on his side but Nikita Mazepin struggled.

The Russian told media including, that he has suffered a bit this weekend. He had two spins in Q1, the latter, which came after he jumped the queue, thereby breaking the ‘gentleman’ code among F1 drivers. Defending himself, Mazepin noted that he did what Haas asked him to do towards the end.

“I am team’s driver,” said Mazepin. “We have radio intercom, and I am instructed to do what I’m told. I crossed the start-finish line with two seconds left under my belt, otherwise I would have got a red flag. There was no time to wait. I was obviously in the queue like everyone else, but I’ve been told that if I don’t go now, the session’s over. And what else do I have to do? I have to follow what the team tells me, because that’s my job. So I’m sorry if somebody is unhappy about it, but I follow my engineer’s advice.”

Here’s how F1 Bahrain GP qualifying panned out