Verstappen says Bahrain pole 'a little bit unexpected'


To many fans watching Friday's qualifying session in Bahrain, the sight of Max Verstappen marching to pole position was no surprise at all. But to the Red Bull driver himself, it was never the sure thing that others saw it.

Verstappen had been somewhat muted in pre-season testing and in the three practice sessions in Bahrain, which was seen by experts as evidence of Red Bull 'sandbagging' to conceal the true pace of the new RB20.

Sure enough, when it came to the crunch Verstappen was back in the same dominant form with which is swept to success last season. His best final round time of 1:29.179s was over two tenths quicker than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.

Even so, it wasn't the fastest time ohe evening with Leclerc's Q2 time proving the bet of the evening, suggesting that the Monegasque had been in with a chance of pipping Verstappen to pole if he's put in the perfect final lap.

Verstappen had certainly thought that had been a distinct possibility, and admitted afterwards that he had feared pole position looked to be slipping away from him.

"Very happy to be on pole," he said in parc ferme afterward. "To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected. But luckily in qualifying, I think the car came to us and I felt a bit happier with the whole car.”

“Q1, Q2, of course you can actually go a bit faster with the track ramping up, but then to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little more difficult," he explained.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB20. 01.03.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

“I said it yesterday: we just needed to fine tune a few little things on the car to try and get that, let’s say, perfect balance," he continued. "Even though with the wind, that is not possible today.

“The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind the last few days it has been quite tricky to get the whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.

“But luckily I think we went in the right direction today. We could really push a bit more with the car and luckily then another step in qualifying," h said, adding: “It was a lot of fun, actually."

Verstappen took pole position for last year's Bahrain as well, which kicked off a record-breaking season of victories for him and for the team as a whole. He's hoping to have a similar flying start to his 2024 campaign.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB20. 01.03.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

“We do look good in the race, and that’s of course the most important [thing]," he commented. "But we’ll see tomorrow. I’m confident that we can have a strong race. It’s going to be close as well."

Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez was fifth quickest in qualifying and will start on the third row of the grid alongside Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.

However the day was overshadowed by more developments concerning the allegations or improper conduct by team principal Christian Horner.

“When I look at how Christian operates within the team, he has been an incredible team boss," was Verstappen's comment on the situation. “I speak to Christian a lot, also throughout the weekend here.

"He’s fully committed to the team,' he insisted. “He’s also here for the performance. Of course, he’s probably a little distracted, but we just focus on the performance side of things and that’s how we work together.”

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