Verstappen on pole for Bahrain season-opener

ALI HAIDER/ POOL/ AFP

Red Bull's reigning world champion Max Verstappen took the first pole position of the Formula One season in Bahrain on Friday, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc alongside on the front row.

Mercedes' George Russell qualified third and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz fourth.

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, both held under floodlights and the first two rounds of a record 24-race championship, are being held on Saturdays to accommodate the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to fall on the evening of March 10 or March 11.

At the end of the session Verstappen appeared under the impression that he had not done enough, but the Dutch driver was 0.228 quicker than Leclerc.

"Nothing to be sorry about Max. A very good start. Two tenths clear of Charles and three tenths clear of George," said team boss Christian Horner.

The triple champion, who won from pole in Bahrain last year and ended up with 19 wins from 22 races in a dominant season, said it had been fun.

"The track had a lot of grip but with the wind the last two days, it's been quite tricky to get the whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying," he said.

"Of course very happy to be on pole. It was a little bit unexpected but luckily in qualifying the car came to us and I felt a bit happier with the whole car."

Red Bull's Sergio Perez will start fifth with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso sixth and McLaren's Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri seventh and eighth.

Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton will line up in ninth place with Haas's Nico Hulkenberg a surprise 10th for the US-owned team.

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