Max Verstappen lays down early marker and beats Hamilton to Bahrain F1 pole

This was exactly the curtain-raiser to the new season required to herald perhaps the most highly anticipated contest between two drivers for a decade. Verstappen and his Red Bull team have left them reeling with a positively bruising opening salvo. Red Bull and Verstappen look stronger going into this opening race of the season than at any time since they last won the championship in 2013. For Verstappen this will be the 23-year-old’s first real shot at the title, in his seventh season in F1. Verstappen was given little margin of error to secure the pole but did so with a magnificent run at Sakhir that will be all too familiar to Hamilton and Mercedes. He led on his first run in Q3 with a time of 1min 29.526sec but Hamilton was just two-hundredths back from the Dutchman. Yet Verstappen declared himself unhappy with his opening hot lap and proceeded to show just what he could do, his final run of 1:28.997 leaving Hamilton with no answer. Verstappen and Red Bull had closed out 2020 strongly with pole and a win in Abu Dhabi and their car this year is a significant improvement on that strongly developed model. Verstappen will not have a wingman at the front, however, with Sergio Pérez going out in 11th.

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