F1

Max Verstappen continues where he left off in 2023 with pole position in Bahrain

Verstappen edged out Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to take the 33rd pole of his career under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Sakhir Circuit.

Max Verstappen took the first pole position of the 2024 season in Bahrain
Max Verstappen Max Verstappen took the first pole position of the 2024 season in Bahrain (David Davies/PA)

Max Verstappen temporarily took the spotlight off team boss Christian Horner by putting his Red Bull on pole position for the opening round of the new Formula One season in Bahrain.

The build-up to the first race of the campaign has totally been overshadowed by allegations whirling around Horner.

The 50-year-old was exonerated by Red Bull Racing parent’s company, Red Bull GmbH, following an internal probe into “inappropriate behaviour” against a female colleague on Wednesday – before hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him were leaked to the F1 world a day later.

However, Horner, who has always denied any wrongdoing and remains in his role, was on the world champions’ pit wall here in Bahrain to see Verstappen claim his first pole of a season in which he is expected to romp to his fourth consecutive world championship in his all-conquering Red Bull machine.

But the triple world champion was made to work for the 33rd pole of his career under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Sakhir Circuit with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc second, two tenths back.

George Russell finished third for Mercedes, one place ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Lewis Hamilton will line up in ninth on the grid.

Despite taking top spot, Verstappen apologised for what he perceived to be a scruffy lap.

The build-up in Bahrain has been dominated by allegations surrounding Christian Horner
Christian Horner The build-up in Bahrain has been dominated by allegations surrounding Christian Horner (David Davies/PA)

“Don’t be sorry, Max,” said Horner over the team radio. “You finished two tenths clear of Charles and three tenths ahead of George.”

It is anticipated that Horner’s wife, Geri Halliwell, will be with her husband for Saturday’s 57-lap race.

Chalerm Yoovidhya, who owns 51 per cent of the Red Bull group, is also set to be in attendance in a public show of support for Horner.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen. “I am very happy to be on pole, and it was a little bit unexpected. The car came to us and I felt happier than I did in practice.

Verstappen claimed the 33rd pole position of his career
Max Verstappen Verstappen claimed the 33rd pole position of his career (David Davies/PA)

“The race is going to be close, too, but we will see tomorrow. I am confident we can have a strong race.”

Hamilton raised hope that he might take the challenge to Verstappen when he finished fastest in practice on Thursday.

However, the 39-year-old, entering his final campaign for the Silver Arrows before he joins Ferrari, finished half-a-second back and behind team-mate Russell.

“Max is still out there in front and we have a lot of catching up to do, but starting third here in Bahrain is a great place for us,” said Russell.

“We have made a big step forward in single-lap pace, but hopefully we have not compromised our race pace. But Max is out ahead and the race for all of us is for second.”

While Verstappen took top spot, Sergio Perez was fifth in the other Red Bull, one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

British driver Lando Norris will line up in seventh for McLaren, with Alex Albon 13th for Williams.

Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly will prop up the grid following a miserable qualifying session for the Alpine team.