Max Verstappen outpaces Lewis Hamilton to take pole position for F1 opener in Bahrain

Verstappen Bahrain pole
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took a superb pole position Saturday for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and will start the race immediately ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen earned his fourth career pole to deny Hamilton his 99th, edging out the world champion by 0.39 seconds on his final attempt.

“The whole weekend has been pretty good so far,” Verstappen said. “We knew what our weaknesses were last year and it looks like we’ve addressed them.”

Verstappen praised Honda for improving reliability.

“Honda have worked really hard to improve their engine,” he said. “Their turnaround has been really good and their understanding of the engine is impressive. They are just flat out all the time and want to win.”

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was 0.59 behind Verstappen in third, and Charles Leclerc qualified in an encouraging fourth for Ferrari. In another encouraging sign for Honda, Pierre Gasly was fifth for AlphaTauri, which also uses their engine.

Verstappen clinched the season-ending Abu Dhabi last December from pole and now goes for the 11th win of his career. Hamilton seeks a record-extending 96th win.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge, a bit of an uphill slog,” Hamilton said. “Congratulations to Max. I gave everything I had.”

Verstappen led the first part of qualifying, known as Q1, ahead of AlphaTauri’s 20-year-old Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda. Both cars use Honda engines and the Japanese manufacturer is in its final season before leaving F1.

Sebastian Vettel, who endured a torrid season last year with Ferrari, started the new one badly. He was among the five drivers eliminated from Q1 and starts 18th for Aston Martin.

Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Schumacher, starts from 19th at the track where his father won the inaugural race in 2004, the year he clinched his seventh F1 title. Hamilton is looking to win a record eighth title.

Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz Jr. and Leclerc topped Q2 ahead of Hamilton, an encouraging sign for the famed Italian manufacturer given last season’s difficulties.

Earlier in the day, Verstappen, who led both practices Friday, clocked the fastest time in the final practice when, in hot conditions, he was 0.74 seconds quicker than Hamilton. Vettel came back to the garage with about 20 minutes left in the session, telling his team some debris had hit his race helmet.

Qualifying took place in the evening under cooler conditions as the sun set on the Sakhir desert track.

Verstappen is continuing his form from preseason testing and last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, which he won.

SuperMotocross set to introduce Leader Lights beginning with the World Championship finals


In a continuing effort to help fans keep track of the on track action, SuperMotocross is in the process of developing and implementing leader lights for the unified series.

Currently Supercross (SMX) utilizes stanchions in the infield that are triggered manually by a race official. At least two stanchions are used in each race as a way to draw the eye to the leader, which is especially useful in the tight confines of the stadium series when lapping often begins before the halfway mark in the 22-bike field. This system has been in place for the past two decades.

Later this year, a fully automated system will move to the bike itself to replace the old system. At that point, fans will be able to identify the leader regardless of where he is on track.

The leader lights were tested in the second Anaheim round this year. An example can be seen at the 1:45 mark in the video above on the No. 69 bike.

“What we don’t want to do is move too fast, where it’s confusing to people,” said Mike Muye, senior director of operations for Supercross and SMX in a press release. “We’ve really just focused on the leader at this point with the thought that maybe down the road we’ll introduce others.”

Scheduled to debut with the first SuperMotocross World Championship race at zMax Dragway, located just outside the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 3D carbon fiber-printed LED light will be affixed to each motorcycle. Ten timing loops positioned around the track will trigger the lights of the leader, which will turn green.

SMX’s partner LiveTime Scoring helped develop and implement the system that has been tested in some form or fashion since 2019.

When the leader lights are successfully deployed, SuperMotocross will explore expanding the system to identify the second- and third-place riders. Depending on need and fan acceptance, more positions could be added.

SuperMotocross is exploring future enhancements, including allowing for live fan interaction with the lights and ways to use the lighting system during the race’s opening ceremony.