Charles Leclerc takes pole for Bahrain GP ahead of champ Max Verstappen

Leclerc Ferrari Bahrain pole
Clive Mason/Getty Images
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SAKHIR, Bahrain — Charles Leclerc of Ferrari stunned Formula One series champion Max Verstappen by taking a brilliant pole position Saturday for the season-opening F1 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.015 seconds ahead of Leclerc on the last time split but the Red Bull star lost time to finish 0.123 seconds behind as his old teenage karting rival clinched the 10th pole position of his career.

“It was just a bit hit-and-miss getting the balance together,” said Verstappen, who had been fast in practice. “Suddenly I lost a 10th (of a second) on a corner. Nevertheless it’s the first race of the season and we’re competitive.”

It is the same track where the 24-year-old Leclerc from Monaco got his first pole, in his first season with Ferrari in 2019, earning him a phone call from friend Prince Albert of Monaco.

“It feels good. The last two years have been difficult for the team,” Leclerc said. “We were quite hopeful this was an opportunity to be back in the front.”

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton made up ground for Mercedes on his final run but never looked like securing a record-extending 104th pole and starts from a disappointing fifth place. He is behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. in third.

Hamilton’s ex-teammate Valtteri Bottas made it a sore day for Mercedes by placing sixth for his new team Alfa Romeo, while his replacement George Russell was only ninth after a poor last run.

Mercedes looks to be struggling as others unexpectedly improve.

Haas uses Ferrari engines and is looking good, with the re-hired Kevin Magnussen showing it was maybe a mistake to fire him in 2020. He starts in seventh place in his comeback race after replacing the axed Russian driver Nikita Mazepin.

Ferrari set the leading times in the final part of qualifying, known as Q3, with Mercedes lagging around 1.5 seconds behind the Ferraris. But already it wasn’t looking good for Mercedes in Q1 with Russell ninth and Hamilton 10th.

It was even worse for McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who has won eight races in his career.

The experienced Australian won the team’s only race last season but couldn’t even get into the second part of qualifying known as Q2. He starts in a dismal 18th place while teammate Lando Norris, who got four podiums last year, is not much further up in 13th.

Verstappen led Q2 from Sainz Jr. and Leclerc as Mercedes again trailed the top drivers.

“It was a good start to the new era,” Verstappen said. “It was a really close battle with Carlos and Charles.”

Earlier, Verstappen narrowly led the third and final practice ahead of Leclerc and Perez.

Verstappen posted the fastest time in all preseason testing and led second practice ahead of the Ferraris, which were also second and third in the first practice.

Mercedes expressed severe doubts about the pace of its car in testing. After Friday’s two practice runs Hamilton had already ruled out victory despite being F1’s record holder with 103 GP wins.

Hamilton has won races where he’s started from far lower than fifth, but there are doubts his car can match his driving this time.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”