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Leclerc ushers in new F1 era with Bahrain GP pole ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton fifth

Leclerc ushers in new F1 era with Bahrain GP pole ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton fifth

Leclerc ushers in new F1 era with Bahrain GP pole ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton fifth

Leclerc ushers in new F1 era with Bahrain GP pole ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton fifth

Charles Leclerc ushered in F1's new era by claiming pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of the sport's new champion Max Verstappen.

After all the posturing and phoney war of pre-season testing, this first qualifying was always going to be the time for the 10 teams to truly show their hand, with the added attraction of the new aerodynamic regulations.

And it was a see-saw battle between Ferrari and Verstappen, with Leclerc quickest in Q1; the Dutch driver fastest in Q2, and then Carlos Sainz at the top of the timesheet after the first run in Q3.

At that stage just 0.056s separated Sainz, Leclerc and Verstappen, with Sergio Perez just over a quarter-of-a-second in fourth in the second Red Bull.

Come the final run in Q3, it was Leclerc who ultimately held sway with a lap of one minute 30.558s to finish 0.123s clear of Verstappen, who was on pole at this race a year ago.

Sainz went on to give Ferrari a one-three on the grid, with Perez fourth quickest, while seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton could only manage fifth fastest, seven-tenths of a second adrift in his Mercedes.

Mercedes still has plenty of work to do to address its porpoising issues despite a step change overnight following a woeful practice on Friday.

Hamilton's former Mercedes team-mate starts a sensational sixth in his Alfa Romeo, a third-of-a-second behind the Briton and ahead of George Russell, the man who has replaced him at Mercedes as he could only qualify ninth.

For Haas, it was another fairytale story, with Kevin Magnussen seventh, giving the team its first Q3 berth for the first time since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Alpine's Fernando Alonso starts eighth, with Pieree Gasly joining Russell on the fifth row of the grid in his AlphaTauri.

Bottas had brilliantly scraped into Q3 by just 0.065s with a late flier to knock Alpine's Esteban Ocon out of Q2, leaving the Frenchman to start 11th ahead of the second Haas of Mick Schumacher, who starts from his best grid slot of 12th.

Behind the German is Lando Norris, suggesting McLaren has a lot of work to do to sort out its issues, in particular, with its brakes as there is only an interim fix on its MCL36s at present.

On his debut with Williams, Alex Albon starts 14th ahead of F1 rookie Guanyu Zhou who had a late lap deleted for exceeding track limits in his Alfa Romeo, albeit one that would only have pushed him ahead of the Thai-British driver.

As with the rest of qualifying that followed, the initial 18-minute outing was fascinating and thrilling in equal measure, culminating in Bottas and Magnussen finishing fourth and fifth quickest, with Russell and Hamilton only ninth and 10th.

At the conclusion, AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda finished seventh-tenths of a second behind team-mate Gasly who was seventh fastest and will start 16th.

For Nico Hulkenberg, there was no fairytale return but he can at least console himself with the fact that after 17 months of inactivity he managed to out-qualify Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll.

It was a disastrous qualifying for the Silverstone-based team for while Hulkenberg's performance in standing in for the Covid-hit Sebastian Vettel was commendable, Stroll was a dismal 19th, a quarter-of-a-second slower than the German.

Daniel Ricciardo will sandwich the Aston Martin pair on the grid as he also struggled, a consequence of sustaining Covid that forced him to miss the second test, while his car has encountered numerous issues.

At the rear of the grid will be Williams' Nicholas Latifi, the Canadian a staggering nine-tenths of a second behind Albon.

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