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Ferrari’s Leclerc on pole for season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc will start the Bahrain Grand Prix at the front of the grid

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari secured pole position for Sunday’s season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain as world champion Max Verstappen had to settle for second place in qualifying.

Leclerc was 0.123 seconds faster than Red Bull’s Verstappen while Carlos Sainz will start third on the grid in the second Ferrari.

“I think we have worked extremely well as a team, very happy with today. I wasn’t completely happy with my driving but managed to do that lap in Q3 and we start from pole, so very happy.”

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Valtteri Bottas came sixth in his first qualifying session for Alfa Romeo since leaving Mercedes at the end of last season.

Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate George Russell was ninth fastest and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri completed the top 10.

Verstappen topped the times in the second and third practice sessions, but the Dutchman was pipped to pole by Leclerc after a poor final sector.

“We have a good race car, which overall is the most important. A few things to look into and we’ll try to do better for next time.

– ‘Bit of a nightmare’ –

“The guys ahead of us are in another league. In general I’m happy where we are, it’s not the front row but we will make improvements as well as we can,” Hamilton told Sky Sports.

Nico Hulkenberg could only manage 17th in his first outing since October 2020 as a stand-in for Sebastian Vettel, the Alfa Romeo driver absent after testing positive for Covid-19.

Formula One’s governing body said Saturday that “human error” was responsible for the controversial ending to last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi which saw Verstappen crowned champion ahead of Hamilton.

Masi has since been removed from his post and race control restructured.

Sunday’s Grand Prix is the first of a revised 22-race calendar, trimmed from 23 events following the cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix.

They include the return of ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics for the first time since 1983 with much bigger wheels and fatter tyres, a freeze on power unit development and a tighter budget cap, down to 140 million dollars (127.4 million euros) excluding drivers’ salaries.

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