Nothing could stop Max Verstappen at the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session today. The Dutchman put his Red Bull on pole after pipping Lewis Hamilton by 0.388 seconds. His performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend so far has been impeccable. The Red Bull driver led all sessions leading up to qualifying and then put the car on pole in a legendary display.
Did the qualifying session of the Bahrain Grand Prix witness a significant moment in Formula 1 history? Only time will tell, but Max Verstappen has undoubtedly stamped his authority on the 2021 Formula 1 season.
However, the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session was not just about Max Verstappen. Multiple storylines emerged during the 45 minutes. Let's go through the five key talking points from the first qualifying session of the Formula 1 2021 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
#1 A change of guard at the Bahrain Grand Prix?
Mercedes and Red Bull are closely matched on pace at the Bahrain Grand Prix. A true reflection of their one-lap speed can be found in Q2, where Lewis Hamilton was two-tenths faster than Verstappen. However, what follows next can only signal a change of guard in Formula 1.
With time ticking in the third session of qualifying, the Dutchman did to Lewis Hamilton what the Brit has done to the grid over the last half-decade. Verstappen demolished Hamilton's lap time, which was good enough for provisional pole. The Dutchman became the only driver on the grid to get into the 1 minute 28 second bracket. The Dutchman set purple in all three sectors and posted a time of 1.28.997, beating Hamilton by nearly four-tenths of a second.
Even more impressive was that Verstappen accrued damage to the floor of the RB16B. According to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, the floor damage to Max's car cost the Dutchman 0.1 seconds per lap. By this estimate, Verstappen could have been half-a-second clear of seven-time and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.
#2 Sergio Perez struggles as Pierre Gasly stakes claim for Red Bull seat
Qualifying in P11 was not a part of the plan for Sergio Perez. His result was made worse by Pierre Gasly's P5 finish to the session. The Mexican started Q2 on the Medium compound tires, only for his lap-time to be deleted for breaching track limits. Perez came out on the Medium tires again, instead of playing it safe and choosing the Softs. The Mexican couldn't deliver a lap worthy of making Q3 and was eliminated.
'Checo' is not the fastest qualifier on the Formula 1 grid, however, he is not as bad as his result at the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session suggests. This was a one-off for the Mexican, who will look to charge through the midfield in tomorrow's race.
On the flip side, it's hard to believe that Pierre Gasly is not raising eyebrows in the Red Bull camp. The Frenchman became a race-winner last year in Monza and has only improved since Red Bull demoted him in 2019. He put on another dazzling display under the bright lights at the Bahrain Grand Prix, finishing the session in P5. If Sergio Perez cannot improve his qualifying performances, Red Bull could have no choice but to promote Pierre Gasly to their main team.
This is the first realistic opportunity that Sergio Perez has to challenge for the title. The car is good enough, as shown by Verstappen. However, the Mexican needs to be at the top of his game to keep Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri.
#3 Sebastian Vettel gets a wake-up call at Aston Martin
Sebastian Vettel had a rude awakening at the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session. The German was caught out by yellow flags brought on by Nikita Mazepin's spin towards the end of Q1. The four-time world champion finished his debut qualifying session with Aston Martin in P18.
However, Vettel should not have been so close to elimination at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Aston Martin is a competitive team. Lance Stroll finished the session in P10, suggesting that there is pace in the car. It is unforgivable for a four-time world champion to be knocked out in Q1.
#4 Esteban Ocon committed Formula 1's cardinal sin
Giving Fernando Alonso something to exploit is one of the biggest mistakes his teammates can make in Formula 1. Esteban Ocon learned it the hard way at the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying. The Frenchman's session was another debacle in his fledgling Formula 1 career.
Esteban Ocon has the pace, the right attitude and the team to show his talents. However, he seems to lack one of the most crucial elements of a driver's career, luck.
The yellow flag brought out by Nikita Mazepin's spin caught out the Frenchman. Esteban Ocon matched Alonso for pace throughout the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, but at the crucial moment Esteban Ocon's luck ran out. The Frenchman was eliminated in Q1 after finishing the session in P16.
Ocon has now given Alonso the advantage, and that is all it takes for the Spaniard to dominate his teammates.
#5 Gear up for the best Formula 1 season in recent times
The Formula 1 midfield is more closely matched than ever before. However, now fans can expect a battle at the top of the grid as well. Red Bull and Max Verstappen's performance in the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session has made this possible. Mercedes has been unchallenged in the turbo-hybrid era. For the first time in half-a-decade, a team looks worthy of challenging the defending champions.
The potential of a championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has Formula 1 fans salivating.
We only have two words for Formula 1 fans: Stay Tuned!