Max Verstappen of Red Bull took an excellent field position for the opening season of the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday and will start the race just before Mercedes driver Luis Hamilton.
Verstappen won his fourth pole in his career to deny Hamilton his 99th position, tying the world champion with .39 seconds in his last attempt.
“Congratulations to Max,” Hamilton said.
“I gave everything I had.”
Hamilton team-mate Valteri Botas is 0.5 points behind Verstappen in third place, while Charles Leclerc is in an encouraging quarter for Ferrari.
Verstappen won the final season of Abu Dhabi last December at the pole and is now in his 11th career victory. Hamilton wants a record 96th victory. Verstappen led the first part of the qualification, known as Q1, before
20-year-old Japanese AlphaTauri pilot Yuki Tsunoda. Both cars use Honda engines, and the Japanese manufacturer was in its final season before leaving the F1.
Sebastian Vettel, who endured a terrible season last year with Ferrari, started the new one badly. He was among the five drivers eliminated by Q1 and started 18th for Aston Martin.
Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Schumacher, started 19th on the track, where his father won his first race in 2004, the year he won his seventh F1 title. Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth title.
The duo of Ferrari Carlos Sainz Jr. and Leclerc topped Q2 before Hamilton, an encouraging sign for the famous Italian manufacturer given the difficulties last season.
Earlier in the day, Verstappen recorded the fastest time in the final practice, when in hot conditions he was .74 seconds faster than Hamilton. Vettel returned to the garage with about 20 minutes into the session, telling his team that debris had hit his racing helmet.
The qualification took place in the evening in cooler conditions, when the sun set on the Sakhir desert.
Verstappen continues his form from pre-season testing and last year’s Abu Dhabi season, which he won.