Max Verstappen of Red Bull kept up his sizzling form of free practice sessions when he grabbed the first pole of the season in Bahrain on Saturday. Image Credit: AFP

Sakhir, Bahrain: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed the season-opening pole for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes.

Verstappen took his fourth career pole from Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.

“It all worked out perfectly,” said the Dutchman, rated the main obstacle to Hamilton’s quest for an eighth title.

Verstappen clocked a best lap in one minute and 28.997 seconds to outpace Hamilton by 0.338 seconds. Charles Leclerc was fourth for Ferrari ahead of Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri and the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.

Carlos Sainz was eighth in the second Ferrari ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso, on his return to F1 with the Alpine team, and Lance Stroll, who was 10th for Aston Martin.

Stroll’s new team-mate four-time champion Sebastian Vettel struggled and qualified 18th, failing to make it out of Q1.

Congratulations from Hamilton

“Of course, we had a great test last week, but there are no guarantees here,” said a smiling Verstappen.

“The car worked really well and it was enjoyable to drive. It’s a great start.”

Hamilton, who showed much-improved speed compared to the pre-season test, congratulated his rival. “He was so fast on that last lap. I gave it everything, but it wasn’t enough.

“There is always more, but that was the best I could do in getting it out of my car.”

“I am looking forward to the race. I’ve got a good car and just hope for a good clean start. I’ll keep on pushing.”