Max Verstappen struck the first blow of the new Formula One season by securing pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The double world champion beat Sergio Perez as Red Bull locked out the front row by one tenth of a second with Charles Leclerc third for Ferrari.
Carlos Sainz finished fourth in the other scarlet car ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.
George Russell qualified sixth as Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton could manage only seventh.
Hamilton, 38, finished more than six tenths adrift of Verstappen as his fears that Mercedes have fallen further behind their rivals were played out under the thousand of bulbs that light up the Sakhir circuit.
But there were no such concerns for Verstappen as the pre-season favourite, who last year won 15 of the 22 races as he claimed his second consecutive world title, secured his 21st pole on his father Jos Verstappen’s 51st birthday.
“I am pretty sure he is watching,” said the Dutchman. “It has been a tough start to the weekend and I have not found my rhythm. I struggled to get the car together.
“But we put the best pieces together in Q3 – it was not perfect but in a better direction – and I am happy to be on pole and for the whole team, too.
“It is a very strong start and I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
Alonso topped two of the three practice sessions for Aston Martin, but the 41-year-old was unable to carry his pace through to qualifying and cap a sensational debut for the rejuvenated British team by taking his first pole in 11 years.
Lando Norris made it through to Q2 by the skin of his teeth, posting the same time as Logan Sargeant, but progressing by virtue of lapping earlier than the Williams rookie.
Norris, 23, will have headed into his fifth season on the grid with loftier ambitions than only squeezing into the second phase of qualifying and eventually finishing 11th.
But much to Norris’ frustration, McLaren have slipped down the pecking order and deep into the midfield. Norris’ new team-mate, Australian Oscar Piastri, lines up in 18th of 20.
Norris was in 10th place and on the brink of making it into Q3 only to be usurped by Lance Stroll in the closing moments.
Stroll is racing on through the pain barrier here after he fell off his road bike last month and required surgery on his left wrist.
The son of the team’s fashion billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll finished eighth.
Published: by Radio NewsHub