Lewis Hamilton confident Mercedes can challenge at front with Max Verstappen

By Sports Desk March 01, 2024

Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes have delivered a car capable of putting him in the fight at the front – despite qualifying only ninth for Saturday’s opening round of the season in Bahrain.

Max Verstappen saw off Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by two tenths to capture pole position, with Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell next up, a third of a second back.

Hamilton raised hope that he might take the challenge to Verstappen when he finished fastest in practice here on Thursday.

However, the 39-year-old, entering his final campaign for the Silver Arrows before he joins Ferrari, finished half-a-second adrift.

But an optimistic Hamilton said: “It is amazing to see how close everyone is, and George’s position is testament to how amazing a job all those working at the factory have done to give us a car to fight.

“The car is really fantastic, and a big improvement from previous years.

“It is stable and more fun to drive. For George to be three tenths off Max is incredible and it shows what is possible.

“We just have to add performance, but if that is our platform, we can definitely chase for the rest of the season.

“For the first qualifying session to be as poor as that when you put in so much preparation is disappointing, but that is racing.”

Verstappen is expected to romp to his fourth consecutive world championship in his all-conquering Red Bull machine.

But the Dutch driver was made to work for the 33rd pole of his career under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Sakhir Circuit.

Verstappen headed into his final run with less than a tenth in his pocket over Leclerc before extending his margin to the Ferrari driver.

Despite taking top spot, Verstappen apologised for what he perceived to be a scruffy lap.

“Don’t be sorry, Max,” said a weary-sounding Christian Horner – whose Formula One future is again in the spotlight after hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him to a female colleague were leaked. “You finished two tenths clear of Charles and three tenths ahead of George.”

Verstappen added: “It was a lot of fun. I am very happy to be on pole, and it was a little bit unexpected. The car came to us and I felt happier than I did in practice.

“The race is going to be close, too, but we will see tomorrow. I am confident we can have a strong race.”

While Verstappen qualified first, Sergio Perez was fifth in the other Red Bull, one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

British driver Lando Norris will line up in seventh for McLaren, with Williams’ Alex Albon 13th.

Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly will prop up the grid following a miserable qualifying session for the Alpine team.

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    Triple world champion Max Verstappen has been vocal in his criticism at the ever-expanding length of the F1 schedule.

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    F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said: “2025 will be a special year as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Formula One World Championship, and it’s that legacy and experience that allows us to deliver such a strong calendar.

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    After four rounds of the current season, Verstappen holds a 13-point championship lead in his bid to secure four consecutive world titles. The next race takes place in Shanghai a week on Sunday.

    Full 2025 F1 calendar

    March 16 – Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne)
    March 23 – Chinese Grand Prix (Shanghai)
    April 6 – Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka)
    April 13 – Bahrain Grand Prix (Sakhir)
    April 20 – Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (Jeddah)
    May 4 – Miami Grand Prix (Miami)
    May 18 – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (Imola)
    May 25 – Monaco Grand Prix (Monte Carlo)
    June 1 – Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona)
    June 15 – Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal)
    June 29 – Austrian Grand Prix (Spielberg)
    July 6 – British Grand Prix (Silverstone)
    July 27 – Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps)
    August 3 – Hungarian Grand Prix (Hungaroring)
    August 31 – Dutch Grand Prix (Zandvoort)
    September 7 – Italian Grand Prix (Monza)
    September 21 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix (Baku)
    October 5 – Singapore Grand Prix (Marina Bay)
    October 19 – United States Grand Prix (Austin)
    October 26 – Mexico City Grand Prix (Mexico City)
    November 9 – Brazilian Grand Prix (Interlagos)
    November 22 – Las Vegas Grand Prix (Las Vegas)
    November 30 – Qatar Grand Prix (Lusail)
    December 7 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Yas Marina)

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