Max Verstappen 'positively surprised' by Bahrain GP pole

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Max Verstappen was "positively surprised" to score the first pole position of the 2023 Formula 1 season in Bahrain.

The reigning two-time world champion and his Red Bull team laid down a marker as he and teammate Sergio Perez were the only drivers to go sub-1m30s around the Sakhir circuit in qualifying.

But while many had anticipated Verstappen would be the man to beat, the Dutchman revealed the path to pole hasn't been easy.

"I was actually positively surprised being on pole after the struggles I had in practice," he admitted in parc ferme post-session.

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"It's been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today, not really finding my rhythm. But luckily, in qualifying, I think we managed to put the best pieces together.

"That's positive, and normally our race car is better."

While Red Bull seems to have an edge over the field, the competition is very close with just 1.1s covering the 20 drivers in Q1, a full second less than in Q1 in 2022.

"Compared to last year, I think everyone knows a bit more what they're doing with the car," Verstappen said. "So naturally, you already start off better and more competitive.

"The [floor] changes I think tried to slow down the car a bit, but we are still going faster, that's a great thing to see and I think again, throughout the year, you will see that everyone is increasing their performance again a lot."

As for teammate Perez, he benefited from Charles Leclerc opting not to do a second run in Q3 to save tyres as the Mexican moved up to second on the grid.

But Checo is hopeful he will be stronger on Sunday.

"I wasn't totally comfortable with the balance," he explained. "I certainly believe that you can always improve a tenth on your lap, but I think to get this start [a one-two] for the team is really special.

"If anything we prepared much more for the race. We have more of a Sunday race car at the moment underneath us.

"We knew we had to do some compromises for quali, which we ended up doing, [and] they were not ideal. But hopefully tomorrow it pays out and we can have a very strong race."