Red Bull enjoyed a perfect start to the season in the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix as Max Verstappen cruised to victory over team mate Sergio Perez – while Fernando Alonso finished third as Charles Leclerc retired from the race.
Everyone bar hard-shod Kevin Magnussen (P15) began the race on soft tyres and Verstappen had a solid getaway, but team mate Perez fell back and lost second place to Leclerc – while Carlos Sainz couldn’t quite pry P3 off the Red Bull. The reigning champion stretched his legs in the lead and eventually won by more than 10 seconds. Perez completed the one-two with both Red Bull drivers on similar soft-soft-hard strategies.
Aston Martin’s hopes of crashing the podium fight seemed to have come crashing down on Lap 1 when Lance Stroll made a lunge on team mate Alonso into Turn 4 and hit the rear-right of his car, allowing both Mercedes ahead.
Ferrari’s hopes of the podium did however come crashing down on Lap 41, when Leclerc retired with an engine issue. That was just after Alonso produced an absolutely brilliant move to take P5 off Lewis Hamilton, down the inside of Turn 10. Alonso went on the warpath and on Lap 45 he passed Sainz after a stunning battle through Sector 2, to seal his first podium since Qatar 2021.
SAKHIR, Bahrain — Max Verstappen won the race, but the Bahrain Grand Prix belonged to Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s podium on his Aston Martin debut not only showed the excitement around the team’s car was justified (if not slightly overblown at points this week), but has also seen one of the most talented drivers of the modern Formula One era propelled back into a competitive position.
The man who told Netflix he relishes being F1’s antihero was the saviour of the opening race, which otherwise would have been severely lacking in genuine entertainment. What’s more, the Aston Martin looked like it can be a podium regular this year.
“That’s why this performance feels good, because it was on merit,” Alonso said. “I think the last few occasions I was competitive, like Canada last year, it was a wet qualifying … there was always special circumstances.
“We were very strong in testing, strong in free practice and strong in the race. Feel proud to be part of this organisation right now. These are the starting points right now, we changed concept, so it’s a new philosophy and we need to find more performance in the coming months.”
Verstappen Makes It Look Too Easy
It is only Race 1 of 23 but Max Verstappen laid down a marker that evoked memories of his dominant second half of 2022.
Verstappen converted pole position into an early lead and breezed away from the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc at a rate of seven-tenths per lap in the initial stages. Verstappen got his lead up to around 10 seconds and merely maintained that comfortable buffer, while slow-starting Sergio Perez eventually overhauled Leclerc to make it a 1-2 for the reigning champions.
Verstappen finished 38 seconds clear of the nearest non-Red Bull driver—and such a benchmark came after being under zero pressure all race in a weekend in which Red Bull was perplexed by the RB19’s tricky balance during practice. It was some statement of intent.
Aston Martin, Alonso Break Into the Top Group
A dreary affair beneath the lights in Bahrain was enlivened by the evergreen Fernando Alonso.
After years of underperforming or unreliable machinery Alonso is finally equipped with machinery to suit his talent. Aston Martin was expected to front the midfield group but on race day the AMR23 was the second-fastest package. Alonso recovered from a so-so first lap, in which he was fortunate that wayward teammate Lance Stroll did not punt him around at Turn 4, to finish on the podium.
Alonso bided his team and passed both Mercedes drivers—including a stupendous move on Lewis Hamilton into Turn 10—and was crafty in eventually overhauling compatriot Carlos Sainz to snatch the 99th podium of his career.
Alonso, having already brilliantly passed the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, the second with a glorious move to catch his fellow multi-world champion off guard, then charged past Spanish compatriot Carlos Sainz on Lap 46 of 57, albeit after some slight contact with the Ferrari.
While not fighting Red Bull, it was a fantastic recovery from surprise 2023 contenders Aston Martin, with Alonso and team-mate Lance Stroll having lost positions and made contact on the opening lap.
Stroll, racing a week after surgery on his wrist, also beat a Mercedes after overtaking Russell.
In the end, Hamilton and Russell had to settle for fifth and seventh in their underperforming W14 cars.
‘One of Mercedes’ Worst Days in Racing’
Mercedes was cautious in the preseason over its prospect for 2023 but Bahrain was a firm reality check for the eight-time champions.
Lewis Hamilton was fifth, 50 seconds off the pace, while George Russell was a few seconds further back in seventh place. That would have been sixth and eighth respectively but for Leclerc’s premature exit.
“We are the fourth-fastest team right now, and the Ferrari and Aston that we were battling were just quicker than us,” said Hamilton.
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