Verstappen wins the Bahrain Grand Prix in the opening race of the F1 season End-shutdown

The first race of the Formula 1 season was not a great race at all.

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen opened his world championship defense with a dominating performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, sending a message to the rest of the series that he will not give up his championship easily.

The fastest in qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen pulled away from the start line on Sunday, passed his main rivals and teammate Sergio Perez into the first corner and never looked back. His lead grew slowly at first, two seconds, then four, then five, but eventually grew to more than 25: an eternity in a sport where teams measure improvements and leads in hundredths of a second.

Pérez followed Verstappen along the line to complete an exceptional day for Red Bull. The big surprise, however, was just behind: Fernando Alonso, the oldest driver in the field at 41, finished third to give Aston Martin a surprise trip to the podium in his first race for the team.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had expressed some doubt ahead of the race, calling the first start of any season “a little trip into the unknown”. And Verstappen’s journey wasn’t perfect: he complained about some gearing issues on his spoke, worried about tire conditions and then suggested Red Bull could still improve.

“Nothing big,” Verstappen said. “Just little things you always want to fine tune.”

This effectively ended the moment Max Verstappen stepped on the accelerator. Starting from pole, he was quickest through the first corner, and then second, and third…you get the picture. Charles Leclerc gave Ferrari a few seconds of hope when he passed Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in the opening sprint. But it wasn’t long before he was behind both Red Bulls and, like everyone else, wondering where Verstappen had gone.

  • Esteban Ocon. The winner of the landslide in this contest. The Alpine driver managed to line up in the wrong spot on the starting grid, receiving a five-second penalty, then serving it incorrectly. bringing a second. A third penalty, for speeding in the pit lane while he was trying to make up the seconds he had lost, seemed comical. Honestly, if there was a way to lock the keys in an F1 car, Ocon probably would have done it.

  • Oscar Piastri. His much-discussed move to McLaren last year, after Alpine announced him as a driver for 2023, produced one of the raunchiest moments of the new season “Drive to Survive”. But Piastri’s debut race for McLaren was a disaster: he was out after just 15 laps, part of a miserable day for his team.

  • Carlos Leclerc. He was riding third when his car’s power unit suddenly shut down. (Essentially, the car just broke down after he was turning a corner.) Starting the season without points was not in his or Ferrari’s plans. Leaving the garage in a million dollar race car only to hitch a ride again on a Vespa? Oh.

  • “That was exactly the start of the season we needed.” — max verstappen after Red Bull went 1-2.

  • “Yes bye.” — Fernando Alonso on the radio, after a late-race pass from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz put him in third and (eventually) Aston Martin on the podium.

  • “Unfortunately we have taken a step back and Red Bull is on another planet. Third was the best we could hope for.” — Carlos Leclercafter his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz finished fourth and finished nothing.

March, 19: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

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