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Reigning champion Max Verstappen cruises to Bahrain Grand Prix victory

Reigning champion Max Verstappen cruises to Bahrain Grand Prix victory

  • Red Bull driver wins by 12 seconds from teammate Pérez
  • Fernando Alonso third and Lewis Hamilton fifth

For all that Max Verstappen ensured the opening to the new Formula One season felt very much a routine re-run of his dominant control of last year, the sport’s introduction in Bahrain was saved by its oldest hand. The Dutchman’s relentless, clinical win could not be faulted but in his wake was the verve, dash and sheer daredevilry of Fernando Alonso, claiming a mighty third place for Aston Martin and reminding everyone that even at 41 the double world champion remains gripping to watch.

Out in front Verstappen won with faultless precision from pole to flag, in complete control at the Sakhir circuit as he put what looks a fearsomely competitive car through its paces with ease. He comfortably beat his teammate Sergio Pérez into second and in the process served fair warning that on this form he is most certainly on course for a third title.

Indeed, for all the anticipation a new season generates, such was his and Red Bull’s authority over this race, it was a pedestrian affair for the leader – the drama left flat by a leading actor with no foil, a soliloquy with no edge. There is no denying Verstappen’s talent. His victory here was by a whopping 12 seconds from Pérez in an identical car and it was clear the Dutchman was barely pushing from the halfway point. Indeed such was his control it would not have been entirely surprising had the screen cut to show the avid gamer indulging in a spot of Super Mario on his steering wheel dash, so unperturbed was he in the clean air of the lead.

So the return of Alonso to the fore of the field was welcome, his third place confirming the form Aston had shown all weekend and that they are very much competing among the big three teams, looking comfortably quicker than the Mercedes for whom Lewis Hamilton and George Russell could manage only fifth and seventh as their car struggled.

For Alonso, who drove the socks off the Aston, this was a mighty result, his first podium since Qatar in 2021 with Alpine. Indeed he delivered with the usual verve and confident, decisive overtaking that has characterised his 20-season career in F1 and, moreover, while potentially nursing a damaged car after he took a hit at the start from his teammate Lance Stroll, who finished sixth.

Alonso vied with Russell on track, and passed him, then Hamilton who defended as stoutly as the former world champion knows how before he, too, was passed, before Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was also dispatched. Alonso was diving and weaving to the outside and in each case cutting back in, his touch and judgment as sharp as it was when he was doing the same to Michael Schumacher to take his two titles.

Fernando Alonso celebrates his third place in Bahrain

Indeed he may well be the closest threat to Verstappen at this stage of the season. Ferrari were unable to match Red Bull for pace but also suffered a demoralising failure when Charles Leclerc had to retire with an engine problem while in third place. His teammate Carlos Sainz managed to bring his car home in fourth once Alonso had swept past him.

“To finish on the podium first race of the year is just amazing. What Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second best car on race one is just unreal,” said Alonso. “Hopefully people enjoyed it. We enjoyed it as well, so let’s enjoy it together.”

For Verstappen the win opens his season with the same confident and controlled statement of intent with which he closed out his dominant, championship-winning year in 2022. Then he took 15 victories from 22 races on his way to the title and he is out of the blocks with alacrity once more, displaying a formidable race pace that shows the car has lost none of its strengths from last year, as he acknowledged.

“We have a good race package,” he said with no little understatement. “We can definitely fight with this car and a big thank you to the team to get us a quick race car again.”

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This positive assessment was matched by the Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner. “The pace was good, the strategy was there, it was the best possible start for us. It was a superb race today, get on the board and get some points early.”

Ferrari, meanwhile, must act swiftly to solve their issues. If they are even to enter the fight, they need reliability and cannot blow points as they did here. Mercedes, meanwhile, have already acknowledged their failings. The car’s concept has been accepted as not working and they are already investigating changing it as swiftly as possible. Until which time they are firmly rooted in fourth and the uncomfortable and unbecoming position of being beaten by Aston Martin, a team for whom they supply the engine, suspension and gearbox and who use the Mercedes wind tunnel.

Red Bull and Alonso, however, leave on a high, Verstappen victorious and the Spaniard with a taste again of the glory days that could yet herald a more momentous victory this season. That would be something special, indeed.

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