New season, another victory. Max Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday, leading almost the entire race as he began his back-to-back Formula One titles.
Red Bull also secured a dominant 1-2 with Sergio Perez finishing 12 seconds behind him in second place and 41-year-old Fernando Alonso taking an impressive third – and claiming 99th career podium – at the start A great race for Aston Martin.
“What have you guys done? What have you done?” said a jubilant Alonso to his team. “I’m so proud of you guys.”
Alonso fans are already labeling this season as “Mission 33” – they are hopeful that the Spanish driver can win a 33rd career race. His last victory was 10 years ago with Ferrari.
Alonso, who came in after an acrimonious split with the Alpine, pumped his fist at the finish line and then hugged his race crew.
“It’s great to finish on the podium in the first race of the year,” said Alonso. “What Aston Martin has done over the winter to have the second best car in race one is just unreal.”
It’s back 🎇#BahrainGP @alo_oficial pic.twitter.com/RvbiEKLkVP
Alonso believes he can win a race this season.
“I would say yes, when you are P3 in race one,” he said. “Anything can happen in 22 races with different conditions.”
It was Verstappen’s 36th career victory but the Dutchman’s first at the floodlit Sakhir circuit, where he finished just laps from the end in last year’s opening race.
“That was exactly the start to the season we needed,” said Verstappen, who retired in three of his first four career races in Bahrain. “I’m very happy to finally win a race here.”
Super Max 🥇#BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/HhrYTX50dK
Both Red Bulls failed to finish here in 2022.
“Best start we’ve ever had, a lot different than last year,” Perez said. “I’m comfortable with the car.”
This time it was Charles Leclerc, after winning last year, who retired on Lap 41 of 57 when his Ferrari lost power.
“No, no, no,” pleaded Leclerc over his radio as his car gradually stopped. Ferrari had an engine battery change before the race but that did not stop Leclerc from making a terrible start to the year after such a frustrating season in 2022.
“There was just no more power. It’s a pity because it’s at these weekends when you have to maximize points,” said Leclerc. “Unfortunately, we’ve taken a step back and Red Bull is on another planet. Third was the best we could have hoped for.”
Take a look now Leclerc fans 😩#BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/SrzRdH4E4Q
Leclerc’s retirement caused panic in Ferrari, and Carlos Sainz Jr didn’t even bother trying to protect him from Alonso – probably out of concern that he would lose power himself – and Alonso caught him with 11 laps remaining.
Sainz finished fourth ahead of seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton in fifth ahead of Stroll in sixth.
Alonso and Stroll collided at the start, with Alonso falling a few places, but they were all smiles at the end of what was a great day for Aston Martin.
“Congratulations to my teammate Lance; 12 days ago he had the surgery,” said Alonso. “He’s fighting up to everyone so great for the team, he’s been great.”
‘It was our lucky day’
Alonso thought he had cars with George Russell’s Mercedes.
“I thought it was George, but I saw in the replay that it was Lance,” said Alonso. “It was our lucky day, from this encounter and also that [score] very strong points.”
Russell was seventh for Mercedes.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly – starting from last – and Williams driver Alex Albon rounded out the top 10.
Verstappen started from pole with Perez alongside him. Leclerc and Sainz were in the second row with the 41-year-old Alonso starting from fifth.
Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, was 12th after starting 16th.
Ocon hit 3 time penalties
It was a day to forget for Alpine Esteban Ocon, who was hit with three time penalties of a total of 20 seconds and finished in 18th place.
Leclerc gambled on saving a set of new tires in qualifying to use for the race and immediately jumped ahead of Perez, who was just holding Sainz.
Alonso posed a threat to Ferrari and Mercedes, who both made tactical pit stops in anticipation of what the two-time F1 champion with the best race craft in the business might do.
As Verstappen cruised by, the action was heating up behind him.
Alonso caught Hamilton on Lap 37 but then slid wide and Hamilton was back in position. Alonso had another try on the next lap, and he faced it by attacking the outside and then quickly diving inside with a classic move.
It could be one of many exciting moves in a season where Alonso could have a car fast enough to match his talents.
The next indicator of that will be at the Saudi GP on March 19, where there are more long straights, high-speed corners and less tire degradation.
“I think the most important point is that the Aston Martin is a new car, a new project,” said Alonso. “This is just the beginning.