New season, another win. Max Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday and led almost the entire race as he embarked on a defense of his consecutive Formula 1 titles.
Red Bull also took a dominant 1-2 with Sergio Perez finishing 12 seconds behind him in second, while 41-year-old Fernando Alonso took a brilliant third – and claimed a 99th career podium – in a stunning race debut for Aston Martin.
‘What have you done, boys? What have you done?” a cheering Alonso told his team. “I’m so proud of you.”
Alonso’s fans are already labeling this season as “Mission 33” – hopefully the Spanish driver can win a 33rd race of his career. His last win was 10 years ago with Ferrari.
Alonso, who joined after an acrimonious split with Alpine, clenched his fist at the finish and hugged his racing crew.
“To finish on the podium in the first race of the year is just amazing,” said Alonso. “What Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second best car in the first race is just unreal.”
It was Verstappen’s 36th career win, but the Dutchman’s first at the floodlit Sakhir circuit, where he retired just a few laps from the end of last year’s opening race.
“That was exactly the start of the season we needed,” said Verstappen, who retired from three of his first four races in Bahrain. “I’m very happy to finally win a race here.”
This time it was Charles Leclerc who, after winning last year, retired on lap 41 of 57 when his Ferrari lost power.
“No, no, no, no,” Leclerc pleaded over his radio as his car slowed to a stop. Ferrari had replaced an engine battery before the race, but that didn’t stop Leclerc from having a dismal start to the year after such a frustrating season in 2022.
“There was just no more power. It’s a shame because it’s on these weekends that you have to maximize points,” said Leclerc. “Unfortunately we have taken a step back and Red Bull is on another planet. Third was the best we could hope for.”
Leclerc’s retirement caused panic at Ferrari, and Carlos Sainz Jr. didn’t even bother to defend against Alonso – probably for fear of losing power himself – and Alonso overtook him with 11 laps to go.
Sainz finished fourth, ahead of seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton in fifth and ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in sixth.
Stroll’s performance was impressive, as he missed pre-season testing due to an injury in a cycling accident that required minor surgery on his right wrist.
Alonso and Stroll bumped into each other at the start, when Alonso dropped a few places, but at the end they were all smiling on an excellent day for Aston Martin.
“Congratulations to my teammate Lance; He had surgery 12 days ago,” Alonso said. “He fights with everyone, so great for the team, it’s been great.”
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell was seventh for Mercedes.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly – from last place – and Williams driver Alex Albon rounded out the top 10.
Verstappen started from pole with Perez next to him. Leclerc and Sainz lined up on the second row with 41-year-old Alonso from the fifth row.
Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, was 12th after starting from 16th.
It was a day to forget for Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who was hit with three time penalties totaling 20 seconds to finish 18th.
Leclerc gambled on saving a set of new tires in qualifying to use for the race and immediately jumped ahead of Perez, who narrowly held off Sainz.
Alonso was a threat to Ferrari and Mercedes, both of whom made tactical tire stops in anticipation of what the two-time F1 champion could do with the best racing craft in the business.
This helped Stroll, who used the undercut perfectly to overtake Russell just as he came out of the pits after his second tire change.
While Verstappen was cruising, the action heated up at the back.
Alonso overtook Hamilton on lap 37, but then slid wide as Hamilton retook his position. Alonso tried again the next lap and passed him by attacking on the outside and then quickly diving in in a classic move.
It could be one of many exciting moves in a season where Alonso might have a fast enough car to match his talents.
The next indicator of that will be at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 19.