The first race of the Formula 1 season wasn’t much of a race at all.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull opened the defense of his world championship with a dominant performance on Sunday at the Bahrain Grand Prix, sending a message to the rest of the series that he will not surrender his championship easily.
Starting on the pole, Verstappen pulled away from the starting line, beat his top rivals and his teammate Sergio Perez to the first turn 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 advantages in hundredths of seconds.
Perez followed Verstappen along the line to complete a banner day for Red Bull. The big surprise was right behind, though: Fernando Alonso, the oldest driver in the field at age 41, finished third to give Aston Martin a surprise trip onto the podium in his first race for the team.
Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, had expressed a bit of doubt before the race, calling the first start of the season of any season, “a bit of a trip into the unknown.” And Verstappen’s ride was not flawless: He grumbled about some gear troubles on his radio, worried about tire conditions and, afterward, suggested Red Bull could still get better.
“Nothing big,” Verstappen said. ”Just little things that you always want to fine-tune.”
Sunday’s Race in Six Photos
Where the Race Turned
This one was effectively over the moment Max Verstappen stepped on the gas. Starting from the pole, he was fastest to the first corner, and then second, and the third … you get the idea. 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.
Worst Days, Ranked
Esteban Ocon. The landslide winner in this contest. The Alpine driver managed to line up in the wrong place on the starting grid, drawing a five-second penalty, and then served it incorrectly, bringing on a second one. A third penalty — for speeding in the pit lane as he tried to make up the seconds he had just lost — just seemed comical. Honestly, if there was a way to lock the keys in an F1 car, Ocon probably would have done it on Sunday.AdvertisementAdvertisement
Oscar Piastri. His much-discussed move to McLaren last year, after Alpine had announced him as a driver for 2023, produced one of the more spicy moments of the new “Drive To Survive” season. But Piasti’s debut race for McLaren was a disaster: He was out after only 15 laps, part of a miserable day for his team.
Charles Leclerc. He was running third when his car’s power unit suddenly gave out. (Essentially, the car just died after he was going around a corner.) Starting the season out of the points was not in his plans, or Ferrari’s. Leaving the garage in a million-dollar racecar only to hitch a ride back to it on a Vespa, though? Ouch.
What They’re Saying
“That was exactly the start to the season we needed.” — Max Verstappen after Red Bull went 1-2.
“Yes! Bye bye.” — Fernando Alonso on the radio, after a late-race pass of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz put him in third place and (eventually) Aston Martin on the podium.
“Unfortunately we’ve taken a step back and Red Bull’s on another planet. Third was the best we could hope for.” — Charles Leclerc, after his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz finished fourth and he didn’t finish at all.Advertisement
March 19: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah Corniche Circuit.