Max Verstappen eased to a dominant win at the Bahrain GP as Red Bull left their competition behind to start the 2023 Formula 1 season, while Fernando Alonso dazzled to take a well-earned podium for Aston Martin.
Verstappen, aiming for a third straight world title this year, won his first-ever season-opener at a canter after holding his pole position at the start and then racing away, with favourites Red Bull enjoying a dream one-two.
Charles Leclerc was running third behind Sergio Perez, who he had passed off the line before being re-overtaken later in the race, but then suffered a crushing Ferrari power failure with 17 laps remaining.
And Ferrari would then lose the final podium place again thanks to a charging Alonso, who lit up F1’s season-opener.
Alonso, having already brilliantly passed the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, the second with a glorious move to catch his fellow multi-world champion off guard, then charged past Spanish compatriot Carlos Sainz on Lap 46 of 57, albeit after some slight contact with the Ferrari.
While not fighting Red Bull, it was a fantastic recovery from surprise 2023 contenders Aston Martin, with Alonso and team-mate Lance Stroll having lost positions and made contact on the opening lap.
Stroll, racing a week after surgery on his wrist, also beat a Mercedes after overtaking Russell.
In the end, Hamilton and Russell had to settle for fifth and seventh in their underperforming W14 cars.
Valtteri Bottas was ‘best of the rest’ for Alfa Romeo ahead of Pierre Gasly in the Alpine and the impressive Alex Albon for Williams.
Gasly had a much better evening than new team-mate Esteban Ocon, who received three separate penalties in Bahrain – one for an incorrect grid position, one for not serving his first penalty correctly and another for speeding in the pit lane – before, well out of contention, retiring from the race.
McLaren debutant Oscar Piastri also would not finish the opener, while team-mate Lando Norris was plum last on a nightmare start for the famous Woking team.
Bahrain GP Race Result
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
3) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
4) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
5) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
6) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
7) George Russell, Mercedes
8) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
9) Pierre Gasly, Alpine
10) Alex Albon, Williams
Verstappen in control but Alonso lights up opener
There was hope heading into the season-opener that Red Bull, having struggled more than expected through practice and then scraped to pole in qualifying, would be challenged by Ferrari, Aston Martin or Mercedes.
The world champions, though, proved why they are so heavily backed this season.
Verstappen got an excellent getaway and, while Leclerc passed Perez with a fine start of his own, the Dutchman eased away from his rival of last year by almost a second a lap in the opening stages.
He stopped on Lap 15 to cover off Leclerc and again on Lap 37, those being the only times he relented his lead through different strategies with his team-mate, who also had much better pace than the Ferraris.
Perez patiently waited behind Leclerc before pouncing on the Ferrari before the halfway stage. He finished 12 seconds off a truly dominant Verstappen.
“We can definitely fight with this and also a big thank you to the team again for what they have done over the winter to have a quick race car again,” said Verstappen, who took a maiden Bahrain victory.
The star of the opener, though, was none other than a certain 41-year-old.
Alonso, debuting for his fifth team in F1, was rapid at Sakhir, bouncing back from dropping two places on the opening lap in style.
Mercedes capitalised to get ahead of Aston Martin after Alonso and Stroll’s first-lap scuffles but the double world champion got ahead of Russell on Lap 13, and then superbly hunted down Hamilton.
The two F1 greats battled out over multiple thrilling laps, with Hamilton keeping Alonso at bay at first before the Aston Martin driver, in admittedly a better package right now, stunned his rival down the inside of the slow-speed Turn 10.
He then set after Sainz, who never stood a chance in a Ferrari that was haemorrhaging lap time due to tyre degradation.
Again, it was a feisty battle – and there was a slight touch after a scrap through Turn Four – but Alonso again dazzled through the twisty middle sector before getting ahead of Sainz on the straight.
It sealed Alonso’s second podium from the last seven years, proving that he – at last – may have made a wise transfer decision.
More to follow.
The Formula 1 2023 season continues with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from the sport’s fastest street track in Jeddah.
The action is all live on Sky Sports F1 from March 17-19, with Sunday’s race at 5pm.
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