Max Verstappen dominated the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in a foreboding Red Bull Racing one-two, while a superbly on form Fernando Alonso completed the podium for Aston Martin.
Verstappen aced his launch and never looked back, building an almost second-per-lap advantage early in the race that ensured he never meaningfully lost the lead of the race on his way to a cruisy 12-second victory and a 38-second advantage over the closest non-Red Bull Racing driver.
“It was a very, very good first stint where I basically made my gap,” he said. “From there it was all about looking after the tires.
“I think we have a good race package. Of course it will depend a bit race to race, but we can definitely fight with this.”
The battle for second place was temporarily enlivened by Ferrari’s decision to save a set of soft tires for Charles Leclerc by not completing qualifying on Saturday night. Equipped with an unused soft of the red-walled tire, he comfortably jumped Sergio Perez’s Red Bull to follow Verstappen into the first corner, forcing the Mexican to strategize his way back up the order.
But it was barely an inconvenience for Perez. Red Bull Racing’s race pace was so strong that he was told to save his attack for the second stint, when he was given a second set of soft tires with which he breezed past the Ferrari to assume the car’s rightful place in the top two with a 26-second advantage over the rest of the field.
“I think today was really the start that really put me out of contention in the race. It was all about minimizing the damage, so finishing second was the maximum I could do today,” he said.
“When we look back last year how we started here (with a double retirement), it’s a nice comeback for the team. We have a strong package, so it was important today to get both cars to the end.”
Leclerc’s disappointment was then compounded by a power unit stoppage, thought to be an internal combustion engine failure.
The comprehensiveness of Ferrari’s defeat was still yet to be fully realized, however. Sainz, who had been holding fourth before his teammate’s retirement, began to struggle badly on his ageing hard tires to the point he became prey to a rampaging Fernando Alonso.
Looking like a driver half his age, the 41-year-old Aston Martin racer had just dispatched with Lewis Hamilton in a breathtaking dive down the inside of Turn 10 when he began sizing up his compatriot and former protege.
The Spaniard was thrashing his car in pursuit of the podium, so much so that he came inches — perhaps less — from crashing into the back of the Ferrari in an overtaking attempt at Turn 4.
But with the slide just about controlled, Alonso continued to harry the back of the Ferrari until Sainz was forced into a poor exit from Turn 10, giving the Aston a golden chance to slipstream his way into third place by Turn 11.
“This is a lovely car to drive,” he said as he switched to cruise control to secure a comfortable podium. “Amazing for the team. It was a great weekend.
“Finishing on the podium in the first race of the year, it’s just amazing what Aston Martin did over the winter. To have the second-best car in race one is just unreal.”
Sainz came under further late pressure from Hamilton’s Mercedes but was able to see off the challenge after bringing his tires back down to temperature following his Alonso battle, the pair holding fifth and sixth.
Lance Stroll, nursing a broken wrist and foot, drove to a commendable sixth despite almost wiping out teammate Alonso in the chaos of the first lap.
Contact between Stroll and Alonso #BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/NIKCFLsLED
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 5, 2023
Stroll dropped to ninth on the first lap but made quick work of Valtteri Bottas before undercutting Mercedes’ George Russell at the second round of pit stops. A small mistake at Turn 10, sending him wide, neutered a late challenge for fifth, but sixth place was more than commendable in the circumstances, leaving Russell to finish seventh.
Bottas secured eighth ahead of Pierre Gasly, who recovered masterfully from a disastrous 20th on the grid with a three-stop strategy, his last tire change to undercut him into the top 10.
Alex Albon completed the top 10 in a Williams car that was far more competitive than previously expected. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda followed in 11th ahead of American rookie Logan Sargeant in the second Williams machine.
Kevin Magnussen struggled to 13th for Haas as the only driver to start the race on the difficult-to-warm hard tire, beating AlphaTauri rookie Nyck de Vries and teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
Zhou Guanyu took the fastest lap of the race for Alfa Romeo from 17th ahead of Lando Norris, who ended the race last in a badly compromised McLaren that required six pit stops to top up the car with pneumatic pressure.
Esteban Ocon and McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri were Leclerc’s only fellow retirees, the former after a string of time penalties and the latter with an electronics issue.