Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 as Alonso gets podium
Max Verstappen was in charge of the Bahrain Grand Prix from start to finish and won the season-opener of the 2023 F1 season. Sergio Perez made it a perfect race for Red Bull Racing while Fernando Alonso secured third place, benefiting from late race trouble for Ferrari.
For this first race of the season nearly everybody started on the soft tyres. The top 10 of course on used softs from qualifying except for Leclerc as he had saved a set. Kevin Magnussen was the only one to choose differently and started with the hard tyres.
As the lights went out both Ferraris made strong starts but it was Verstappen who maintained the lead, albeit not without having to defend his position. Perez slotted into third and Sainz in fourth.
Behind the top four Alonso made a solid start and held on to 5th until Turn 4 where his own teammate was ridiculously optimistic for braking and trying to pass Hamilton that he bumped into the rear wheel of the Spaniard. It appeared Alonso's wasn't entirely aware who it was but the resulting slide, the loss of positions to the Mercedes and his radio message "I've been hit" were clear enough.
Stroll continued in 9th without apparent damage and made his way past a great starting Bottas into 8th place.
Ocon lost a place in the start and ended up 10th, just ahead of Albon in the Williams after gaining 4 places. Next up wee Norris, Sargeant, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Piastri, Zhou, Gasly, Devries and Magnussen.
Positions remained the same but by lap 10 it was more and more clear that the Mercedes were struggling with tyres. While Alonso threatened Russell and moved past him on lap 13, Hamilton was the first to be pitted at the end of the previous lap.
Leclerc pitted one lap later, followed by Sainz and Russell. This saw the Aston Martins move up into third and fourth place with Leclerc 3.5s down on Stroll. Sainz in 6th was 10s further behind with then Hamilton, Bottas, Magnussen and Russell.
Verstappen and Alonso pitted the next lap. Verstappen returned to the track 7s ahead of Stroll while Alonso ended up 8th, half a second ahead of Russell but nearly 6s behind Hamilton who had been just a few seconds ahead before the stop. Alonso went on to pass Bottas who was still in between them 2 laps later.
Piastri meanwhile retired from the pitlane. McLaren tried to swap his steering wheel after the Australian reported issues but it turned out that switch was not a solution.
The last front runner to stop was Perez. The Mexican got pitted on lap 17 and took on a used set of softs compared to new softs for Verstappen. Other front runners changed to hards. Both Williams notable switched to a set of new soft tyres on their stops while Norris also took on used soft tyres when he stopped, on lap 18.
After that stop Perez gradually closed in on Leclerc lap by lap until making a pass at the end of the straight on lap 26.
Meanwhile Alonso was closing in on Hamilton with Russell unable to follow. Similarly Stroll was faster than Russell as well.
At the back things went from bad to worse for Alpine and Ocon in particular. Gasly made his second stop already on lap 28 to drop him back to 17th. Ocon on the other hand was badly placed on the start and got a 5s penalty for that, sort of served in a pitstop where the team also changed his front wing. Still, some mechanics touched the car during those first 5s, resulting in another 10s penalty for Ocon. Then it was also announced that Ocon was speeding in the pitlane on his second stop, resulting in yet another 5s penalty.
On lap 31 Hamilton was pitted to take another set of hard tyres. The Briton wasn't too happy with that, saying his tyres were still quite ok. Aston Martin reacted by pitting Stroll. Sainz and Russell pitted one lap later, both taking on new hard tyres. When Russell came out of the pitlane he got Stroll on his back with the latter immediately taking advantage of that between Turn 3 and Turn 4.
Alonso stayed out and lapped more than a full second quicker than Leclerc on lap 33 and 34. Ferrari noticed the problem and called Leclerc in. On lap 35 Perez and Alonso changed to fresh hard tyres as well. Perez stayed in second while Alonso returned to the track in sixth, 1.1s behind Hamilton and 4.5 seconds ahead of Stroll.
In lap 37 Alonso had a go at Hamilton but he ended up going on the throttle too quickly out of Turn 4, enabling Hamilton to get back past. Alonso rapidly came back but was a little bit too far the next pass in Turn 4, but what followed was a series of corners where they were extremely close to one another, battling in a fair way without contact until Alonso got the advantage through Turn 10.
Once past however DRS enabling Hamilton to stay every close while the duo came closer and closer to Sainz who by lap 40 was only 2.2s ahead of Alonso.
One lap later Leclerc endured a disappointing loss of power and ended up retiring from the race. A brief virtual safety car period followed. In that time, Albon, Gasly and Tsunoda, Sargeant and both Haas pitted aimed to revitalise their fight for points. Gasly made the most of it and passed Albon for 9th.
Meanwhile Alonso reeled in Sainz and got past the Ferrari after another very tense fight during which Alonso slightly touched the Ferrari on the exit of Turn 4, surprised how much better his own traction was. As Sainz continued to worry about his pace and car, Hamilton was also looking to gain a place. As Alonso trundled away by a full second a lap the Mercedes driver did have more trouble making it past Carlos. Hamilton made several attempts but appeared to give up after a few laps, settling for 5th place.
Meanwhile Alonso enjoyed his first race out with Aston Martin, happily reporting "this is a lovely car to drive", 5 laps from the end. He also ended up asking where Stroll was, obviously somewhat bored while avoid kerbs, 24s behind second-placed Perez and 8s ahead of Sainz.
Verstappen though wasn't bothered by anything and won the Grand Prix, leading from start to finish. Sergio Perez followed 11 seconds down the road, hinting that the Red Bulls might run away soon while the teams behind battle it out for the rest of the points.
|1||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda Rbpt||57||1:33:56.736||25|
|2||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda Rbpt||57||+11.987s||18|
|3||14||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||57||+38.637s||15|
|6||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||57||+54.502s||8|
|8||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||57||+72.647s||4|
|9||10||Pierre Gasly||Alpine Renault||57||+73.753s||2|
|10||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||57||+89.774s||1|
|11||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda Rbpt||57||+90.870s||0|
|12||2||Logan Sargeant||Williams Mercedes||56||+1 lap||0|
|13||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||56||+1 lap||0|
|14||21||Nyck De Vries||Alphatauri Honda Rbpt||56||+1 lap||0|
|15||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Haas Ferrari||56||+1 lap||0|
|16||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||56||+1 lap||0|
|17||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||55||+2 laps||0|
|NC||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||41||DNF||0|
|NC||81||Oscar Piastri||Mclaren Mercedes||13||DNF||0|