If the 2023 F1 season-opening Bahrain GP is anything to go by, Red Bull is in for another strong season. Reigning champion Max Verstappen took a dominant win ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez, while Ferrari got off to a tough start with Charles Leclerc retiring from the race.
Arguably the biggest highlight, though, was Fernando Alonso grabbing the final podium spot in his debut race for Aston Martin. The two-time F1 champion pulled off some incredible moves on Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz, finishing third in the race.
As Verstappen led away from pole position, it soon became evident that he had a clear leg up on the rest of the field. A clean run to victory saw him drive past the chequered flag, 11.987 seconds ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez.
“It was a good first stint where I basically made my gap, and from there onwards, it was all about just looking after my tyres because you never know what is going to happen later in the race. So we just wanted to make sure that we had the right tyres and in good condition as well,” Verstappen said.
Perez lost a place to Leclerc at the start of the race. He played his cards well and re-took the position on lap 26 to hand Red Bull a 1-2 finish in the first race of the season.
Aston Martin certainly made heads turn in testing and the Bahrain GP proved that the hype is real. They did not have a perfect start, with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll making contact and dropping a few places as a result. However, they were able to continue racing, and as the laps went by, Alonso soon emerged as a potential podium contender.
This potential turned into reality when Charles Leclerc stopped on track with suspected engine failure. By this point, Alonso had already moved up to fifth place after overtaking Lewis Hamilton down the inside of Turn 10. He then started hunting down Ferrari’s sole remaining driver, Carlos Sainz, who appeared to be struggling for pace.
On Lap 45, Alonso passed Sainz after an incredible battle through the second sector. He held on to third place, returning to the podium for the first time since Qatar 2021.
Mercedes were hoping to take the battle to Red Bull this year. They have some work to do if they want to reach that goal, with Hamilton admitting that the team has dropped to fourth in the pecking order. He finished fifth, followed by Lance Stroll, who braved an injured toe and wrists to take sixth place in the second Aston Martin car. George Russell was next in seventh place, followed by Valtteri Bottas.
It was a mixed day for Alpine. On one hand, Esteban Ocon had perhaps the most difficult race of his career, but on the other hand, Pierre Gasly was able to showcase the team’s true potential.
Ocon was initially handed a five-second penalty for not lining up correctly in his grid slot. He was handed another 10-second penalty for serving the initial one incorrectly after mechanics started working on his car 0.4 secs too early. To further add to it, he was later given another five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
Gasly fared much better in his Alpine debut. After starting last on the grid, he made a three-stop strategy work to gain a total of 11 places and finish ninth. Williams’ Alexander Albon rounded out the top 10, just over a second ahead of Yuki Tsunoda.
McLaren suffered a disappointing start to the season. Rookie Oscar Piastri’s debut F1 race ended on lap 13 due to an electric issue. Lando Norris, meanwhile, dropped down the order after a slow pit stop and was the last of the finishers in 17th place.
Next up on the calendar is the Saudi Arabian GP between March 17 and 19. The Bahrain International Circuit’s high degradation naturally suited cars like the Red Bulls and Aston Martins. So it remains to be seen if the strong performers in the season-opener can continue to be strong on other types of circuits too.