Bahrain GP: Dominant Verstappen gets statement win in season-opener

Defending champion Max Verstappen and Red Bull flexed their muscles at the start of the 2023 season, as the Dutchman won the season-opening race in Sakhir by over 10 seconds over his teammate Sergio Perez.

After a phenomenal week since testing his Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso followed to take a remarkable podium place – his second since 2014. Alonso surged into third place after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, in an all-too-familiar circumstance, had to retire due to a power unit failure.

‘Ominous’ is a word that has been constantly used to describe both Red Bull and Verstappen ever since they showed up to pre-season testing, refining what was already a brilliant car last year. They lived up to the billing.

Verstappen got off to a solid start from pole position – as Leclerc put Perez under pressure for second – and built an early gap, never looking back from there. So evident was the pace of his car, his comfort behind the steering wheel, and the way he managed his tyres, that the TV directors hardly showed him after the first 10 laps, almost as if he was having a race of his own.

Leclerc did well to get into the mix early, but Perez would eventually catch up to him, and midway through the race, he overtook the Ferrari to more or less ensure a Red Bull one-two. Leclerc seemed to be in cruise control mode to protect his podium when the reliability issues that plagued his weak title charge last year resurfaced.

The retirement put his teammate, Spain’s Carlos Sainz, into the podium places, but it was a different Spaniard who would step up onto the podium.

Hype around Alonso had been building all through the week after the car looked quick in testing, and he qualified an impressive fifth, ahead of both Hamilton and George Russell in Mercedes.

Face-off with Hamilton

It would be his 39th lap face-off with Hamilton, a fellow veteran with whom he has shared plenty of close battles over the years, that would create the moments of the day. Alonso briefly overtook Hamilton with a gutsy dive down the inside. The Brit had a similar move up his sleeve, forcing the 41-year-old to lock up as he fearlessly took the apex and the inside line, as well as the lead.

On the next lap, Alonso would bluff his way into an overtake, angling his car down the outside before taking the inside line and racing into the lead. It was vintage overtaking, and brilliant defence from Hamilton, who eventually had to relent.

After Leclerc’s DNF, Alonso would overtake his compatriot Sainz with another brilliant move, going wheel-to-wheel after showing ferocious pace to catch him after the virtual safety car ended. He would hold on to third place comfortably, a brilliant sign for the ‘best of the rest’ conversation given Red Bull’s ominous dominance at the top.

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