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Formula 1: Everyone is still chasing Max Verstappen after his easy win in Bahrain

Verstappen cruised to a comfortable win over Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso in the 2023 season opener

Max Verstappen celebrates his win at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday night in Sakhir, Bahrain. (Photo by ANP via Getty Images)
Max Verstappen celebrates his win at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday night in Sakhir, Bahrain. (Photo by ANP via Getty Images) (ANP via Getty Images)

The first race of the 2023 Formula 1 season was a lot like 2022.

Max Verstappen ran away from the field Sunday in Bahrain to win the Bahrain Grand Prix and firmly establish himself and Red Bull as the driver and team to beat in 2023. The two-time defending champion started on pole and had absolutely no challenge whatsoever. He built a multi-second lead over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc within the first handful of laps and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished a distant second.

Leclerc had the speed to finish an easy third but a mechanical issue caused him to retire from the race. Leclerc was forced to pull his car to the side of the track when it lost power in the final third of the race.

Verstappen went on to win the race by nearly 12 seconds over Perez. He won 15 of 22 races in 2022 as he finished 146 points ahead of Leclerc and 149 points ahead of Perez. If we’re going to make any snap judgments about what we saw Sunday, Verstappen should be an even bigger favorite for the title than he was entering the 2022 season.

Red Bull’s pace throughout the race was phenomenal. The team didn’t have to push over the second half of the race and was able to run Verstappen and Perez on a strategy that included two soft tire stints to start the race and a hard tire stint to end it. Most everyone else started the race on soft tires and then pitted twice for hard tires each time.

Ferrari was able to stay in the same zip code as Red Bull during qualifying but the team’s long run pace is not where Red Bull’s is. And Mercedes showed that it still has work to do to catch up to Red Bull.

Fernando Alonso finishes third

Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso were the surprises of preseason testing and Alonso passed Carlos Sainz for third late in the race and pulled away to easily finish in the final podium spot. Alonso dropped to seventh at the start of the race after some contact with teammate Lance Stroll but it was clear over the course of the 57 laps that he had a much faster car than Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

If Aston Martin’s pace is sustainable, then everyone else will be fighting for fifth in the constructor’s standings behind Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin. They were clearly the four fastest teams Sunday.

Hamilton finished fifth behind Sainz while Stroll was sixth and Russell was seventh. Valtteri Bottas was eighth in his Alfa Romeo and Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon got the final two points positions.

McLaren had the roughest day of any team. Lando Norris had pneumatic issues and finished 17th while Oscar Piastri finished last in his F1 debut.

Bahrain Grand Prix results

  1. Max Verstappen

  2. Sergio Perez

  3. Fernando Alonso

  4. Carlos Sainz

  5. Lewis Hamilton

  6. Lance Stroll

  7. George Russell

  8. Valtteri Bottas

  9. Pierre Gasly

  10. Alex Albon

  11. Yuki Tsunoda

  12. Logan Sargeant

  13. Kevin Magnussen

  14. Nyck De Vries

  15. Nico Hulkenberg

  16. Zhou Guanyu

  17. Lando Norris

  18. Esteban Ocon

  19. Charles Leclerc

  20. Oscar Piastri