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Max dominating opening race in Bahrain: 'Exactly the start we wanted'

Published on 05 March 2023 by Mike Motilall

Max Verstappen quite dominantly won the Bahrain Grand Prix, and so the first 2023 Formula 1-race came to an end with the Dutch and Austrian national anthems. The two-time world champion dominated from start to finish and managed to turn his pole in Bahrain to a victory. He did that by an almost 12-second lead. Sergio Pérez, Max’ team mate at Oracle Red Bull Racing, came in second. Fernando Alonso took, later on in the race, the final podium spot and with that the first podium for his new employer Aston Martin. Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top five on the Bahrain International Circuit.

“A really good result”, says Max after the race. “That’s exactly the start of the season we wanted and needed. A perfect one-two. I was happy to finally win here in Bahrain. After the first stint, I just took the car home. I immediately created a big gap and didn’t need to push anymore. Every time I wanted to push, my engineer got mad at me. That says a lot about today and of course I am happy with that”, says Max with a grin.

Max had a completely different start of the season compared to last year when he dropped out during the first race of the season. “I think it can only get better. It’s a great start of the season. A very different start compared to last year. We were in the situation where Charles is currently in now, which doesn’t make you all too happy. But as you can see from last year, things can change quite quickly. So we need to make sure we keep developing and checking what went a bit wrong at the beginning of this weekend. Then I’m sure we can come back even stronger.”

The next race is in Saudi-Arabia, something Max is looking forward to with a lot of confidence: “Jeddah is of course a completely different circuit. But I think we have a good race package, although that differs from race to race. Also a big thank you to the team for what they did over the Winter. They have given us such a great race car again.”

The dutchman starts the first race of the season on pole after having a strong qualifying on Saturday. Next to him is team mate Sergio Pérez. Max has a good start when it’s lights out and keeps his lead, while Pérez loses a spot to Charles Leclerc. Lance Stroll locks up and hits team mate Alonso’s rear wheel. Both Aston Martins are able to continue on but the Spaniard loses two places.

After ten laps, Verstappen has built a six-second lead on Leclerc. Outside the top ten, the margins are much smaller. Meanwhile, Pérez is mounting the pressure at the front on Leclerc. Verstappen gets on the radio to report that he is having some issues with shifting gear. This doesn’t seem to be any major concern for the rest of the race.

Alonso is able to slot back in behind of Russell while the Briton tells his team that his softs are gone. However, it’s team mate Hamilton who comes in first for Mercedes. Alonso by now makes little work of Russell on lap thirteen. One lap later, Russell also heads in just like both of the Ferrari drivers. Verstappen also decides to pit and goes for the soft compound tyre.

Rookie Oscar Piastri gets on the radio to tell his team that he is not able to downshift. The team swaps his steering wheel but is not able to get his McLaren up and running again during the pitstop. With that, Piastri is the first one to drop out this season. Esteban Ocon is handed a five-second penalty for not being correctly lined up during the start of the race.

On lap seventeen, Pérez also heads back in for a set of the softs. The top-five consists now of Verstappen, Leclerc, Pérez, Sainz and Hamilton. Verstappen now has a commanding lead of ten seconds on Leclerc. The day is not getting better for McLaren: Lando Norris comes in for the second time and appears to have an engine issue. He is now running in nineteenth. Ocon is now told that the penalty he took was not properly executed. This means that he is slapped once again with a time-penalty, this time one for ten-second.

Halfway the race, Pérez is fighting with Leclerc. The Mexican passes him on lap 26 which puts him back in his original starting position: second place. He is now running some fourteen seconds behind of Max. It’s getting from bad to worse for Ocon: he is now dealt a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pitlane.

Max gets on the radio on lap 29 to inform his team that his left front is beginning to wear. Not much later, round two of pitstops gets underway. Pérez is the first of the Red Bulls who comes in. He swaps his softs for the harder compound tyre. On lap 36 Verstappen does the same. He rejoins in first, thirteen seconds ahead of Pérez.

After his stop, Hamilton rejoins right in front of Alonso, in fifth. The Briton defends heavily but Alonso makes little work of him after a great battle. The Spaniard now sets his sight on fellow countryman Sainz who is running fourth. All of a sudden, the first virtual safety car is deployed: Leclerc comes to a standstill and parks his Ferrari track side. The VSC quickly ends and the top five is now: Verstappen, Pérez, Sainz, Alonso and Hamilton.

Nyck de Vries, the second Dutchman this season, is running around pretty anonymously during this race. With still fifteen laps to go, he engages his team mate Yuki Tsunoda for the eleventh spot. But it’s the Japanese driver who comes out on top. Meanwhile Ocon has called it quits and parks his Alpine in the pits.

The fight for the final podium spot intensifies when Alonso gets within DRS-range of Sainz. The Ferrari-driver tells his team that if he pushes too hard he won’t be able to get to the end of the race. He is forced to concede and Alonso moves up to third with still ten laps to go. The next driver to start mounting the pressure on Sainz is Hamilton. Sainz is struggling and asks why the car is bouncing. On the other hand, Alonso is happy and shares on the radio: “This is a great car to drive.”

Hulkenberg gets a five-second time penalty for having exceeded track limits numerous times. Tsunoda and Alexander Albon are battling for the final point but it’s Albon who manages to secure the tenth position. Today has shown us the dominant performance by Oracle Red Bull Racing and especially Max Verstappen. He crosses the line with an almost twelve-second lead.

Results Grand Prix Bahrain:

1Max VerstappenVERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT571:33:56.73625
2Sergio PerezPERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT57+11.987s18
3Fernando AlonsoALOAston Martin Mercedes57+38.637s15
4Carlos SainzSAIFerrari57+48.052s12
5Lewis HamiltonHAMMercedes57+50.977s10
6Lance StrollSTRAston Martin Mercedes57+54.502s8
7George RussellRUSMercedes57+55.873s6
8Valtteri BottasBOTAlfa Romeo Ferrari57+72.647s4
9Pierre GaslyGASAlpine Renault57+73.753s2
10Alexander AlbonALBWilliams Mercedes57+89.774s1
11Yuki TsunodaTSUAlphaTauri Honda RBPT57+90.870s0
12Logan SargeantSARWilliams Mercedes56+1 lap0
13Kevin MagnussenMAGHaas Ferrari56+1 lap0
14Nyck De VriesDEVAlphaTauri Honda RBPT56+1 lap0
15Nico HulkenbergHULHaas Ferrari56+1 lap0
16Zhou GuanyuZHOAlfa Romeo Ferrari56+1 lap0
17Lando NorrisNORMcLaren Mercedes55+2 laps0
0Esteban OconOCOAlpine Renault41DNF0
0Charles LeclercLECFerrari39DNF0
0Oscar PiastriPIAMcLaren Mercedes13DNF0