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Max Verstappen Dominates in Bahrain, Fernando Alonso on Podium

Perhaps it’s time for Max Verstappen to turn up the difficulty setting on F1 2023, because Sunday (March 5) in the 2023 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, the two-time World Champion made it look easy.

Although the record books will show Verstappen and his Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez both led laps at the Bahrain International Circuit, from lights to flag it was never in doubt for the Dutchman. It is the first time Verstappen has won the season opener, his first win in Bahrain and the 36th of his career.

“It was a very good first stint where I basically made my gap,” Verstappen told Sky Sports reporter and former Bahrain winner Nico Rosberg. “… From there it was all about just looking after the tires because you never really know what’s going to happen later in the race. So we just wanted to make sure that we had the right tires, in good condition as well. So, yeah of course very happy to finally also win here in Bahrain”

Turning a one-two start into a one-two finish for the Bulls, Perez had a clean, quiet race to follow Verstappen home on the second step of the podium. He was challenged on the start by Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, aided by an interesting strategy that gave him a fresh set of soft tires at the expense of a run at pole. 

When Leclerc took hard tires at the first pit stop, Red Bull gave Perez a second set of softs. The grippier rubber allowed the Mexican pilot to run down the Monegasque and a late braking move in the fourth corner moved “Checo” back to second. Leclerc settled in to a distant third for much of the evening until the typical Ferrari heartbreak struck. 

On lap 41, an issue in the internal combustion engine brought Leclerc’s Ferrari to a stop, bringing out a brief Virtual Safety Car and bringing 41-year-old Fernando Alonso into the podium conversation.

A shocking turn of form for Aston Martin Racing in preseason testing held up through the race weekend, with the team in green able to lead two of the three free practice sessions courtesy of its new star driver Alonso. 

Starting down in fifth, the two-time World Champion did not get the start he wanted, losing a spot to Lewis Hamilton on the first lap and making slight contact with his Aston Martin teammate (and team owner’s son) Lance Stroll

See also
Max Verstappen Leads Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain Qualifying

Dropping behind both Red Bulls, both Ferraris and both Mercedes, Alonso bided his time. There were questions ahead of the race about the Aston Martin’s performance on long runs, but as the Mercedes duo began to complain about tire wear ahead of the first pit stop and Alonso reeled them in, those questions were answered. The 2023 Aston Martin is a racecar. 

And race it Alonso did. On lap 37 he was within range of Hamilton and the two racing legends went toe-to-toe around one of Formula 1’s greatest 21st-century racetracks.

After an over-aggressive move into turn 4 that let Hamilton sneak back through, it was a graceful cutback on the entry to a tricky turn 10 – an almost impossible place to pass – that gave Alonso the spot over the seven-time champion. He then set off after his countryman Carlos Sainz for what became suddenly the final podium position after Leclerc’s retirement.

After another oversteer moment in turn 4, Alonso was able to make turn 11 into an overtaking spot, monstering past Sainz to claim his 99th career podium in F1 and only his second since 2014.

“Amazing for the team, it was a great weekend,” Alonso told Sky Sports after the race. “Finishing on the podium in the first race of the year, it’s just amazing, you know, what Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second-best car on race one. This just unreal.”

Sainz was able to hold fourth place at the flag with Hamilton ending up fifth. Stroll, George Russell, Valtteri Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon completed the points positions.

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix Results

The F1 season will continue in two weeks with the STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, airing March 19 at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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