Race Weekend Central

Max Verstappen Dusts Field as Red Bull Sweeps in Bahrain

Polesitter Max Verstappen won the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix Saturday (March 2) with expected ease, leading every lap and setting sail on what appears to be an inevitable fourth consecutive world championship. Verstappen also added the extra point for fastest lap. The race result was a repeat of last year’s season opener, with Verstappen and Sergio Perez also going 1-2.

Verstappen crossed the line 22.457 seconds ahead of Perez, with Carlos Sainz over two seconds behind Perez for third. Charles Leclerc took fourth, with George Russell in fifth, followed by fellow Brits Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton in sixth and seventh, respectively. Oscar Piastri finished eighth, with the Aston Martin duo of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll closing out the points-paying position. 

In the driver standings, Verstappen leads with the maximum 26 points, with Perez in second with 18, followed by Sainz with 15.

In the constructor standings, Red Bull leads with 44, followed by Ferrari with 27 points and Mercedes with 16.

The Race

Verstappen held off a determined effort from Leclerc into turn 1 on the start, while Perez overtook Sainz for fourth. Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg made contact, resulting in Stroll doing a half-spin. Hulkenberg’s qualifying effort of 10th quickly turned to dust as he dropped to last place. The Haas driver pitted for hard tires and a new front wing and began praying for a safety car.

Verstappen immediately built a one-second lead by the end of lap 1, and was clear of Leclerc and DRS by the end of lap 2. 

Russell snagged second from Leclerc on lap 3, with Perez looking to do the same. Both Ferrari’s had lost places from their grid starting places of Sainz’s fourth and Leclerc’s second. 

Verstappen’s lead was over four seconds by the end of lap 6, and one could understand why 19 other drivers began practicing their concession speeches well before the season started.

Russell, well back in second, was advised to manage his tires, with Mercedes all but conceding victory and eyeing a podium. 

Perez slipped by Leclerc at turn 11 on lap 7, and Red Bull now ran 1-3, with Perez now attacking Russell in second, while still minding Leclerc in DRS range behind him.

Norris and Piastri ran sixth and seventh in the McLaren’s, behind the Ferrari’s in fourth and fifth. 

Sainz overtook Leclerc on lap 11, but not easily, in a battle that had to make the Ferrari team cringe, with Leclerc locking up his brakes in an attempt to defend. 

Russell pitted on lap 12 for hard tires, initiating a flurry of pit stops. Leclerc responded with a stop for hards. Perez pitted from second for hard tires, conceding second to Sainz, with Norris moving up to third while Piastri pitted. Sainz ultimately pitted for hard tires but came out behind Perez and Leclerc.

On lap 16, Verstappen’s lead was 31 seconds over Perez, plenty of time to pit and maintain a comfortable lead. The 1-2 Red Bull finish seemed like a formality at this point, with the battle for third looking to be a battle between Russell and the two Ferraris. 

When Verstappen made his first stop on lap 17, he was able to return to the track in the lead, five seconds ahead of Perez. Again, as was so often the case last season, Verstappen was in the driver’s seat, with a lead comfortable enough for him to not even have to worry about any strategy moves his competitors might make.

At lap 22, the order was Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Russell, Leclerc, Norris, Piastri, Hamilton, Alonso, and Zhou Guanyu in the Kick Sauber.

On lap 24, Verstappen’s lead was over 10 seconds, while Perez in second maintained a comfortable two second lead over Sainz, with pit strategy likely to play a role in the battle for second. 

See also
Slipstream Saturdays: The Reserves, Junior Teams & Academies

Halfway through the race, Verstappen continued to run away, with his lead now nearly 15 seconds and growing. Sainz, in third, was making up no ground on Perez, but had opened a sizable nine-second margin on Russell. A podium for Sainz seemed highly likely, barring a strategy or pit mistake from Ferrari.

Russell pitted for another set of hard tires on lap 31 and returned to the track in ninth, hoping for a lot of luck, and slow upcoming pit stops for the cars in front of him.  

Piastri and Leclerc pitted on lap 35, but Piastri couldn’t hold off Hamilton for eight, meaning Hamilton’s undercut was successful. Leclerc emerged sixth, ahead of Norris in seventh.

Sainz made his final stop on lap 36, and maintained third place, albeit 25 seconds behind Perez, who had yet to make his second pit stop. 

Perez was in a lap later, and without a set of hard tires, added softs and maintained his two-second lead over Sainz. Sainz was on hard tires and likely intended to go to the end on them, so tire management for Perez would be crucial.

Verstappen pitted on lap 38 and returned to racing with a 16 second lead and thoughts of his second consecutive Bahrain Grand Prix win, as well as ways to entertain himself for 19 more laps.

He did so by using his soft tires to set the fastest lap of the race on his first full lap after leaving the pits. That lap was at 130.732 mph.

Verstappen’s quickest lap was more than 1.3 seconds faster than any lap time the other 19 drivers could set during the race. He could just turn it on whenever he wanted.

Leclerc, in fifth, was charging in his pursuit of Russell, and Russell’s lead was down to 1.2 seconds by lap 41. Leclerc was in DRS range a lap later, but struggled to get close enough to even attempt an overtake. 

Sainz, now over three seconds behind Perez, was hoping to finally see a dropoff in the Red Bull’s soft tires. With 10 laps left, it needed to happen fast if Sainz were to have any chance for second. It wasn’t happening, and Perez’s lead was 3.6 seconds at the end of lap 48.

Leclerc finally got by Russell on lap 47, as the Mercedes went way too deep into Turn 10.   

Further down the order, Alonso and Stroll appeared to have ninth and tenth, respectively, locked up. 

Possibly the only interesting battle in the top 10 was Norris’ chase of Russell in fifth, with the gap hovering around two seconds with seven laps remaining. It never materialized, and the top 10 order remained intact for the latter stages of the race. 

Up front, Perez was managing his soft tires magnificently and enjoyed an advantage of more than four seconds over Sainz. The Red Bull 1-2 was practically a certainty, as was the upcoming speculation of whether or not Red Bull would win every race this season. Likely the first instant of what is sure to be several deja vu moments this season.

The Good

It’s good that the race for second could shape up to be intriguing. While Red Bull is again clearly far ahead of everyone else, the race for second looks to be an interesting three-team race between Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren. Those four teams look equal; in other words, equally as unable to challenge Red Bull.

Verstappen’s dominance may not make for competitive races, but it’s done wonders for my recognition of the Dutch national anthem. After three or so years of Verstappen wins, I practically feel like a Dutch citizen now. And I’ve never looked better in orange.

The Bad

What’s up with this “Visa Cash App Red Bull” team? What’s in a name? “Alas, too much,” William Shakespeare might have surely said were he alive.

And the Red Bull team seems to have created a controversy when they team-ordered hot-headed Yuki Tsunoda to let Daniel Ricciardo by late in the race, so Ricciardo could challenge Kevin Magnussen…..for 12th place? I don’t quite understand the reasoning, unless the Red Bull team wanted to create a Tsunoda radio reaction, which is always very profanely entertaining. And this race certainly needed something entertaining. 

In any case, the move almost certainly will create tension between Tsunoda and Ricciardo, something you definitely do not want one race into the season. But wait! There was more. After the race on the cool down lap, the two teammates nearly collided when Tsunoda divebombed inside Ricciardo as the two approached Turn 8, nearly causing a collision on the exit. Ricciardo called Tsunoda “immature,” and the two likely earned an invitation to the team principal’s office.

Alpine was not even a factor in the race, finishing 17th and 18th both cars one lap down. It’s not surprising considering they started 19th and 20th, but still disappointing, given the team had nine races in 2023 in which both drivers scored points. Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were barely mentioned, and for that matter, seen, during television coverage.

The Disappointing

Martin Brundle’s inaugural 2024 “Grid Walk” was, much like the grand prix itself, uneventful. Brundle started the walk with a “conversation” with the track surface, which, understandably, had little to say, but that was still more than simpleton Machine Gun Kelly had to say last year in Brazil.  

Brundle did snag interviews with the Duke Of Richmond and the Duchess Of York, which resulted in some royally boring talks.

It was unfortunate to see Hulkenberg’s race fall about so quickly, before the first turn even. By qualifying 10th, Hulkenberg established himself as an underdog to cheer for, one who might shock one of two of the “Big 4” teams by beating one or more of those drivers. But Hulkenberg’s collision with Stroll at the start ruined those hopes as well as any chance of the Haas driver scoring points.

See also
The Max Verstappen Reign Continues in Bahrain

The Driver

You might as well update Verstappen’s Wikipedia page to say “Four-time Formula 1 World Champion,” because he’s going to be. And in light of the margin of victory, and competing teams inability to equal Red Bull’s speed and innovation, you could probably feel safe updating that to “five” or even “six-time” world champion. 

The Results (Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT571:31:44.74226
211Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT57+22.457s18
355Carlos SainzFERRARI57+25.110s15
416Charles LeclercFERRARI57+39.669s12
563George RussellMERCEDES57+46.788s10
64Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES57+48.458s8
744Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES57+50.324s6
881Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES57+56.082s4
914Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES57+74.887s2
1018Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES57+93.216s1
1124Zhou GuanyuKICK SAUBER FERRARI56+1 lap0
1220Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI56+1 lap0
133Daniel RicciardoRB HONDA RBPT56+1 lap0
1422Yuki TsunodaRB HONDA RBPT56+1 lap0
1523Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES56+1 lap0
1627Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI56+1 lap0
1731Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT56+1 lap0
1810Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT56+1 lap0
1977Valtteri BottasKICK SAUBER FERRARI56+1 lap0
202Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES55+2 laps0

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