Bahrain Grand Prix – Max Verstappen led a dominant Red Bull 1-2 as Charles Leclerc stopped on track and Fernando Alonso delighted in racing to the podium.
After the build up to qualifying seemed to promise a very close fought pole battle, Q3 ended with more of a whimper than an explosion with Charles Leclerc saving tyres instead of completing a final run and the Red Bulls showing their pace to comfortably lock out the front row ahead of Ferrari.
The soft tyres were the compound of choice for the start aside from Kevin Magnussen in P17 who opted for the hards.
As the lights went out, Sergio Perez didn’t get as good a launch as his teammate and got sandwiched between the two Ferraris and lost P2 to Leclerc. Further back it was not the start Aston Martin were hoping for with Fernando Alonso starting from P5 and Lance Stroll in P8. On the opening lap it all happened at T4, Lewis Hamilton had just got past the Spaniard and then Stroll, who was fighting with George Russell, locked up and went into his teammate. Both Astons were able to keep going but the contact threw Alonso off enough that Russell was able to get ahead of him.
Five laps in and Verstappen was out on his own at the front, having opened a four second gap at that stage and was lapping around half a second quicker than Leclerc, who had Perez in DRS range behind him.
A few laps further and while Ferrari were confirming that Leclerc would stay on Plan A, Russell was querying whether Hamilton was managing anything as the younger Mercedes driver had Alonso on his tail and looking ready to pounce.
The first pit stops came around lap 10 and it didn’t seem to be good news for Lando Norris as he had a long stop while McLaren had to put more air into his pneumatic system. Lap 13 saw Hamilton swap to the hards and rejoin in P9, while the Ferraris and Russell followed in the next time around.
Verstappen ducked into the pits for softs on lap 15 which allowed Perez to take over the lead of the race. Alonso and Russell however lost out to Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas who had made the undercut work and was enjoying P6. The final driver to pit was Perez, the Red Bull driver swapping to the soft compound at the end of lap 17 and he rejoined in P3 behind Verstappen and Leclerc.
The first retirement of the race was Oscar Piastri, the Australian having apparently had electronics issues and when he stopped for his first pitstop his engine turned off. Things weren’t looking up for Norris either as he had to stop for the second time on lap 18 for another air top up.
While the pitstop chaos was ongoing the stewards announced that Esteban Ocon would be given a five second time penalty for being too far forward in his grid box, and then after the stops it was noted that the Alpine driver had served his penalty wrong, and was then handed a ten second penalty. A few laps later the French driver’s day got even worse as he was given another time penalty, this time five seconds for speeding in the pit lane.
While Bottas hadn’t been able to hold onto his lofty P6 with Alonso, Russell and Stroll dispatching him quickly enough, further forward Perez steadily reeled Leclerc in and on lap 26 the race was back to a a Red Bull 1-2 as the Mexican went down the inside of T1. However Verstappen was in a race of his own at that point with nearly fourteen seconds separating him from P2. Carlos Sainz didn’t seem to be able to match his teammate’s pace and so there was a similar distance between the two Ferrari’s in P3 and P4 as there was the Red Bulls ahead of them.
Lap 32 saw Bottas and Hamilton starting the second round of pit stops for the top ten, despite Hamilton feeling his tyres were still working well for him. The big winner at the end of that, as all of the top ten were then on the hard compound, was Stroll who had made the undercut work and got past Russell as the Brit emerged from the pits.
Alonso had tried to overcut Hamilton but just missed out. However, after a few laps behind his 2007 teammate the Aston Martin driver tried to make the move on lap 37 but lost the rear when he got ahead and Hamilton retook the position. A dive down the inside at T10 on lap 39 though had a much more favourable result for the Spaniard and P5 was his.
The second retirement of the race came on lap 41 when Leclerc slowed and stopped at the side of the track with no power, which brought out the first Virtual Safety Car of the season but as Leclerc had parked sensibly it was a very brief pause in green flag racing. Around the same time Alpine called it a day with Ocon and he retired in the pits, no reasons were given.
While there was a great battle just outside the top ten with the AlphaTauris and Zhou Guanyu, with Yuki Tsunoda taking advantage of fresh tyres and the battle between Zhou and Nyck de Vries to jump the two of them.
Soon after that and Alonso’s push to the podium continued as he had closed right up to Sainz and despite almost going into the back of the Ferrari, he did get through and into the final podium spot on lap 46 after a very close few corners between the Spaniards. Alonso’s radio after the pass a triumphant “Yes! Bye bye!”
Hamilton was right behind Sainz at that point but fell back over the following laps giving the Ferrari driver a bit of space to breathe. The race calmed down after that, Nico Hulkenberg being handed a five second penalty for multiple track limit infringements but the Haas driver was in P16 and had almost a minute between himself and Norris’ McLaren in P17.
Verstappen took the chequered flag first almost twelve seconds ahead of his teammate for the perfect start to the season for Red Bull. A delighted Alonso took P3, crossing the line 38 seconds after Verstappen did while the sole remaining Ferrari, Sainz took P4 ahead of Hamilton.
Despite screws in his wrist and still healing from his bike accident two weeks ago, Stroll made it a double points race for Aston Martin, coming home in P6 with Russell behind him. It was close at the end between Bottas and Pierre Gasly but the Alfa Romeo held on to P8 ahead of the Alpine. The final point went to Alex Albon while a late pit stop for fresh softs allowed Zhou to put in the fastest lap, a 1:33.996. After six stops to combat his ongoing power unit issues, Norris was the final finisher, two laps down on the race winner.