Max Verstappen has dominated the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez, but Fernando Alonso stole the show with a thrilling third for the newly competitive Aston Martin team.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
Verstappen had the race won at lights-out, his perfect getaway clearing the way for him to build a 10-second lead early in the race. He only briefly relinquished his advantage at the first pit stops, but the gap to the rest of the pack was so large later in the race that his second tyre change came for free.
The Dutchman took the chequered flag with a healthy 12-second gap to Perez and a foreboding 38.6-second advantage over the rest of the grid after spending much of the race in cruise-home mode.
“It was a very, very good first stint where I basically made my gap, and from there it was all about looking after the tyres,” he said.
“I think we have a good race package. Of course it will depend a bit race to race, but we can definitely fight with this.”
Perez might have had the pace to challenge his teammate, but a bad start dropped him to third on the first lap behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc had saved a new set of soft tyres from qualifying and used them to fend off the Mexican, but he was no match for his pursuer after the first pit stops, when Perez’s tyre usage was so good he was able to take another set of soft tyres and comfortably relegate Leclerc to third.
By then he was already more than 13 seconds adrift of his teammate, a deficit he managed to keep in check but never threatened to overcome by the end of the grand prix.
“I think today it was really that start that really put me out of contention in the race,” he said. “It was all about minimising the damage, so finishing second was the maximum I could do today.
“We have a strong package, so it was important today to get both cars to the end.”
Fernando Alonso was a sensational addition to the podium after a weekend that confirmed his Aston Martin team had made the gargantuan leap from seventh in last year’s constructors championship into the frontrunning pack.
The 41-year-old Alonso wound back the clock with some vintage racing, including a memorable duel with old teammate Lewis Hamilton that saw him dive down the inside of the tricky turn 10 for fourth and a high-pressure duel with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz for third, from where no-one could catch him late in the race.
Amazing for the team,” he said. “It was a great weekend. “Finishing on the podium in the first race of the year, it’s just amazing what Aston Martin did over the winter.
“To have the second-best car in race 1 is just unreal.”
Sainz was easy prey for Alonso in a disappointing grand prix for Ferrari. The team had hoped it had cured its poor tyre wear from late last year, but neither Sainz nor Leclerc had anything close to Red Bull Racing’s race pace.
The Italian team’s misery was compounded by an engine failure for Leclerc in the closing laps, a concerning throwback to last year’s unreliability-riddled campaign.
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth on a chastening weekend for Mercedes, which has come to the conclusion the car concept it debuted last year and carried over this season isn’t competitive enough to become a title contender.
The seven-time champion only just saw off a late pursuit from Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin, who in turn had no trouble seeing off George Russell in the other Mercedes.
Valtteri Bottas finished eighth for Alfa Romeo ahead of Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who stopped three times to recover from 20th into the points.
Thailand’s Alex Albon completed the top 10 for the last point of the race in a surprisingly competitive Williams car. Albon said ahead of the weekend that he expected the team to be a better class of last this year, but Sunday suggested it could regularly snipe for points, particularly with rookie teammate Logan Sargeant finishing less than 10 seconds behind him in 12th.