Red Bull Dominates Bahrain Grand Prix!

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Red Bull have picked up where they left off last season.  While their practice sessions appeared pedestrian, it appeared they have been sandbagging the competition.  Verstappen and Perez secured a Red Bull lockout on the first row during qualification, carrying that success thru to a P1 and P2 Grand Prix finish.  By lap 35, Verstappen was 38 seconds ahead of his teammate, and Perez still had a 12 second lead on Charles Leclerc.  The rest of the field has a tremendous amount of work to catch up to Red Bull, and it does not appear that it will happen anytime soon.

Frome the left, first placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands/, second placed Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico and third placed Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain celebrate on the podium after the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir circuit, Sunday, March 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The Bahrain Grand Prix is a 3.3 mile, 15 turn track.  It is a 57-lap race and Lewis Hamilton has the most wins in track history.  The starting grid featured Red Bull on the first row, and Ferrari on the second row.  The big surprise coming out of testing is Aston Martin.  Fernando Alonso qualified fifth, head of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.  The last three spots were Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon of Alpine and Nico Hulkenberg of Haas.  New competition rules allow for the teams finishing near the bottom of the field in the Constructors Championship to have more wind tunnel time in the off season.  Apparently, Aston Martin used their wind tunnel time well.

It used to be that the start of a Formula 1 race was super critical to how the race ended.  Now, the cars are much more competitive.  Drafting and overtaking is easier given the new mandatory aero set ups on the cars.  Tire strategy has become more important.  However, to have a shot at winning, you have to finish the race.

At the start of the race, Perez had a slow start and Leclerc overtook him going into turn one.  Leclerc maintained his position until the first round of pit stops occurred.  As lap one unfolded, Lewis Hamilton found a way to get past his teammate George Russell as well as Alonso.  Lance Stroll accidently hit the rear of Alonso’s car allowing Russell to pass Alonso as well.  It was a tough start for the Spaniard.  The veteran driver knew it’s not how you start, but how you finish.  Alonso started his march back to contention when he passed Russell on lap 13.

McLaren had an awful first race.  Oscar Piastri’s ride suffered engine failure during lap 15.  Lando Norris’s car boxed five times due to nematic failure in the engine.  Norris ran the full 57 laps, but he was a lap down from the rest of the field when he finished the race.

Haas also had a puzzling start to the season.  Though Nico Hulkenberg drove his Haas to Q3 and P10, Kevin Magnussen couldn’t get out of Q1 during qualification.  They finished 13th and 15th on race day.  Neither car had race pace which is a stark drop off from last year’s performances.

Williams driver Logan Sargeant of the US in action during the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir circuit, Sunday, March 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Another surprise rise from the offseason is Williams.  Finishing the race in 10th, Alexander Albon secured points for Williams the first race of the season.  Rookie American Logan Sargeant started 16th and finished 12th.  It was an outstanding start for Sargeant.

With Red Bull firmly in front, the focus of the race turned to Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin.  Lance Stroll came into the race injured, having fractured some bones in both wrists and sustaining a minor foot injury from a bike crash just 12 days before the race.  Medically cleared, everyone watched to see how he would perform.  In the Mercedes garage, Team Principal Toto Wolff vocalized the need to upgrade his car’s to be more competitive with the front runners.  Meanwhile Ferrari quietly went about their business, still smarting from last year’s sharp plummet from glory.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain and Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain, front in action during the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir circuit, Sunday, March 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

As the race started to wind down, it looked like Red Bull and Ferrari would be sitting on the podium as they did much of the year last year.  During lap 37, Alonso came into striking distance of Hamilton’s Mercedes and he started putting the pressure on Hamilton.  On lap 39, he masterfully overtook Hamilton, taking an inside line on turn ten, gliding past Hamilton into fifth position.  Then, on lap 41, Leclerc’s Ferrari suffered engine failure in sector 3.  Carlos Sainz was running about ten seconds behind Leclerc, but his tires were severely degraded.  As the yellow flag lifted, Sainz was now in third place, but a podium finish was not a given because Alonso was mere seconds behind Sainz.

Alonso caught up to Sainz during lap 44 and put the pressure on him for two laps.  On lap 46, Alonso blew past Sainz in the DRS zone.  Alonso started the race getting beat and bumped from fifth down to eight.  Despite that, he masterfully drove the field giving himself an opportunity to podium.  At the end of the race Fernando Alonso stood on the podium for the 99th time in his career, while Verstappen won his 36th Grand Prix.

Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain celebrates after he took third place at the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir circuit, Sunday, March 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

We have two weeks until the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.  Will Ferrari and McClaren fix their engine woes?  Though, Ferrari qualified well, they changed Leclerc’s battery after qualification.  We all knew something was up when Leclerc only put up one time during Q3. Then his engine failed with 16 laps to go.  It’s not a good start to the season for a Ferrari team that had such a fast car last year.   Meanwhile it seems the whole racing grid as passed McClaren by.  The Bahrain Grand Prix is the most pitiful performance McClaren has put on in years.

I hope Aston Martin continues to build on the success of race one.  Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes will be battling amongst themselves for 2nd place in the Constructor’s Championship.  This bodes for excellent racing over the course of the season.  See you in two weeks!

Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso of Spain in action during the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir circuit, Sunday, March 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

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