A new Formula One season has arrived and things have picked up where we left off: Red Bull dominates, Ferrari experiences misfortune and … Aston Martin is second in the constructors’ championship?
OK, so maybe some things have changed since we last left our heroes.
Max Verstappen led from start to finish to take the checkered flag at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday. Teammate Sergio Perez came in second to make it a 1-2 finish for Red Bull while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso rounded out the podium in third. Yes, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. A surprise to be sure but a welcome one.
Oh and while you were reading this, Lando Norris pitted once again.
Here are five takeaways from the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Head of the class
The opening race reaffirmed suspicions Red Bull was a step (or two or 10) above the field. Pole-sitter Verstappen bolted from the start and cleared the finish line uncontested by almost 12 seconds ahead of Perez, who himself had built an insurmountable 38.6-second chasm over Alonso.
It was the 36th career victory for Verstappen and his first in Bahrain through eight attempts. This is also the part where we joke that Verstappen is on pace to win 23 races this season.
The double defending world champion Verstappen will also aim to become the first driver to win the opening Grand Prix and the title since Nico Rosberg in 2016.
F1 now heads to Saudi Arabia in two weeks time where (surprise) Verstappen is the defending race winner. Hmm, maybe we should be looking at the odds to win 23 in ’23.
The pre-season hype for Aston Martin is now delivering as Alonso achieved a podium finish in his first Grand Prix with the team. It was puzzling when the two-time world champion decided to leave the comfortable confines of Alpine to join seventh-place Aston Martin but let this serve as another reminder who are we to doubt Alonso.
The 41-year-old Spaniard made a magnificent manoeuvre like it was 2007 all over again to get by longtime rival Lewis Hamilton on lap 39 and Carlos Sainz was left helpless on struggling tires as Alonso said adios to his countryman on lap 45 to secure P3.
It was Alonso’s best result since finishing third in Qatar in 2021 and Aston Martin’s first podium since the now-retired Sebastian Vettel was second in Azerbaijan earlier that season.
Here comes a new challenger!
It wasn’t just Alonso but also teammate Lance Stroll who had a superb Sunday finishing P6.
Things didn’t start off well at all as Stroll had a minor fender bender with Alonso on the opening lap that could have been spelled disaster for both drivers. Crisis averted as they only lost track position and managed to avoid critical damage.
Alonso was quick praise Stroll after the race as the Canadian driver missed all of the pre-season tests after breaking both wrists and a toe during a bicycle accident.
“I’m so proud of you,” Alonso said over the team radio. “This is amazing. … Lance is my hero. Amazing performance from him.”
Aston Martin is currently second in the constructors’ championship with 23 points. It’s obviously too early to tell how long that’ll last but it’s already a huge improvement over last season. Hopefully, it’s a sign of Aston Martin rising up to Mercedes’ level and not a case of Mercedes slipping back.
Heartaches and headaches for Ferrari
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Reliability and tire degradation continue to be albatross for the prancing horses of Ferrari.
Charles Leclerc was running well in P3 until the glitch gremlins struck again. The team already dipped into its energy pool prior to the race but whatever changes they made to the power unit didn’t hold — or worse case scenario, maybe it’s something else — as Leclerc lost steam and dropped out of the Grand Prix on Lap 41.
That temporarily bumped Sainz into a podium position, but he was candid on the radio and expressed concern if he pushed too hard on the tires to defend Alonso he’d lose it anyway.
This turned out to be a bizarro world finish from last year in Bahrain when Leclerc and Sainz were 1-2 and the Red Bulls struggled. Just remember, it’s only the first race — whether that’s optimism or sarcasm is however you wish to interpret it.
If you thought Ferrari’s day was bad, McLaren’s was even worse. Oscar Piastri’s F1 debut only lasted 13 laps due to electricial issues while Norris pitted six times and limped around the track down two laps before finishing P17 — or last among the cars still running. Somehow, I doubt the six-stop strategy was in the cards. Yes, we expected McLaren to struggle but yeesh, this was just brutal.
Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly scored two points in P9 during his first GP with Alpine, but teammate Esteban Ocon’s race was downright comical. Ocon lined up incorrectly on the grid and then while en route to serve that penalty, he was caught speeding through the pits and dinged an additional five seconds. Mechnical issues ended the madness for Ocon and forced him to retire after 41 laps.