Max Verstappen cruised to a dominant victory at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, as Red Bull confirmed their status as Formula 1 2023 favourites with a one-two finish under the lights.
The Dutchman got off the line well and never looked back, quickly establishing a gap to his rivals behind and taking the chequered flag 11.9 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez.
“It was a very good first stint where I made my gap and from there it was just looking after the tyres,” Verstappen said.
“You never really know what is going to happen later on in the race so we wanted to have the right tyres in good condition as well.
“Very happy to also finally win here in Bahrain.”
Charles Leclerc looked certain to finish third until he was forced to retire on Lap 41 with a power unit failure.
The Monegasque’s misery paved the way for a fascinating scrap for the final podium spot between Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso.
Alonso lost out to both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on the opening lap after being tagged by his teammate into Turn 4 but recovered brilliantly to get the better of the two Mercedes drivers and set about hunting down his countryman.
The two-time world champion eventually prevailed on Lap 46, pulling off a stellar move into Turn 11 to take the 99th podium of his career.
Sainz managed to withstand the challenge of Hamilton and hang on to seal fourth to salvage something from a disappointing day for the Scuderia.
Behind Hamilton, Lance Stroll held off Russell for sixth, while Valtteri Bottas turned in a solid performance for Alfa Romeo in eighth.
Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon came through the pack brilliantly from 20th and 15th on the grid respectively to round out the points in ninth and tenth.
Alonso rolls back the years
There was plenty of hype around Aston Martin ahead of the race at the Bahrain International Circuit but it could hardly have started worse for the iconic British team.
Alonso was passed by Hamilton and Russell after Stroll ran into the back of him on the opening lap, also costing the Canadian a few places.
However, rather than panic, Alonso used all his experience to seal his 99th podium in F1.
He got the better of Russell on track and then withstood the Brit’s brief fightback after the first round of stops, before pulling off an excellent overtake on Hamilton.
The Spaniard went this way and that on Lap 37 before catching the seven-time world champion off guard into Turn 10.
He then made light work of Sainz to take third and confirm beyond doubt the pace of the Aston Martin.
“It is amazing for the team,” Alonso said. “It was great.
“To come here and finish on the podium in the first race of the year, it is amazing what Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second best car on race one.
“This is just unreal!
“We had not the best start today and we had to pass on track. It was more exciting, more adrenaline.”
McLaren’s misery deepens
A poor start to the 2023 season got even worse for McLaren in Bahrain.
After qualifying 11th and 18th, the Woking-based team would have been hopeful of moving forward, with Lando Norris confident the race pace of the MCL60 was better than its speed over a single lap.
However, neither McLaren driver was able to test that theory.
Rookie Oscar Piastri‘s F1 debut lasted just 14 laps, while Norris had recurring engine issues throughout the race that left him languishing down in 17th, two laps down on the leaders.
The team will be desperate to bounce back when F1 returns for the Saudi Arabian GP on March 19.