Max Verstappen left the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix with the biggest smile but to win Formula 1 championship number three, he has to break a six-year curse.
The Dutchman utterly dominated the opening race of 2023, winning by a significant margin over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and likely title challenger Charles Leclerc breaking down.
But when he looks back at the trends of the past six seasons, he may well be concerned that his quest for a third world title will be thwarted.
Not since 2016 has the winner of the season’s first race gone on to win the Drivers’ Championship when Nico Rosberg pipped Lewis Hamilton during the height of Mercedes dominance.
Red Bull are approaching that level now with neither Verstappen nor Perez really troubled once Leclerc fell by the wayside.
With no teams looking remotely close to the Red Bulls in Bahrain, it might take the Mexican to finally challenge his teammate and keep the curse going.
Last six first GP winner vs title winner
|Year||First GP winner||Title winner|
|2017||Sebastian Vettel||Lewis Hamilton|
|2018||Sebastian Vettel||Lewis Hamilton|
|2019||Valtteri Bottas||Lewis Hamilton|
|2020||Valtteri Bottas||Lewis Hamilton|
|2021||Lewis Hamilton||Max Verstappen|
|2022||Charles Leclerc||Max Verstappen|
Not even challenging
With the exception of Hamilton in 2021, the first winner of a new season has not even challenged the eventual world champion past the halfway mark.
Sebastian Vettel was the fastest out of the blocks in 2017 and 2018 for Ferrari but they could not keep up with the Silver Arrows over the long run and Hamilton cantered to titles number four and five.
The following two years saw Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate at the time, claim the opening win but he was even further away from being a title challenger than the German.
The 2022 F1 season saw what many believed to be the new dawn of the Prancing Horse as Red Bull suffered early mechanical problems.
But Leclerc was on the end of his own issues later in the year and the speed of the Milton Keynes-built machines was too much for the Monegasque to handle.
If this curse does persist then this may well be the most unpredictable season of F1 for some time but it will take something truly extraordinary to get close to Verstappen and Red Bull in this form.