The opening Grand Prix of the 2023 F1 season unfolded in Bahrain much as the previous season had ended – Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez immediately stamping their authority as the Austrian outfit took a comfortable 1-2.
New faces, new liveries, same old winner. The unbearable gap between the end of the 2022 season and the start of 2023 appeared to fade away as soon as the green light flashed on Sunday in Bahrain. With it, normal service resumed as Max Verstappen expertly sped off the line and never seemed close to being challenged at the front of the pack. Déjà vu of 2022 is perhaps too close to call – lest we forget it was Verstappen and Perez rather than Charles Leclerc who suffered mechanical failure and 0 points in this same GP last time out, and much was being predicted about Ferrari’s WDC chances in the opening races of last season. The Formula 1 season is long and full of terrors, but a betting man couldn’t help but feel confident in the outlook for Red Bull. While qualifying was not so easily sewn up on Saturday, Verstappen perched himself on pole and essentially failed to ever really relinquish his position, backed up by Sergio Perez and an unfortunate retirement for Charles Leclerc, who perhaps could have kept a podium position.
What we can more excitedly draw from Sunday’s race in Bahrain, and indeed the whole weekend, was the rebirth of Fernando Alonso in what Sergio Perez would later allude to as a third (green) Red Bull. Jack Nichols on the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast perhaps summarised the post-race weekend discourse best – it almost feels like while Verstappen won a parade, but it was Alonso that won the race. The strength of the Aston Martin package that had been previewed over the course of the weekend was borne out by a heroic and mightily impressive drive from the veteran, withstanding an early contact with his own teammate, Carlos Sainz and the off-pace Mercedes’ pair to score his first podium finish since 2021 and only his fourth in F1 since 2013. Lance Stroll, often maligned in the community, also had a race to be proud of, finishing a high sixth just ahead of George Russell. Aston Martin have with this result already achieved around 41% of their points haul from the whole of the last season, and the performance of the car and their expert management of tyre degradation in the Bahrain heat on a winding track played a part in negating the possibly slightly faster Ferrari.
Where Aston Martin were buoyant, Mercedes sank. Toto Wolff, without a pinch of irony, described Sunday as one of the worst racing days ever as their drivers’ finished 5th and 7th. Their continued faith in some of last year’s concept appears to have been the wrong choice and pulls another competitor into 2023’s packed midfield.
The midfield, as a whole, displayed an impressive level of parity, upwards from the Mercedes’ of Russell, with Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri and even Williams having impressive weekends that highlight a more equal paddock outside of the Red Bull camp. Lando Norris could take some positives for a McLaren that have seemed off the pace since pre-season testing, while his teammate and rookie Oscar Piastri was unable to make a mark in his debut with an early retirement. An honourable mention to Pierre Gasly for an excellent and redeeming drive on his debut for Alpine following an awful qualifying. It would appear that it is other areas of the track that the jeopardy of this season may be found.
Looking ahead to Saudi Arabia in just under two weeks’ time, much can change for the teams and drivers, and yet I imagine most of us are looking at Red Bull and Max Verstappen to continue to set the benchmark for the pinnacle of motorsport.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN, Red Bull Racing
2 Sergio PEREZ, Red Bull Racing, +11.987
3 Fernando ALONSO, Aston Martin, +38.637
4 Carlos SAINZ, Ferrari, +48.052
5 Lewis HAMILTON, Mercedes, +50.977
6 Lance STROLL, Aston Martin, +54.502
7 George RUSSELL, Mercedes, +55.873
8 Valtteri BOTTAS, Alfa Romeo, +72.647
9 Pierre GASLY, Alpine, +73.753
10 Alexander ALBON, Williams, +89.774
11 Yuki TSUNODA, AlphaTauri, +90.870
12 Logan SARGEANT, Williams, 1 lap
13 Kevin MAGNUSSEN, Haas F1 Team, 1 lap
14 Nyck DE VRIES, AlphaTauri, 1 lap
15 Nico HULKENBERG, Haas F1 Team, 1 lap
16 Guanyu ZHOU, Alfa Romeo, 1 lap
17 Lando NORRIS, McLaren, 2 laps
Esteban OCON, Alpine DNF / Charles LECLERC, Ferrari DNF / Oscar PIASTRI, McLaren, DNF