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Max Verstappen starts season with one-two win in Bahrain

Formula One F1 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain – March 5, 2023 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium with a medal after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

MANAMA—Formula One world champion Max Verstappen made a dream start to the season by leading Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to a dominant one-two in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix as Fernando Alonso joined the podium party on his Aston Martin debut.

Mexican Perez took the chequered flag 11.9 seconds behind his teammate, whose win was the team’s 10th in 12 races stretching back to last July.

“Very lovely that, really good result. We had good race pace,” Verstappen, a hot favorite for a third successive title this season, told the team on his slowing-down lap.

“That’s exactly the start to the season we wanted and needed. A perfect one-two”.

As Red Bull celebrated and the night sky filled with fireworks, Ferrari was left licking their wounds again with Charles Leclerc retiring from third place and Carlos Sainz then overtaken by Alonso.

Verstappen meanwhile cruised on untroubled from pole position.

It was the first time the Dutch driver had won in Bahrain, the first time he had triumphed in a Formula One opener and a marked turnaround from last year’s race where he retired and Leclerc won.

Leclerc seized second place at the start from third on the grid and looked good for the podium until he slowed and pulled over 17 laps from the end, shouting “No, no, no! No power” over the team radio.

Ferrari blamed the breakdown, which triggered a virtual safety car period, on an electrical problem on the power unit.

“Of course we are disappointed, how could we not be? We knew we’d have to deal with tyre degradation but we had not expected reliability problems,” said new team boss Fred Vasseur.

Veteran double world champion Alonso, in his 356th race, then passed Sainz with a thrilling wheel-to-wheel move 12 laps from the end and was voted Driver of the Day by fans.

“This is a lovely car to drive,” the 41-year-old Spaniard, the oldest driver in the race and replacing retired four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, told his team.

“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,” he told the crowd after the finish.

WORST DAY

Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton competes during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 5, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was fifth for Mercedes, who were a long way off Red Bull’s pace and effectively the fourth-best team.

“That was one of our worst days in racing,” declared team boss Toto Wolff.

Canadian Lance Stroll gave Aston Martin more points with sixth, lifting them to a giddy second in the constructors’ standings.

It was a remarkable drive from the young Canadian, who broke both his wrists and a big toe in a cycling accident in Spain two weeks ago.

“To finish sixth has made it worth enduring all that pain,” he said.

George Russell was seventh for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas eighth for Alfa Romeo and Pierre Gasly ninth on his Alpine debut after joining from AlphaTauri and starting the race in last position.

Gasly’s team mate Esteban Ocon picked up three separate time penalties before retiring.

Alex Albon took the final point for a markedly more competitive-looking Williams, with U.S. rookie teammate Logan Sargeant a strong 12th.

Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou set the fastest lap but there was no bonus point as he finished outside the top 10.

Australian Oscar Piastri retired 14 laps into his debut, with his stricken McLaren wheeled into the team garage after suffering an apparent electronics issue.

The 21-year-old had complained of gearbox problems and mechanics swapped the steering wheel when he pitted but he could not restart.

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