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Alonso Bahrain

On-track battles, penalties and retirements define the Bahrain Grand Prix

Formula One has begun as the 20 drivers took to the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix

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Formula 1 kicked off with the Bahrain Grand Prix that saw Max Verstappen win the race with Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso joining him on the podium. For Red Bull it was an easy race, but for others such as McLaren and Alpine, it was plagued with problems and penalties. 

Bahrain Grand Prix Aston Martin Red Bull Verstappen and Alonso and Perez
Max Verstappen, winner of the Bahrain Grand Prix (Credit: Twitter @F1)

The winter break is over, pre-season testing is complete and the first race weekend is now finished. Formula 1 returned this weekend for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

All teams completed pre-season testing and it was Aston Martin and McLaren that surprised many. Aston Martin proved quick with Fernando Alonso excelling in pre-season testing, but McLaren certainly under-performed and it wasn’t looking positive after testing.

On Friday’s Qualifying, it was unknown as to who would get pole but it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen that set the fastest time. Red Bull achieved a front row lock out with Sergio Perez in P2, ahead of both Ferraris; the Ferrari drivers have never won a race from not being on the front row.

With Red Bull in P1 and P2, the starting grid was as follows:

F1 Bahrain Aston Martin
The 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix Grid (Credit: Twitter @F1)
Key things to be aware of

Ahead of the race, Lewis Hamilton said on the Sky Sports F1 broadcast that he was “excited” for the race today. However, the Silver Arrows lined up P6 and P7 with George Russell ahead and Toto Wolff believes that the current concept of the W14 will not be “competitive.” But we have only had one race, so it’s still unknown at this point.

For Ferrari, the team were seen working on Charles Leclerc’s battery whilst the cars all lined up on the grid. McLaren also suffered some issues across the weekend namely with the wheel brows of their cars, but Red Bull also were seen working on Max Verstappen’s car throughout Free Practice sessions but the Milton Keynes team were still dominant.

Heading into the race, some key unknowns were the three rookies on the grid of Logan Sargeant, Oscar Piastri, and Nyck de Vries. Also, Lance Stroll was a point of focus for this Grand Prix after having suffered a broken wrist ahead of the season.

Now, with a front-row lock out and a highly anticipated season, let’s look at what happened throughout the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Lights Out and Away We Go

Verstappen has never won the Bahrain Grand Prix but he was able to maintain the lead into Turn One. Leclerc had a good start off the line as he was able to overtake Perez and get into P2. The Mexican got bogged down on the start and was in third after the first corner.

On the opening lap, the two Aston Martins made contact and it was suspected Fernando Alonso had a puncture but his team said all looked okay. The incident between the teammates was reviewed by the stewards but no further investigation was required.

De Vries started in P19 but went down to 20th after Pierre Gasly managed to make up a space. The drivers that managed to move up places on lap one were: Gasly, Piastri, Logan Sargeant, Alex Albon, Lando Norris, Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton and Leclerc.

Kevin Magnussen was the only driver to start on the hard-compound tyres and unfortunately in the early stages of the race, he ended up going backwards to 20th. Every other driver started the race on the soft-compound tyres, which definitely helped Leclerc on the start.

Having kept the lead in the opening stages of the race, Verstappen was able to pull out a good lead in front of Leclerc. It was a lonely race for the Dutchman out at the front of the pack. Verstappen said over the radio, whilst he was pulling away from Leclerc, that his downshifts were giving him some “rear-locking.” His engineer told Verstappen to go with “strat eight” after his message.

Alonso vs Russell

Aston Martin have shown they have had some pace this weekend. Despite the contact between both Alonso and Stroll at the beginning, the Spaniard was able to close the gap to Russell. Alonso had DRS to get past Russell and unfortunately for the Mercedes driver, he believed his tyres were gone. The AMR-23 was a lot faster than the W14 and so the battle between Russell and Alonso lasted a couple of laps but it was ultimately a drag race down towards the hairpin at turn four. Russell was forced to concede after defending and Alonso finally got ahead.

Pit-stops begin

After the first 10 laps, the Williams drivers were looking strong with Albon in 11th and Sargeant in 13th. With their moves up the grid, Norris ended up in a Williams sandwich, having gone down a position into 12th.

Gasly on lap 10 triggered the pitstops as the Frenchman swapped out his soft tyres for hards. The Bahrain Grand Prix was Gasly’s first race for Alpine, outside of the Red Bull family.

Issues for McLaren and Ocon

Soon after Gasly was in the pits, Norris came in for new tyres but also an engine issue with a pneumatic problem. This meant the young driver was running in 20th.

After Hamilton and Russell pitted, McLaren suffered more problems after Piastri radioed that he’d lost the gearbox. The Woking team switched out his steering wheel but for the young Aussie, his race ended on lap 13.

F1 Bahrain Formula 1
Oscar Piastri retires from the Bahrain Grand Prix (Credit: Twitter @F1)

Zak Brown, of McLaren, told Sky Sports that Piastri had an “electrical” problem that they’ll need to figure out. Brown said the team will probably have to call Norris into the pits again to sort his issue out; the Brit did then box once again so the team could work on the problem.

With 19 drivers left on the grid, a penalty was handed out to Esteban Ocon for a starting infringement. Therefore, Ocon then came into the pits to serve the penalty.

However, the stewards noted that Ocon served his penalty incorrectly as the team began changing Ocon’s nose cone too early before the five-seconds were up. Unfortunately, Ocon received another penalty for serving his first one incorrectly. The Alpine driver was sat in 19th (last) at this point.

Middle stages of the race

The top four in the middle stages of the race were Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez and Sainz. Leclerc suffered a couple of lock-ups and was 11.1 seconds behind Verstappen. Both Red Bulls were on a set of soft tyres, differing from the Ferrari’s who double-stacked onto the hard tyres.

Whilst Leclerc was in second, the order soon returned to the starting grid as Perez overtook the Monegasque. It was then a Red Bull 1-2 as Leclerc failed to get back past. However, the drivers weren’t at half-race distance yet.

As mentioned above, Ocon was having an unfortunate race. Sadly, things only got worse for the Alpine driver after he received another penalty. This time, it was for speeding in the pitlane when coming in to serve his second penalty.

Mercedes vs Aston Martin

Hamilton was sat behind the top four ahead of Alonso. Both were on the hards and the tyre degradation was lower than expected. But whilst Hamilton was managing his tyres, Alonso was prepared to get closer to push the Mercedes and get ahead.

With Alonso closing in, Bono came over the radio and told Hamilton they’re happy for him to push. Alonso’s teammate, Stroll, was sat behind Russell and soon began closing in on the other Mercedes.

On lap 31, Mercedes called Hamilton in due to the threat of the undercut from Alonso. The Silver Arrows put hard tyres on Hamilton’s W14, meaning he had 26 laps to manage these tyres.

After the undercut

With Hamilton pitting, it put him in seventh and Alonso in fifth with Russell in between. However, Russell soon pitted and narrowly came out of the pits ahead of Stroll. The Canadian, who pitted just before Russell, managed to get through ahead of the Mercedes with the undercut.

Lap 35 saw Perez pit and finally put the hard-compound tyres on his RB19. Leclerc went through into third place just as Alonso pitted as well. The Spaniard was aiming for the overcut but Hamilton managed to stay ahead.

At this point, the order was: Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton, Alonso, Stroll, Russell, Bottas and Albon for the top 10.

However, Alonso had Hamilton in his sights. Down the main straight, Alonso had DRS and almost overtook Hamilton. But after Alonso got ahead, the two got very close, allowing Hamilton to go back through.

Alonso was on Hamilton’s tail with the two of them battling for several corners. Down into turn 10, the Aston Martin driver finally got past the Brit, catching Hamilton off guard. After getting ahead, Alonso said over the radio:

“Yes! Let’s go!”

Unfortunately for Alonso, despite getting ahead, he failed to pull away from the Mercedes.

Virtual Safety Car

Two laps later than Perez on lap 37, Verstappen boxed onto the hard tyres. In the lead, Verstappen had a gap of 11.6 seconds to his teammate. With Red Bull in the lead, Ferrari were looking to chase their rivals.

But things didn’t go their way as Leclerc’s Ferrari cut out completely, losing power. A Virtual Safety Car was brought out as Leclerc parked on the side of the track.

Albon, Gasly, Tsunoda and Hulkenberg all came into the pits under the VSC. Whilst Gasly was up in ninth, Ocon decided to retire from the race, leaving only 17 drivers on the grid.

The VSC was only out for a short amount of time, but sadly for Hamilton, Alonso had pulled a bit more of a gap. After Leclerc retiring, Alonso was in contention for a podium if he managed to overtake fellow Spaniard, Sainz.

La batalla de los españoles

After the VSC, Alonso was closer to Sainz than Hamilton. As a result, Alonso had the red Ferrari in his sights and began chasing his countryman.

Sainz couldn’t pull away quick enough and was instructed to “protect position.” He admitted he doesn’t think his tyres could make it 12 laps if he were to push; but sadly, Alonso had DRS.

Aston Martin instructed Alonso to keep applying the pressure and it was a close battle between the two. At the exit of turn four, the two nearly collide with some close contact between tyres.

Thankfully they didn’t touch but out of turn eight, Alonso was nearly ahead of Sainz. The latter locked up, which allowed Alonso to get ahead into third place down the back straight.

As Martin Brundle said: “Vamos!”

Final 10 laps

The battle between the Spaniards allowed Hamilton to catch up. Behind Hamilton was Norris, who was lapped, but he managed to keep his MCL60 close to the back of Hamilton. But unfortunately, Norris was forced to box for the fifth time on lap 49.

With the end of the race drawing near, the top 10 consisted of eight previous grand prix winners. But it was still a Red Bull 1-2.

Alonso came on the radio saying what a “lovely car” the Aston Martin is to drive as he increased the gap to Sainz’s Ferrari. Looking at the rest of the field, Williams impressed with Albon rounding out the top 10 and rookie Sargeant only two places behind.

For Haas, it was an unfortunate race for Hulkenberg, who not only went down six places, but received a five-second time penalty. Hulkenberg got the penalty for track limits, which were a common aspect of the feeder series races.

Norris entered the pits for the sixth time, coming back out on track for the final lap.

Race Result

Verstappen picked up where he left off in Abu Dhabi as he won the Bahrain Grand Prix for the first time. Perez made it a perfect start coming home in second. This made it the first Red Bull 1-2 qualifying and race result since Abu Dhabi 2013.

Alonso started his Aston Martin career with a podium joining the Red Bull’s.

The first race of the 2023 season is complete and the final race result is:

  1. Verstappen
  2. Perez
  3. Alonso
  4. Sainz
  5. Hamilton
  6. Stroll
  7. Russell
  8. Bottas
  9. Gasly
  10. Albon
  11. Tsunoda
  12. Sargeant
  13. Magnussen
  14. De Vries
  15. Hulkenberg
  16. Zhou
  17. Norris

Ocon, Piastri and Leclerc all retired from the race.

So after the Bahrain Grand Prix, the questions remaining are: Will McLaren be able to fix their issues? Will Red Bull dominate all season or have Aston Martin created a package to threaten the Red Bull’s championship?

Headline Image Credit: Twitter @F1

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