F1 Kicks Off Season in Bahrain


Bahrain kicked off a thrilling F1 season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the weekend, Formula 1 kicked off its 2023 season at the Bahrain International circuit for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix. After a three-day period of testing that took place a week prior at the same track, it was now time to see the cars in full force with the sole objective of winning.

To quickly recap the testing, Red Bull showed that they weren’t resting on their laurels and were quick from the outset, while Ferrari and Mercedes showed that they are still the top teams in the sport.

One of the biggest surprises was Aston Martin. Even before testing, they announced that driver Lance Stroll would be unable to participate in testing due to an injury, leaving many to wonder if he would even return for the season opener. They finished seventh last year, but when they went out on the track, they stunned the paddock with their lap times. The majority of the teams agreed that they had vastly improved and could easily fight for podiums with the top three.

With testing out of the way, it was time for the race weekend. Red Bull continued their strong pace as they started their quest to retain both the driver and constructors standings. Aston Martin was also quick with Fernando Alonso topping the time sheets during practice sessions one and two.

When it came time for qualifying, reigning champion Max Verstappen was able to put his Red Bull on pole position with his teammate Sergio Perez making it a front row lockout. It was then an all-Ferrari second row with Charles Leclerc ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz. Alonso was fifth before the Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in sixth and seventh respectively.

When the lights went out on Sunday, Verstappen got away cleanly and Leclerc was able to pass Perez for second with Sainz staying in fourth. Alonso was tagged in the back by teammate Stroll who was cleared to race but still experiencing some discomfort due to his wrist injury. Alonso fell down to seventh with the Mercedes duo passing him, with Hamilton in fifth and Russell in sixth. Meanwhile at the front, Verstappen was starting to build a gap to Leclerc who also had to contend with Perez in third.

On lap 12, Hamilton was the first of the front runners to pit, with Leclerc, Sainz and Russell responding by pitting on lap 13. Prior to pitting, Russell was overtaken by Alonso, who was able to power his way past the silver arrow on one of the straights. Verstappen and Alonso both pitted on lap 14, with Verstappen switching to soft tires while everyone else switched to the hard tires. This put Perez in the lead, albeit with old tires, who eventually pitted on lap 17 for a set of soft tires like his teammate.

After the first round of stops, Verstappen led from Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Hamilton, Alonso and Russell rounding out the top seven.

Verstappen was still extending his gap to Leclerc and to make matters worse, now he was having to defend his position from Perez. However on lap 26, Perez was finally able to get by to go up into second. Then on lap 30, Hamilton entered the pits for a second time, triggering Sainz and Russell to respond by pitting on lap 31.

Unfortunately for Russell, he emerged from the pits behind Stroll, ruining any chances of performing an undercut against the other drivers. Leclerc then pitted on lap 33 with Perez, with Alonso pitting on lap 34 and Verstappen on lap 36.

After the second round of stops, Verstappen still led from Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton and then Alonso. Alonso was now right on the back of Hamilton, trying to find a way past his former teammate and rival.

On lap 37, Alonso made a move but wasn’t able to make it stick with Hamilton remaining in front of the Spaniard. However on lap 38, Alonso was able to make a wonderful overtake by going down the inside on a switchback move to finally pass Hamilton and go up into fifth.

However on lap 41, disaster struck for Ferrari as Leclerc stopped on track and retired from the race with an electrical issue, forcing a virtual safety car to be called out to remove the car from the track. Now Sainz was in third but had Alonso behind him and Aston Martin realizing that there was now a podium to race for.

Once the virtual safety car period ended, Alonso was right on the back of Sainz, trying to get onto the podium. On lap 45, Alonso was able to capitalize on a Sainz lockup to pass the Ferrari and get onto the podium. Meanwhile at the front, Verstappen was miles ahead of Perez, who was also ahead of Alonso by a big margin.

After 57 laps, Verstappen coasted to a dominating victory with Perez finishing second to make it a Red Bull one-two finish. Alonso rounded out the podium in third for his first podium since 2021. Sainz finished fourth with Hamilton in fifth. Stroll finished sixth and Russell finished seventh. The Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas finished eighth with the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, who started last on the grid, was able to make a remarkable comeback to finish ninth, and the Williams of Alex Albon finishing 10th to round out the points-paying positions.

Red Bull have proven that they are once again the team to beat with such a dominating display to get their season off to the perfect start. Ferrari and Mercedes have some catching up to do and now they also have to deal with Aston Martin. The next race is next week as they head to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.