Verstappen leads home Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain

Max Verstappen converted pole position into the race win with a controlled drive in Saturday night’s Bahrain Grand Prix, leading home Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari rival Carlos Sainz to start his latest title defence in perfect fashion.

Verstappen maintained his advantage as the encounter got under way and never looked back over the 57 laps that followed, ultimately crossing the line 22 seconds clear of Perez, who made up for his low-key qualifying effort to complete a Red Bull one-two.

Carlos Sainz rounded out the podium places for Ferrari after a thrilling exchange with team mate Charles Leclerc, who struggled with tyre degradation and suffered multiple lock-ups en route to fourth, having cleared the lead Mercedes of George Russell late on.

Russell and team mate Lewis Hamilton encountered issues with their batteries across the race, with the seven-time world champion – who also reported a broken seat – having to settle for seventh position behind McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Oscar Piastri made it two McLarens in the top 10 with a run to eighth, while Aston Martin also scored a double points finish thanks to Fernando Alonso crossing the line ninth and Lance Stroll taking 10th, despite being punted to the back of the field in a Turn 1 incident.

Zhou Guanyu just missed out on points in 11th with his alternate tyre strategy, which involved a longer final stint, followed by Kevin Magnussen in the first of the Haas cars and the two RB machines of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda.

RB sparked some late drama by asking Tsunoda to move aside for Ricciardo, given his alternate soft-tyre run to the finish, prompting the Japanese racer to shout “are you kidding me over the radio?”, only to eventually adhere to the instruction.

Williams endured a difficult opening race to 2024, with Alex Albon having to cool his car mid-race on his way to a lowly 15th, while team mate Logan Sargeant brought up the rear after running off the track due to a reported steering wheel problem.

Sitting between them was Nico Hulkenberg in the other Haas, after he tagged the aforementioned Stroll into a spin at the first corner and had to pit for a new front wing at the end of the first lap, leaving the German down in 16th at the conclusion of the race.

Alpine’s challenging weekend continued as Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly experienced anonymous races, the pair collecting 17th and 18th respectively, with Valtteri Bottas the penultimate finisher – ahead of Sargeant – after a painfully long pit stop down at Kick Sauber due to wheel nut dramas.

Back in parc ferme, Verstappen hopped out of the winning RB20 to collect the 55th victory of his F1 career, the driver and his Red Bull team sending a clear message to the rest of the field as he looks to make it four world championships on the bounce.

Verstappen leads the pack off the line.

Those rivals will now have a few days to dig through the data and think about a response as the F1 paddock moves straight from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia for the second round of the campaign at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

After an exhilarating qualifying session in the depths of the Sakhir desert, which saw Verstappen beat Leclerc and Russell to pole position, it was time for the main event at the first stop on the 24-round 2024 calendar: the Bahrain Grand Prix.

With the pre-race ceremonies and national anthem completed, the tyre blankets came off to reveal that all 20 drivers would be starting a predicted two-stop encounter on the soft compound rubber – Verstappen holding an advantage by keeping a fresh set aside through qualifying.

When the lights went out and the action got under way, pole-sitter Verstappen made a strong start to maintain his advantage and keep Leclerc at bay on the run to Turn 1, where the Ferrari driver had a look around the outside but then backed out of it.

Behind, Russell held his P3 starting slot from Perez, who got the jump over Sainz, with Alonso sixth over McLaren pair Norris and Piastri, the second Mercedes of Hamilton and Tsunoda, who had made up a spot to get himself into the top 10 places.

Replays then showed Hulkenberg running into the back of Stroll at the first corner, before Bottas got involved, an incident which left the Haas driver with front wing damage and the Aston Martin spinning to the back of the pack, with the stewards looking into the incident before opting against any further action.

As the race settled down, Russell closed in on Leclerc with DRS and made a stunning move for second position on the run between Turns 4 and 5, with the latter’s fall down the order compounded by a heavy lock-up – sending him into the clutches of Perez.

By Lap 6, Verstappen was some four seconds clear of Russell, with Leclerc still third from Perez and Sainz, Norris and Piastri up to sixth and seventh ahead of Alonso, and Hamilton and Tsunoda still rounding out the points-paying positions.

One tour later, Perez took advantage of another Leclerc lock-up at Turn 10 to tuck into the slipstream and move into the final podium position under braking for Turn 11, with Sainz then piling the pressure on his team mate after commenting over the radio that “I’m faster than the guys in front”.

With the race hitting the 10-lap mark, Verstappen brought his lead up to the seven-second mark, while Hamilton provided the next moment of action when he used DRS along the start/finish straight to pass Alonso for eighth place.

Sainz passes teammate Leclerc on his way to a third place finish.

Seconds later, Sargeant was seen going off the track at the exit of Turn 4 and briefly bringing out the yellow flags, with the American screaming in frustration over the radio as he dropped to the back of the field alongside Zhou, Stroll and Hulkenberg, who had stopped for hard tyres.

Just as Sargeant got his race back on track, with Williams later confirming a steering wheel issue, cameras cut to Sainz attacking team mate Leclerc into the first corner, making a move stick down the inside and then muscling his way past on the exit – no doubt raising heart rates at the Scuderia.

Russell was the first of the front-runners to pit on Lap 12, swiftly followed by Leclerc, who was in all sorts of trouble with degradation, both drivers swapping to the hard rubber and triggering a host of stops next time around.

Perez, Piastri and Hamilton all responded immediately, with Perez forcing his way past Russell at Turn 4 shortly after rejoining, but Verstappen and Sainz bided their time up front and stretched out their initial soft-tyre stints for several more laps.

Sainz pitted on Lap 15, coming back out behind Perez, Russell and Leclerc, with the Spaniard getting perilously close to running into the back of his team mate, who had just survived a moment of his own when he almost hit a Kick Sauber.

Concerning messages then came in from Leclerc and Hamilton, with the former complaining that his front tyres were locking everywhere and the latter reporting that his battery was running low, leaving him down on power.

Alonso and Albon were the last drivers aside from Verstappen to swap their softs for hards on Lap 16, leaving the reigning world champion on his own up front and still expertly producing competitive times on his starting set.

Behind Verstappen, team mate Perez was now second from Russell, with Sainz brilliantly passing Leclerc for third with a late-braking move into Turn 1, the McLarens of Norris and Piastri running sixth and seventh, Hamilton holding eighth and Alonso and early-pitter Zhou rounding out the top 10.

With 17 laps down, Verstappen decided it was time to pit, his advantage sufficient to ensure that he came out comfortably clear of Perez, while Sainz continued to charge up the order by sweeping around the outside of Russell – also encountering battery issues – at Turn 4 for third.

Outside the points places, Tsunoda held 11th from a recovering Stroll, Magnussen, Albon and Ricciardo, who bounced back from a lock-up at Turn 12 to find a way past Ocon, with Bottas 17th after his Lap 1 dramas, Gasly 18th in the second of the struggling Alpines, Hulkenberg 19th and Sargeant a tour down.

Verstappen built up a significant lead as he coasted to victory.

Up front, the only trouble for Red Bull was on the radio front, with Perez asking his race engineer to talk louder as he tried to do something about Verstappen’s 10-second lead – the 2021, 2022 and 2023 champion looking at ease in his RB20.

Hamilton’s race took another turn for the worse when he reported that – in addition to battery woes – his race seat was “broken”, while at Williams, a message on Albon’s steering wheel stated that his car was “too hot” as he ran in dirty air.

Verstappen’s classy performance continued in the laps that followed, stretching his lead over Perez to the 15-second mark, with Sainz a couple of seconds further back, Russell losing ground in fourth and Leclerc sitting fifth – his engineer telling him that on this stint, tyre life was looking solid.

Elsewhere, Bottas and Kick Sauber had a disaster in the pit lane when they spent almost a minute going nowhere due to an issue with the front-left wheel nut, leaving the Finn down in 19th and ahead of only the isolated Sargeant.

Russell was the first of the front-runners to stop for a second time, rejoining just behind Alonso but quickly finding a way past the Aston Martin thanks to DRS on the main straight, with Norris, Hamilton, Piastri and Leclerc also coming in to bolt on more hards.

Another moment of drama came when Piastri emerged from the pit lane side-by-side with Hamilton, who had stopped a lap earlier – the McLaren getting his nose ahead into Turn 1 but then experiencing a slide on the exit and dropping behind.

As more stops filtered through, with the Red Bulls and Ricciardo intriguingly going for softs, rather than hards, while Verstappen remained comfortably clear in P1, Perez came back out only a couple of seconds in front of Sainz.

Russell was still fourth, despite his gremlins, with Leclerc fifth from Norris, who cleared Alonso with DRS down the back straight, Hamilton battling on in eighth, Piastri holding ninth and Stroll working his way into the top 10 positions.

Alonso was the last of the points players to stop for a second time, leaving him back in 11th position, behind Zhou and Stroll, but with the advantage of much fresher hard tyres for the final stint to the chequered flag.

Alonso soon found a way past Zhou for P10 into Turn 1, before setting his sights on Stroll, while back at the front, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz began to close in on Russell and Perez respectively – setting up the prospect of some late-race battling.

Perez and Verstappen celebrate on the podium with Performance Engineer Tom Hart.

But a mistake from Russell at Turn 10 – the Mercedes driver snatching a brake and running wide – opened the door for Leclerc to take fourth without a wheel-to-wheel scrap, making it a Red Bull one-two and Ferrari three-four.

Alonso put his fresh tyres to good use as the race entered its final 10 laps with a move on team mate Stroll for ninth place at the Turns 1 and 2 complex, as both Aston Martins edged clear of Kick Sauber’s Zhou, who had ageing rubber to manage.

Additional stops from Hulkenberg, Gasly and Sargeant saw them join Verstappen, Perez and Ricciardo on soft rubber for the final laps to the finish, but the trio were all a long way off challenging for points despite their improved pace.

There was some late drama at RB when the team asked Tsunoda to move over for Ricciardo, the former reacting with rage and the latter growing impatient as the laps went by, but the position swap was eventually completed.

Back at the front, Verstappen eased his way to the finish and wound up some 22 seconds in front of Perez, collecting the fastest lap bonus point for good measure, with Sainz a couple of seconds further back in the final podium position.

Leclerc backed up Sainz in fourth, albeit almost 15 seconds down on his departing team mate, with Russell taking fifth for Mercedes, Norris coming home sixth for McLaren and Hamilton salvaging seventh in the other Silver Arrow.

Piastri added to McLaren’s points tally in eighth, with Alonso and Stroll collecting a small reward for Aston Martin in ninth and 10th, having been the final drivers to finish the race within a lap of winner Verstappen.

Zhou and Magnussen were the lead Kick Sauber and Haas drivers in 11th and 12th, with RB pair Ricciardo and Tsunoda staying in 13th and 14th to the line, prompting another sarcastic radio message from the latter at the finish.

Albon and his overheating Williams placed 15th, with Hulkenberg only able to work his way back to 16th after that clash with Stroll at Turn 1, followed by the Alpines of Ocon and Gasly, who could not make much more of an impression than their qualifying display.

Bottas and Sargeant brought up the rear for Kick Sauber and Williams respectively after their disturbed races, with the sophomore racer dropping two laps down on Verstappen in the closing stages of the encounter.

The F1 paddock travels directly from Sakhir to Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix next week March 7-9 with the race once again taking place on Saturday.

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