Max Verstappen has underlined his status as the favorite for a third consecutive world title by winning the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver led almost from start to finish, initially lapping at a pace beyond his rivals and then controlling the race. Verstappen’s victory was his 36th, and he credited his “very, very good first stint” for building an early gap, which allowed him to focus on tyre management. Sergio Perez, in the other Red Bull, finished second, while Fernando Alonso secured a surprise third-place finish for Aston Martin.
“To finish on the podium first race of the year is just amazing,” said Alonso. “What Aston Martin did over the winter, to have the second-best car on race one, is just unreal. We had not the best start and had to pass on track – it made it more exciting, but we enjoyed it.”
The fight for the remaining places on the podium was highly entertaining. Alonso dropped from fifth to seventh on the opening lap, behind Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, but fought back to take third. The moves on Hamilton and Carlos Sainz were of the highest quality. Alonso passed Russell before the first pit stops, then caught and passed Hamilton after their second stops, before closing on Sainz.
The race needed the fight between Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Mercedes, because Verstappen was in a league of his own out front. The world champion converted his pole position into a lead at the first corner, and despite Charles Leclerc briefly challenging for second place, Verstappen was more than a second clear after the first lap, four seconds clear after five and seven seconds in front after 10.
Behind him, Perez’s challenge was to re-pass Leclerc, which he did by using a second set of soft tyres for his second stint, while Ferrari chose hard tyres for Leclerc. The Mexican soon closed in and passed into Turn One on lap 26, and eased away. Leclerc looked set fair for a podium, in the region of 10 seconds clear of Sainz, until his car lost power on lap 41, and he pulled off on the straight down to the final corner.
The race was not without incident, with Alonso’s pass on Sainz leaving the latter holding off Hamilton for fourth. The seven-time champion initially looked as if he might also pass Sainz, but he was unable to close in, as both suffered from tyre issues and had to settle for fifth. The second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll took sixth place, despite hitting Alonso at Turn Four on the first lap, costing the Spaniard a place to Russell, who finished seventh.
In terms of individual performances, Verstappen was the standout driver, dominating the race from start to finish. However, the fight for the remaining places on the podium, and the battles further down the field, made for a highly entertaining race. The next round of the championship takes place in Italy on April 18.
Below is a summary video with thanks to Fox Sports;