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Verstappen wins season opener in Bahrain


Better not tell Sam Brinton, but there is no disputing that Fernando Alonso carries a lot of baggage.

Nonetheless, despite some of the various episodes in his career, not least his role in Spygate, he is a racer in the classic sense.

While some may believe that leopards can change their spots, we believe that the Spaniard still has more than a whiff of Machiavelli about him, but like most we still have a soft spot for him.

Howe great is it therefore that ahead of a season we were fearing was going to a walkover for Max Verstappen, Aston Martin might yet throw a Spaniard in the works.

Make no mistake, Alonso can mix it with the best of them, and in terms of knowing every trick in the book... he was the editor, and if you think Max can be feisty wait until you see what Fernando can do if he gets within sniffing distance of success.

Thankfully, Sergio raised his game when it mattered, and in the opening stages today he and his team will have the opportunity to set the stage for the remainder of the season. If he battles Max then we have a potential fight on our hands, especially if he gets the better of the Dutchman. However, if he rolls over...

There remains doubt over Ferrari's race pace, and the news that Charles has taken on a new energy store is an early blow to the team's reliability. As is the case at Red Bull, today presents the perfect opportunity for one or either driver to establish themselves as de facto team leader.

Behind Fernando we have the Mercedes pair, who, if nothing else, now have Toto's assurance that the German team will rethink its whole zero-sidepod concept.

However, any change is some way down the line so for now Lewis and George have to make do, and based on yesterday's evidence should still be able to battle for a decent points haul, if not a podium spot.

All things considered, yesterday's was a great performance from Lance, and though we don't for a minute believe Fernando's prophecy that he can become world champion, we do think he is capable of much more than people give him credit for.

Esteban and Nico got their seasons off to the perfect start, mainly in terms of leaving their teammates for dust, and in the German's case what better way to say "I'm back" than by securing Haas's first points of the year.

As for the rest of the midfield it is anyone's guess, though according to the experts that populate social media, McLaren, like Mercedes, needs to go back to the drawing board... and seemingly not only in terms of the car.

Having disappointed in qualifying, today offers the Alfa pair the opportunity to shine, especially on a track where the Safety Car makes a regular appearance.

As we have said before, races cannot be won at the first corner or the first lap, the same goes for championship, there is a long, long way to go, and just as FP1 and FP3 were unrepresentative, so too is the entire Bahrain weekend.

Nonetheless, it can be a good barometer and, being the opening race, also important in establishing a certain order.

A lot has been said about the three rookies, with Oscar getting a hard time of it on social media last night, but let's leave them be. The season opener is hard enough as it is, without basing a potentially great driver's career hopes on a largely unrepresentative race.

That said, much like Fernando in the Minardi many, many, many moons ago, a great guitarist doesn't need a top of the range Strat or Les Paul, if the talent is there it will shine through.

In terms of strategy the race should be a two-stop race, as was the case in previous years. On paper, the fastest strategy is to start on soft and then move onto the hard. Depending on which tyres each driver has available, there's then the option to fit either another soft or another hard for the run to the flag. Finishing on the soft is theoretically a bit faster overall.

For those wanting to use mediums, a soft-medium-soft or soft-hard-medium run plan is another possibility; but these options are slower. The fierce abrasion of the asphalt makes a one-stopper extremely difficult due to the high levels of degradation.

It's worth noting that Charles has a fresh set of softs available having opted not to make a second run in Q3. The Monegasque has said that the reason to hold back is because Ferrari believes it is on the back foot on pace compared to Red Bull.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out. Zhou leads the way, followed by de Vries, Norris and Verstappen. An early lock-up and trip over the run-off for Albon.

As the pitlane closes, last to take their place on the grid is Stroll.

Air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 33 degrees. There is a 0% chance of rain.

All are starting on softs bar Magnussen who is on hards. As expected, Leclerc is on new softs, as are Norris, Bottas, Zhou, Tsunoda, Albon, Sargeant, Piastri, de Vries and Gasly.

Magnussen is told: "Don't be surprised if you hear me talking to you on the formation lap because I am allowed to do that now."

They head off on said formation lap. All get away without any issues. However, further around lap Stroll has a lock-up.

The grid forms.

They're away! A great start from Verstappen, as Perez move across to cover Leclerc, however this allows Sainz to pull level and as a result the Mexican moves across forcing the Spaniard wide. All of which gives Leclerc a free run to the first corner as Verstappen leads.

Hamilton is on the inside of Alonso in Turn 1 but the Aston Martin driver has the edge, behind Russell and Stroll are battling.

Heading into Turn 4 Hamilton gets through on the inside of Alonso, while the Spaniard is clipped at the rear by his teammate, all of which allows Russell through also.

"I've been hit," says Alonso, unaware that it was his - destined to be world champion - teammate.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Hamilton, Russell, Alonso, Bottas, Stroll and Norris.

One of the Williams has shed a piece of bodywork and as a result the yellows are momentarily waved.

Worst start was Hulkenberg who has lost four places, Bottas has gained four.

After 4 laps, Verstappen leads Leclerc by 3.386s, with Perez a further 1.013s behind.

Stroll passes Bottas for 8th, the Finn attempts to retake the position but simply doesn't have the pace.

"I'm sliding more than I would like," admits Hulkenberg. Teammate Magnussen has dropped to twentieth on his hards.

Albon is eleventh, ahead of Norris and Sargeant.

Russell is 0.962s down on his Mercedes teammate, with Alonso 1.715s behind.

"I think I have a tear-off in my left sidepod," reports Tsunoda.

"Don't worry about the Astons," Bottas is told, "we need to do our race."

Perez is told that tyre degradation will soon allow his to reel in Leclerc.

"Is Lewis managing his tyres or struggling," asks Russell. "Struggling, struggling," he is told. Clearly the youngster, who subsequently runs wide in Turn 10, is getting impatient.

"Just remember to drink," Hamilton is told.

Alonso is closing in on Russell, indeed he is within DRS range, as Verstappen reports a "little bit of rear-locking" with his downshifts.

Gasly pits at the end of lap 9, emerging on hards in 20th.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Manama here.


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1. Posted by Cobra Driver, 06/03/2023 10:29

"Never mind the boring race, I received my Sunday chuckle watching Brundle flitting around the grid like a blue-bottomed fly in a butcher shop. And Chandhok was unconspicuous by his absence.

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by Chester, 05/03/2023 19:40

"This reports incenses me. A driver works for literally decades and finishes in the podium- and this is the response he gets. Wow"

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