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It's business as usual as Verstappen wins in Bahrain


While qualifying has given us some idea of the pecking order, the news that Mercedes opted to set Lewis Hamilton's car up for race pace as opposed to seeking the sheer grunt needed for a higher grid position suggests that we could still be in for some surprises.

Yes, Max Verstappen is on pole, but there are a lot of drivers breathing down his neck. Also, having opted to shun the softs in FP3 in favour of hards, the Dutchman and his teammate are left with just one set of the white-banded rubber this afternoon. On the other hand both have a set of brand, spanking new softs.

As expected the Ferrari looks good, as does the Mercedes - even if the German team is opting to split it strategies - while the wily old fox Fernando is in the mix along with the McLarens.

As was the case in pre-season testing reliability has been good all weekend and it is driver errors that have been at the root of most issues. Sadly, some do not appear to have learned the lessons of the past, and track limits look likely to play a part in this evening's race.

A two-stop is quickest on paper, with hard and soft the main protagonists. Of course, everyone will start on the soft, but those like Red Bull, who only have one set will have to make their first stop between laps 13 and 18 to switch to this compound, before making a second stop between laps 37 and 43 to finish on another set of soft. Those making use of two sets of hards would have to stop between laps 11 and 16 and then for a second time between laps 32 and 38.

A two-stop using all three available compounds is slower, but could be worth considering only if the track conditions evolve quicker than expected, as happened for example on the final day of last week's test. More plausible however is a three stop strategy to make the most of the soft's potential, for example if the race is neutralised in its final stages.

With Haas looking a lot better than it did a week ago, certainly in Nico Hulkenberg's hands, today's wooden spoon looks likely to go to Alpine whose two drivers fill the back row of the grid, with only Logan Sargeant preventing the Stake pair from filling the ninth row.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out.

Air temperature is 19 degrees C, while the track temperature is 26 degrees. There is strong wind from Turn 4.

Ricciardo reports that he has a flat-spot, as Verstappen carries out a number of practice starts and Norris locks-up as he enters the pitlane. Shortly after, as he heads out again, the Briton has another big lock-up, while Hamilton runs wide at Turn 13.

Having had a good look at the Mercedes, Adrian Newey checks out the Ferrari.

"Three days of testing, yesterday and Thursday, there was a headwind down to Turn 1 and now the wind has changed around completely," says Russell. "Turn 9 and 10, think we'll see some lock ups and people running wide."

All are indeed starting on softs, with Hulkenberg, Tsunoda, Stroll, Albon, Magnussen, Bottas, Zhou, Sargeant, Ocon and Gasly on fresh rubber.

They head off on the formation lap, Zak Brown looking understandably anxious as his drivers start side-by-side.

Gasly is told to "race hard, race clean".

The grid forms.

They're away. A great start from Verstappen and also Perez who is alongside Russell into Turn 1.

Verstappen has the inside and holds off Leclerc who almost collects Russell and Perez as they jostle for position.

Further back Stroll has spun after being tagged by Hulkenberg and who appears to have come off the worse from the encounter.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Leclerc, Russell, Perez, Sainz , Alonso, Norris, Piastri, Hamilton and Tsunoda. Zhou is up to 13th and Magnussen 12.

Hulkenberg pits for a new front wing at the end of Lap 1.

Into Turn 1 at the start of Lap 3, Norris passes Alonso as Piastri also lines up the Spaniard. Up ahead, Russell passes Leclerc for second.

As Verstappen posts a new fastest lap (36.296), Leclerc is clearly struggling, as is his teammate.

Having lost out to Russell, Leclerc is now under pressure from Perez, who is 1.2s ahead of Sainz.

"We need to look at tyre management," Verstappen is told, "but I'm not sure how we can do that with Russell, Leclerc and Perez behind."

Norris, who has had two successive lap times deleted, has dropped 3.6s behind Sainz as Piastri passes Alonso for 7th.

Perez complains of a "lot of understeer" in the final corner.

After 5 laps, Verstappen leads by 4.7s.

"I have more pace than the guys in front," says Sainz.

On the run to Turn 11, on Lap 7, Perez surges past Leclerc to claim third. The Ferrari driver is clearly struggling with his rears.

In his pursuit of Alonso, Hamilton posts a new personal best, as Norris is advised that he is being switched to Plan B.

Sainz closes on his teammate who locks up allowing the Spaniard to get even closer.

Norris complains that his rears are dropping away as Verstappen builds a 6.9s lead.

At the start of Lap 10, Hamilton passes Alonso on the pit straight.

Out come the yellows as Sargeant retires just after Turn 4. Elsewhere, Stroll and Zhou have both pitted.

Thankfully, Sargeant is able to get going again, and in the moments that follow Sainz storms past his Ferrari teammate in a move that clearly was not arranged from the pitwall.

Ocon pits at the end of Lap 10.

Russell and Leclerc both pit at the end of Lap 11, as does Magnussen. Russell rejoins in 12th and Leclerc in 14th. Both are now on hards.

Perez pits at the end of Lap 12, as do Piastri and Hamilton. The Mexican rejoins in 9th, behind Russell, Piastri in 11th and Hamilton in 12th.

"Box, box!" Norris is told. The Briton duly obliges, dropping from third to 9th in the process.

As Ricciardo pits, Perez nails Russell for 6th, the Mercedes driver running wide in the process.

Sainz pits at the end of Lap 14, as Alonso, who is currently up to second, is unhappy with his team's strategy.

As Tsunoda pits, Perez posts a new fastest lap (35.606).

"I just cannot get out of front locking everywhere," complains Leclerc.

Alonso pits as does Albon, leaving Verstappen as the only driver yet to stop.

Alonso rejoins in tenth.

After that burst of activity, Verstappen leads Perez, who is followed by Russell and Leclerc, who has repassed Sainz, Norris, Piastri, Hamilton, Zhou and Alonso.

A bold move, remarkably similar to his previous effort, Sainz passes Leclerc under (late) braking for Turn 1.

Verstappen pits at the end of Lap 17, rejoining still 6.3s ahead of the pack.

"My car goes to the right when I'm braking," complains Leclerc, as Russell also has issues. Indeed, the Briton is left for dead by Sainz as the Spaniard claims third.

On his fresh hards, Verstappen goes quickest in S3.

Tsunoda is currently 11th, ahead of Stroll, Magnussen, Albon, Ocon, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Gasly and Sargeant.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain here.


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1. Posted by Chester, 03/03/2024 13:51

"Loved the Ferrari action. Leclerc nursing poor braking still gets it done. And Sainz was awesome."

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 03/03/2024 7:46

"Mercedes clearly has, at best, the 3rd fastest car with Russell unable to maintain his position & Hamilton struggling to make progress past Norris.

Notwithstanding the ultimate pace of the various top 4 teams it looked very much like evolution has produced cars which are (on this showing, on this track) pretty close in performance when running together.
Verstappen showed that when in "clean" air these cars, or at least the RB20, can gain huge chunks of lap time. This leads me to the most depressing take-away from the race - this generation of cars has become almost as sensitive to "dirty air" as the pre-GE cars. This raises the prospect of the return to a season of processional races, "enlivened" only by DRS-facilitated overtakes.

As @R1Racing71 points-out MotoGP starts next week. Despite that formula's increasing use of aero, it is not the defining characteristic which determines race outcomes. The outstanding brilliance of the Ducati makes it probable that the Champion will ride one, but other makers are catching up. There are at least 4 clear contenders to be Champion. Racing will be cut & thrust throughout the field."

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3. Posted by @R1Racing71, 02/03/2024 21:01

"Don’t worry, Moto GP starts next week :/"

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4. Posted by Cobra Driver, 02/03/2024 20:14

"So Toto passed the word to set Lewis' car up for the long haul on Saturday. Unless I was watching the wrong race, how did that work out? Toto, I stopped believing in fairies and Santa Claus when I was about 8 years old."

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