Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 at Bahrain GP, ​​Alonso secures 99th career F1 podium

New season, another win. Max Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday, leading almost the entire race as he launched his Formula One title defence.

Red Bull also claimed a dominant 1-2 with Sergio Perez finishing 12 seconds behind him in second, while 41-year-old Fernando Alonso took a brilliant third – and claimed his 99th career podium – in a stunning race debut for Aston Martin.

“What have you guys been up to? What have you been up to?” a delighted Alonso told his team. “I’m so proud of you guys.”

Alonso’s team-mate Canadian Lance Stroll finished sixth after missing warm-up testing due to an injury sustained in a cycling accident that required minor surgery on his right wrist.

Alonso fans are already labeling this season as “Mission 33” – hoping the Spanish driver can win a 33rd career race. His last victory was 10 years ago with Ferrari.

Alonso, who joined after an acrimonious rift with Alpine, pumped his fist at the finish line and then hugged his crew.

“To finish on the podium in the first race of the year is just amazing,” Alonso said. “What Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second best car in the first race is just unreal.”

Alonso believes he can win a race this season.

“I would say yes, when you’re P3 in the first race,” he said. “Anything can happen in 22 games with different conditions.”

It was Verstappen’s 36th career win, but the Dutchman’s first at the floodlit Sakhir circuit, where he retired with just laps to go in last year’s opening race.

“This was exactly the start to the season we needed,” said Verstappen, who retired from three of his first four career races in Bahrain. “I’m very happy to finally win a race here.”

Both Red Bulls failed to finish here in 2022.

“Our best start, very different from last year,” Perez said. “I’m comfortable with the car.”

This time it was Charles Leclerc, after winning last year, who retired on lap 41 of 57 when his Ferrari lost power.

“No, no, no, no,” Leclerc pleaded over the radio as his car slowed to a stop. Ferrari had changed the engine battery before the race, but that didn’t stop Leclerc from making a miserable start to the year after such a disappointing 2022 season.

“There was just no other power. It’s a shame because these weekends you have to maximize the points,” said Leclerc. “Unfortunately we took a step back and Red Bull on another planet. Third was the best we could have hoped for.”

Leclerc’s retirement caused panic at Ferrari and Carlos Sainz Jr. he didn’t even bother to try to fend off Alonso – possibly out of concern that he might lose power himself – and Alonso passed him with 11 laps to go.

Sainz finished fourth ahead of seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton in fifth ahead of Stroll in sixth.

Alonso and Stroll hit each other at the start, with Alonso dropping a few places, but they were all smiles at the end in a great day for Aston Martin.

“Congratulations to my teammate Lance, 12 days ago he had the operation,” Alonso said. “He’s been fighting everyone so amazing for the team, it’s been great.”

“It was our lucky day”

Alonso thought he had touched cars with George Russell’s Mercedes.

“I thought it was George, but I saw on the replay that it was Lance,” Alonso said. “It was our lucky day, from that contact and also [score] very strong points.”

Russell was seventh for Mercedes.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly — starting last — and Williams driver Alex Albon completed the top ten.

Verstappen started from pole with Perez alongside him. Leclerc and Sainz were on the second row with 41-year-old Alonso starting from fifth.

Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, was 12th after starting 16th.

Okon hit with 3 time penalties

It was a day to forget for Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who was hit with three time penalties totaling 20 seconds and finished 18th.

Leclerc gambled to save a set of new tires in qualifying to use for the race and immediately jumped ahead of Perez, who just held off Sainz.

Alonso was a threat to Ferrari and Mercedes, who both made regular tire stops in anticipation of what the two-time F1 champion could do with the best racing boat in the business.

This helped Stroll, who used the undercut perfectly to overtake Russell as he exited the pits after the second tire change.

With Verstappen cruising, the action heated up back.

Alonso overtook Hamilton on lap 37, but then slipped heavily as Hamilton regained his position. Alonso had another transition on the next lap and passed it by attacking the outside and then quickly diving inside in a classic move.

It could be one of several exciting moves in a season where Alonso may have a car fast enough to match his talents.

The next indicator of this will be at the Saudi GP on March 19, where there are more long straights, high-speed corners and less tire degradation.

“I think the most important point is that Aston Martin is a new car, a new project,” Alonso said. “This is just the beginning.

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