Driver Max Verstappen carried the Red Bull team to victory to begin the F1 season
By Justin Malone, Staff Writer
The Red Bull team emphatically began its Formula 1 (F1) championship defense in the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5, as Red Bull driver Max Verstappen cruised his way to a race victory over teammate Sergio Perez.
While the race lacked intense battles at the front of the grid — which defined the lofty competition last year —several intriguing storylines came out of the duel in the desert, setting the tone and early expectations for the remaining 22 races this season.
Red Bull looked dominant again, kicking off their 2023 campaign in a commanding fashion. Two-time F1 world champion Max Verstappen consistently managed a 10 to 25-second lead throughout the race.
He finished 11 seconds ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez and 38 seconds ahead of the closest non-Red Bull car. Perez, after retaking his second place spot from Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, worked his way to a runner-up spot, capping a one to two-race performance for Red Bull.
Red Bull’s “hard to soft” tire strategy also helped the team effectively manage the degradation of their cars’ rear tires.
During the course of the offseason, speculation arose about how much the team’s 10% reduction in aerodynamic testing time over a 12-month period — its penalty for going over F1’s spending cap last year — would hurt the team’s performance. It appears that the penalties have not had an immense effect yet, which could indicate another strong season for Red Bull.
The pre-season excitement surrounding Aston Martin after practicing and qualifying in Bahrain also turned out to be justified.
At 41, recently signed Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso was a highlight of the weekend, securing a third-place finish and a career 99th podium, while rookie teammate Lance Stroll placed sixth.
The team’s efforts almost nosedived when Alonso and Stroll bumped into each other on the opening lap, but it did not end their races. Alonso displayed quality driving throughout the race, capped by a effort on Lap 45, in which Alonso made a sweeping exit out of turn 10 to pass Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz for the final spot on the podium.
The team’s efforts suggest that Aston Martin has not only moved to the front of the midfield but can also crack into becoming a top-tier team and potentially compete with Red Bull this season. Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren have work to do.
Mercedes entered the new year looking to make their way back to the top of the motorsport and improve on their 2022 performance, but the Silver Arrows struggled throughout Bahrain. Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff noted that he thought the team doubled or tripled the gap to Red Bull since last year after the race.
In the race, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton finished 50 seconds behind Verstappen, and Hamilton’s teammate George Russell finished 55 seconds behind.
Unfortunately for Ferrari, tire degradation remained a weakness which plagued the team’s efforts in the race. Leclerc suffered a heartbreaking DNF (did not finish) from an engine issue after qualifying third, which showed some cause for concern considering the team’s reliability issues from last season.
McLaren’s disastrous weekend showed the team was off the pace from its developmental targets. McLaren driver Lando Norris pitted multiple times after he had issues with a pressure leak on his car’s power unit in a 17th place effort. Teammate rookie Oscar Piastri suffered an electrical issue that ended his race in just 14 laps.
The 2023 F1 season continues this Sunday at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.