HomeSportsFormula 1: Takeaways from Max Verstappen's season opening in Bahrain

Formula 1: Takeaways from Max Verstappen’s season opening in Bahrain

Just like last season, there was no one near Max Verstappen in Bahrain on Saturday. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALI HAIDER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The first race of the 2024 Formula 1 season looked a lot like the 2023 season.

Max Verstappen won easily from pole position ahead of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. Carlos Sainz finished a comfortable third, ahead of his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.

Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s season opener. We will try not to draw any firm conclusions from what we saw.

Red Bull is still comfortably ahead of everyone else

Verstappen ensured that Charles Leclerc did not pass him at the start of the race and was not challenged for the rest of the race.

Verstappen already had a lead of more than six seconds for eight laps in the race and was able to use a pit strategy that took no one else into account. Verstappen drove longer than everyone else during the first stint and still comfortably maintained his lead, despite the undercut being the preferred pit strategy for the rest of the field.

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Red Bull went into the race knowing they had an advantage in tire life and pace and had an extra set of soft tires compared to the rest of the field. As most teams pitted twice at each stop for hard tires after starting the race on soft tyres, Verstappen and Perez drove with hard tires during their second stint and with soft tires at the end of the race.

This allowed Verstappen to comfortably beat Perez by about 20 seconds.

The battle for second best looks tempting

Ferrari could blame the second-best status on Saturday, despite braking problems for Leclerc throughout the race. Leclerc’s tires wore out quickly after the start and he had to deal with a loose car. Sainz passed him twice during the race and finished 13 seconds ahead of his teammate for the final podium spot.

Mercedes’ George Russell finished fifth after jumping to second not long after the start. Russell was confronted with an engine that became too hot for Mercedes’ liking and finished two places ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton.

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Hamilton was sandwiched by McLaren’s Lando Norris in sixth and Oscar Piastri in eighth. Although the Ferraris – especially Sainz – sprinted away from everyone else at the end, the three teams appear extremely close, just as they did at the end of the 2023 season. At the very least, the hunt for second place in the constructors’ standings could be intriguing again are.

Alpine still has a lot of work to do

The most disappointing team of the race was easily Alpine. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly qualified on the last row of the grid and barely moved throughout the race. Ocon finished 17th and Gasly 18th.

2023 was a brutal season for Alpine as the team suffered from reliability issues and fell far behind the top five teams in the constructors’ standings. Instead of recovering in the 2024 season, Alpine appears to have deteriorated even further. Barring significant improvement – ​​and there is plenty of time for that – Alpine could be lucky to finish sixth again.

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Aston Martin looks like the number 5 team again

While Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren look like the next three teams after Ferrari, Aston Martin retained its status as fifth best on Saturday.

Fernando Alonso qualified sixth, but did not have the race pace to match his qualifying pace. He quickly dropped to ninth place and finished in that position.

Lance Stroll, meanwhile, made an impressive drive through the field after an incident on the first lap. He recovered to finish 10th, taking the last available point.

The Aston Martins were the last two cars on the first lap and had a clear pace advantage over the other five teams. A season ago, Aston Martin started strongly as Alonso looked like a challenger to Verstappen, before fading as the season went on. If there is still performance to be had from this season’s car, don’t rule out Aston Martin joining the battle between the three teams ahead.

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