Formula 1: for his return, Max Verstappen flies over the competition in Bahrain

Fifty-seven laps and not a shadow of a cloud on the Sakhir circuit

Formula 1: for his return, Max Verstappen flies over the competition in Bahrain

Fifty-seven laps and not a shadow of a cloud on the Sakhir circuit. Especially for Max Verstappen, who started the Formula 1 season as he ended the previous one: with a victory. The Dutchman won the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday March 2 by a wide margin. His 55th career success, the 8th in a row.

Let his adversaries be warned, the three-time world champion intends to make it to four in 2024 – a performance achieved, between 2017 and 2020, by Lewis Hamilton. “Today was even better than expected. The car was great to drive, said Max Verstappen. We had a lot of pace, it’s a perfect start and I couldn’t have dreamed of better. This kind of day is special, when everything is perfect and you feel in harmony with the car. »

In his Red Bull single-seater, the 26-year-old driver took a walk in the park… at more than 350 km/h. Starting in pole position, he had a comfortable lead over his pursuers from the 6th lap, and only had to manage his lead.

At the finish line, he was ahead of the Mexican Sergio Perez, his teammate in the Austrian team (22 seconds), and the Spaniard Carlos Sainz (25 seconds). Like last year, both Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin are in the points for the first Grand Prix of the season.

Who to upset “Mad Max”?

In light of the longest season in history – 24 events on the program – the championship is desperately looking for an opponent in Max Verstappen. Who will be able to compete with the Dutchman and, at the same time, revive spectator interest?

If we expected a lot from Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) on Saturday, the Monegasque never managed to hook the wheel of the Batavian. Skating at each turn, his ruddy single-seater did not put up the expected resistance. “I keep locking my front wheels,” he moaned into his radio. The difficulties of the Rocher driver – overtaken on the 3rd lap by George Russell (Mercedes), then by the second Red Bull around the 7th lap – highlighted the Scuderia's persistent shortcomings in competing with the winning machine Verstappen.

“Clearly, we took “a step forward” compared to last year, but the negative is that we were not super opportunistic, particularly on Charles [Leclerc]’s car, which Had a brake problem from start to finish. Without that, we might have been able to fight with Sergio Perez… With Max Verstappen a little less,” said, half-heartedly, the boss of the Italian team, Frédéric Vasseur, at the microphone of Canal.

Among its pilots, the same speech and same elements of language concerning the supposed “step forward”. While optimism is in order, they have nevertheless experienced contrasting successes. The surprise finally came from Carlos Sainz, author of an excellent start to the season. Very offensive, the Spaniard made several spectacular overtakes, securing a prestigious third place. Quite a symbol for the driver ordered to pack his bags at the end of the championship due to the arrival of Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari in 2025.

The seven-time British world champion finished 7th in this inaugural Grand Prix, after a long battle with Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin, 9th). The Mercedes driver gained two places compared to the starting grid, but failed more than four seconds behind his teammate George Russell (5th).

Disaster scenario for Alpine

The season premiere will also be an opportunity for adjustments of all kinds: Lewis Hamilton broke his seat, Valtteri Bottas (Stake F1 Team) experienced an endless pit stop, Alex Albon (Williams) complained about its capricious steering wheel screen.

At Alpine, these will not only be aesthetic. It’s quite simple: the A524 single-seater is not at all ready, confirming the fears. With an engine showing a power deficit, a "ten extra kilos" (an enormous load in a precision sport, where every detail, even every screw, counts) and a clear delay in aerodynamics, the drivers are asked to work miracles. The fact remains that without a high-performance car, even the best will not go far.

The French team had to settle for 17th and 18th places on Saturday for Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. The two Tricolores, who started at the back of the grid, could have occupied the last two places if Valtteri Bottas and Logan Sargeant (Williams) had not had problems along the way. “There are still things to do on the car, even if we tried to optimize it in terms of handling. But afterwards, we won't be able to make a revolution, we know that. We will therefore still have to work,” recognized Pierre Gasly at the microphone of Canal.

The season is likely to be long for Alpine, which finished 4th in the manufacturers' standings in 2022. In the middle of crossing the desert, it has another appointment with the paddock in Jeddah, from March 6 to March 9, for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.