Red Bull's Verstappen starts Formula 1 season with commanding win in Bahrain

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Red Bull's Verstappen starts Formula 1 season with commanding win in Bahrain

Updated
Verstappen will be the man to beat once again
Verstappen will be the man to beat once again Reuters
Reigning Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen (26) opened his bid for a fourth successive title in dominant style with an unchallenged cruise to a Red Bull one-two victory in Saturday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Dutchman enjoyed a perfect day as he led from pole position and took a bonus point for the fastest lap on his way to finishing 22.4 seconds ahead of Mexican teammate Sergio Perez.

Carlos Sainz, who will be making way for seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari next year, took the final podium spot in third place ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc.

The triumph under the Sakhir floodlights was Verstappen’s 55th career triumph and second in a row in Bahrain.

It gave him an eight-point lead over Perez in the overall standings and extended his record run at the top of the championship to 40 races since May 2022.

"Unbelievable, I think today went even better than expected," said Verstappen.

"It's special to have these kind of days, where it all feels perfect and you feel at one with the car."

Verstappen’s Saturday evening cruise dashed hopes for a hard-fought start to the season after Red Bull won all but one race last year.

The win was Red Bull's 114th since they arrived in Formula 1 20 years ago, lifting the team level with former champions Williams at fourth equal in the all-time lists.

A close-run qualifying and three different teams taking turns at the top in the three practice sessions had raised the prospect of a multi-team battle.

But, on Saturday Verstappen, winner of 19 of the 22 races last year, simply picked up where he left off and he has a record 24 to get through this season.

"A really, really professional drive, Max," Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase said over the radio.

"One-two finish, fastest lap, pole position, clean sweep," added his embattled team boss Christian Horner, cleared this week of misconduct after an investigation into allegations by a female employee.

George Russell was fifth for Mercedes.

The Briton had started third and run as high as second but he ran wide and conceded fourth to Leclerc in the closing stages, having already dropped behind Perez and Sainz.

Leclerc himself endured a difficult race as he complained of braking issues and locked up several times.

Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren ahead of Hamilton.

The 39-year-old Briton, starting ninth, had banked on his Mercedes’ long run pace to bring him into contention but was on the back foot after his seat broke.

Australian Oscar Piastri was eighth in the other McLaren while Aston Martin teammates Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll completed the top 10.

Stroll, son of Canadian team owner Lawrence, had ground to make up after being tipped into a spin at the first corner by the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg.

The contact damaged the German’s front wing, dashing his hopes of converting his top-10 start into a strong points-paying result.

All 20 cars crossed the line in a race without retirements.

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