Hello, welcome to This Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening race of the season saw Max Verstappen take his seventeenth win in a row. Verstappen’s closest rival Charles Leclerc retiring because if an ‘electrical problem’ as we look ahead one race into the new season the feeling could already be how do you stop Red Bull? It felt as if it was a continuation of 2022, he then through the opening phases of the race built his lead.
Formula 1 and Tottenham Hotspur have agreed a 15-year strategic partnership that will include the production of the world’s first in-stadium electric karting track below the Premier League club’s stadium.
The facility is due to open later this year with Formula 1 and Tottenham set to launch a new driver academy programme in view of identifying the next wave of F1 drivers. The partnership is designed on providing apprenticeship and career opportunities for local youth and to enhance diversity in the motorsport industry.
F1 and Tottenham will work together on sustainability initiatives as the former looks to fulfil its commitment to be net zero carbon by 2030 while Spurs seek to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and become net zero by 2040. Stefano Domenicali, President and CEO of Formula 1, said: “As we continue to grow our sport, partnering with world-renowned brands like Tottenham Hotspur allows us to take Formula 1 and motorsport to new and more diverse audiences.”
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said: “Since building this stadium our ambition has always been to see how far we can push the boundaries in delivering world-class experiences that will attract people from around the world all year round.”
Tottenham in North London, is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Britain, figures from the ONS show 33.3% of its population are from a BAME background. It was the place where riots in 2011 spread across the country against the police killing of an unarmed black man Mark Duggan.
Susie Wolff has been appointed as the managing director of the F1 Academy, the all-female driver category that aims to develop and prepare young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition.
The role is part of F1’s commitment to maximising the opportunity and potential of young female drivers to reach the highest level in motorsport, with the role aimed to support the fifteen F1 Academy drivers through this journey. She said, “The F1 Academy presents an opportunity to promote genuine change in our industry by creating the best possible structure to find and nurture female talent on their journey to the elite levels of motorsport, both on and off the racetrack.”
FP1 saw Sergio Perez top the reprehensive session, he set a 32.758 in the Red Bull using the soft tyre which put him four-tenths faster than the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso, with the Spaniard splitting the Red Bulls after going nearly two-tenths faster than Max Verstappen. Lando Norris was fourth despite McLaren admitting they have failed to meet their development targets and expect a slow start to the season.
FP2 was topped by Alonso who backed up the theory that Aston Martin are a team to watch in 2023, he set a 30.907. His time on the soft tyre which put him over a tenth and a half faster than the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. But the Dutchman’s average race runs were a second a lap faster, on the soft tyre which looks to be the favourite tyre to start the race on Sunday
FP3 was again topped by Alonso who set a 32.340 going just five thousandths faster than Verstappen. Verstappen was a tenth faster than his teammate Sergio Perez with Lewis Hamilton fourth. However at some points during the session, Verstappen was less than six-tenths behind Alonso on the slower hard compound, even as he complained of having “no grip”.
Qualifying saw Red Bull show their full potential with Verstappen taking the first pole position of 2023 with a 31.295, putting him a tenth ahead of Perez. Although times were closer than some expected Charles Leclerc was three-tenths off, however, Leclerc didn’t manage a second run as Ferrari ran out of tyres. Sainz meanwhile was three-tenths off Leclerc, but the Spaniard was only able to halve that gap on his final attempt and had to be satisfied with fourth.
Verstappen dominated the race driving a steady and controlled race to finish eleven seconds ahead of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, the first time in a decade that Red Bull has finished one-two in the season opener in a decade. Verstappen had a ten-second lead at his second stop and was then able to switch to the hard tyre setting him up just to cruse to victory. From there, Verstappen was only bothered by a minor downshift issue causing occasional rear-locking and ran clear of Perez to win
Lewis Hamilton admits Mercedes have a “mountain to climb” after a difficult three days of pre-season testing. The German manufacturer went into testing with the most questions to answer, having struggled with bouncing/porpoising last year as well as grip and pace.
As we wrote in last week’s edition, the feeling from within the paddock is that the team has made progress and are closer than last year. However there appears to be some minor issues with the car, they still struggled with grip and pace, which was masked by Hamilton posting the second-fastest time behind Sergio Perez on the final day. The seven-time champion told Sky Sports, “It’s been an interesting few days, it’s never easy. There’s been a lot of discovery. I think the thing I’ve been most impressed with is.”
The seven-time champion also said he is committed to Mercedes beyond this year even if the team have the “difficult” 2023 season many expect, insisting there has been no contract “hold up” and that the car will improve. Through out the winter, there has been clear signals that the deal is set to be done.
Following FP1 Russell said he believes going into the weekend the team could be racing against themselves based on testing. Red Bull have been predicted based on the data to be at least half a second a lap faster than their closest rivals, with Verstappen saying the car was better than last year’s in every area.
Russell told reporters, “I think it’s definitely fair to say Red Bull are in a bit of a league of their own this weekend here in Bahrain. But I think it would probably be a nice fight for second place, probably between Ferrari and Aston Martin.” As we know the team is in a better place compared to last year, giving Russell confidence they could use the same approach as 2022 to overcome their problems.
But we and the team all believe the problems aren’t as great as last year and they have a bit of time we only have three races between now and Baku, where we get into a series of back-to-back double or triple headers mid-Spring which will help them. Using the ‘spring break’ effectively could use these opening races as testing and improve the car before the long campaign starts in May.
However, following qualifying, Wolff said that the team needs to change its car concept if it wants to get back to the front. Mercedes believed that sticking with the same concept the could eventually be made into a winner, Wolff said his tune had now changed and it was time to pursue other options.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he agreed with Hamilton’s assessment earlier in the weekend that Mercedes would not hit its targets with the current concept, Wolff said: “I don’t think this package is going to be competitive eventually. We gave it our best shot all over the winter, and now we just need to all regroup and sit down with the engineers, who are totally not dogmatic about anything.”
“There are no holy cows and we need to decide what is the development direction that we want to pursue, in order to be competitive to win races. It’s not only like last year, where you are scoring many podiums and eventually you get there. I’m sure we can win races this season. But it’s really the mid and long term that we need to look at, and which decisions we need to take.”
This seems a big U-turn up until the launch Mercedes had insisted that they were on the right path. But even if it did change concepts, it would not give up on trying to push forward as much as it could with the W14.
Motorsport.com says it has learned the team has hired one of Red Bull’s former senior figures as a special advisor to help drive improvements. On Friday, Wolff being spotted walking in to the Bahrain paddock with Red Bull’s former COO Jayne Poole on Friday morning, Mercedes has confirmed that she has been signed as a senior advisor to the team.
It is understood that she will work closely with Wolff and be involved in evaluating the current infrastructure at Mercedes, plus offer advice on any potential changes that can be made – especially as teams adjust to life under the cost cap. Her knowledge of the ways of Red Bull’s workings could also provide benefits for Mercedes as it plots its recovery back to the front of the F1 grid.
Mercedes have undergone a reshuffle following James Vowels’ departure to Williams to become team principal at the start of the year. Wolff has always been clear about the requirement of F1 teams to constantly evolve and adapt to ensure that the squad is never left on the back foot if senior figures depart.
Its also been reported that former Marussia, Virgin and Lotus driver and team principal of Venturi Racing in Formula E, Jerome D’Ambrosio, has been linked with taking a position at Mercedes.
While Mercedes weren’t quick in qualifying, Hamilton still said their was still optimistic going into the race. After qualifying he said “We made a step forward today and the car was feeling much more alive this morning, and all of a sudden we were in a different place to where we were the day before. But then we got to qualifying and for me the car just didn’t feel alive, it felt kind of average.”
“The direction I’ve gone with my set-up, I’m hoping it will work better tomorrow because I’ve tried to set it up for tomorrow, but it made it a little bit difficult for qualifying.” He says that isn’t an impossible mountain to climb knowing every one was working hard to climb that mountain and says the team has to push like never before.
Russell will start one place ahead of Hamilton in sixth and is in no doubt the team have moved on from last year where they spent much of the year trying to overcome the issues which hampered the W13.
Red Bull believes that it has found a ‘solution’ with its new car that suits both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Despite domination largely by Verstappen last year, their were phases where either one or the other driver was happier.
At the start of the season, when the car suffered from understeer due to being overweight, those characteristics favoured Perez much more. But as the team reduced the car’s mass, that help make its front end better at turn-in, and that swung things firmly in the favour of Verstappen.
Going into 2023 one of the changes the team wanted to have a car which suited both drivers. Helmut Marko, told Sky Germany, “We had a car last year that Checo did very well with in the beginning. And, after it was developed, Max has been more and more happy.”
“The difference is that Max loves a strong front end, really biting. Checo is a little different. He wants a more docile car. But we seem to have found a solution that allows both drivers to show their qualities.”
Speaking on the final day of the Bahrain test, Perez confirmed that the direction that he and Verstappen preferred for the RB19 were the same. he said, “I think we are aiming for the same things. We want the same things so at the moment, it’s a good base.”
Speaking about his driving preferences in Bahrain last week, Perez said that his issue was not preferring an understeery car, it was more that Verstappen was better able to cope with the rear end being more nervous.
Following practice, both Verstappen and Perez said they weren’t surprised by Aston Martins’s pace. The two-time champion was third in FP1 and second in FP1, but said from testing they looked very quick and had a very car. He said “you could see that already in testing that they were very competitive, so yeah, they had a great day. For us, still a bit of work to do – I mean we know we have a very competitive car.”
Looking at his own performance in practice, he says that he couldn’t find the balance in the car. But I suspect like last year they are in the best position going into this season, as they look strong all round. Perez, who led the opening session before finishing third overall in FP2, echoed his team mate’s remarks on Aston Martin.
Perez said “We knew it from testing that they [Aston Martin] were going to be fairly strong, that they were going to be competitive, no surprises to be honest. I think it just confirms how strong they are,”.
Much like Verstappen, Perez commented: “It was quite tricky out there – conditions are fairly similar to the test but the temperature from morning to afternoon changes quite a lot and the only representative session was this afternoon.
Verstappen described his win as exactly what we were dreaming of:” Watching the race it looked as if it was like the winter hadn’t happened, we all expected it given the strength we saw in testing the car has looked fast with good driveability a really strong evolution from 2022.
said Verstappen. “It has been a great start for us, for the whole team, so this is not something we are used to. We are very happy at the moment, but we always keep working. I think for me, the first stint was the most important, where I could pull a gap. Once we had the gap it was just about making sure we could do our stint plan. And that worked out well.”
Red Bull suffered a double-DNF in last year’s Grand Prix as Ferrari took a one-two to begin the season with a perfect start, and this year it was Charles Leclerc who dropped out of the running from P3 as Red Bull claimed maximum points (bar the fastest lap). The guttulate has been thrown down and can anyone catch up?
Charles Leclerc went into this weekend’s season opener saying he was “confident” they can overcome an expected early-season advantage for Red Bull to enable him to win a maiden drivers’ title in 2023. The Monacan finished as runner up last year, but the Monacan’s championship challenge fell apart through a combination of technical, strategic, and driver errors.
Leclerc told Sky Sports, “From what I can see, it seems Red Bull is a bit ahead. But it’s a long season, our goal is still to win the championship. I am confident. We have great guys in Maranello, I think we have shown it with the big step forward from 2021 to 2022. There were too many mistakes in 2022, we know that, but we’ve been very honest with ourselves in order to get better for this season.”
However, following Friday’s practice sessions, Leclerc said the team “don’t have the performance for pole.” He was almost half a second off Alonso and three-tenths off Verstappen in FP2, while they are expected to close up if as predicted the pace of Aston does drop off, Leclerc didn’t think Ferrari would be their.
He told F1 TV: “I don’t think we have the performance maybe for pole. It’s still early days. I maybe think that Aston is a bit quicker than they will be tomorrow. We don’t know. It’s just what I think.”
Leclerc reckoned his team had “most work to do” in tuning the SF-23 to fix its race pace but said “there’s a bit of margin” to improve.
Sainz, meanwhile, felt the opposite, saying he was much less settled in the car as he found himself “struggling a bit more with the balance”. But he only managed one lap in his quali sim, saying the “car is not exactly responding as I expect or as it did in testing. I’m struggling a bit more with the balance. It’s a bit more out of place compared to where it was.”
One of the surprises of qualifying was Leclerc not doing a second run in Q3, but he later revealed that was a strategy call to save tyres for the race. Leclerc jumped out of his SF-23 after posting his banker lap in Q3 to forfeit his shot at pole position, with the driver settling for third place by lapping 0.292.
This had raised concerns of a technical issue after body work was seen flying off his car bringing out the red flag in Q1. the driver and his team have relayed that this was a deliberate strategy to better attack the race.
Leclerc confirmed there was no fault with his car but in recognising Ferrari is on the “backfoot” compared to Red Bull’s race pace, they had opted to carry over a set of for the race.
He said, “No, there wasn’t any issue. I think we were in a fight for pole, which was a good surprise, to be honest. I did not expect that after testing and after the free practices that were a little bit difficult. We managed to find that pace for the quali lap, which was great.”
“However, we need to keep in our mind that in the race run, we seem to be a little bit on the backfoot compared to Red Bull. I think we are in a better place starting third with new tyres than starting first with old or a bit further up.”
But Leclerc was happy with Ferrari’s pace, admitting that he had not expected Ferrari to be as close to Red Bull based on his discontent during testing when he was deliberately sent out to chase understeer-biased set-ups, and during practice.
Before his retirement, Leclerc estimates he was a second off Red Bull. The Monacan retired from the race when he was running in third before he lost power, the cause of which is unknown. But he was already frustrated by Ferrari’s pace deficit to Red Bull which he estimated to be one second per lap.
Leclerc, who had his Ferrari’s energy store in the power unit changed before the race, said, “I cannot say it feels good. Obviously, there was quite a lot of work on that [over the winter] but we need to keep working because obviously first race and first reliability problem were not good.”
“I was as confident as I could be, being one second off of the pace, which is not really confident, to be honest. Red Bull seems to have found something really big in their race pace.”
He felt he could have held on to third place without the engine issue, the place going to Fernando Alonso, who beat Carlos Sainz and both Mercedes drivers to the final spot on the podium.
Lando Norris says McLaren will “need a lot more” than its Baku package if it is to aim for the top four. Following last weeks test the team were bracing for a tough start in Bahrain with a draggy car that has missed its launch targets.
Facing the prospect of losing ground to its midfield rivals in what is shaping up to be an extremely tight battle, Norris hopes the Baku package is a first step towards addressing the car’s limitations.
Norris said, “We know we need a step in efficiency, we need more downforce. We also need to go in the straights quicker. So, there’s obviously a path we need to try and find, and I believe we’re slowly finding our way there, but we need a lot more. It’s not just small things. We need some bigger things just it still takes a long time to achieve.”
He says however compared to last year the team has a “clearer plan” to resolve the weaknesses of the car. Adding “I think this year we have a clearer plan on how to tackle those changes than what we did last year. I think it’s a mixture of two things. One is the general balance and two is overall downforce.”
Bahrain has turned into de jav ue for McLaren, the last week has been a repeat of 2022 a poor test and poor opening race. They had finished testing with the least mileage of any team, their second home race saw the team having to pit Lando Norris every few laps to be refilled with compressed air at regular intervals. His teammate Oscar Piastri retired with an electronics problem early on his debut.
Norris finished the race seventeenth classified as he completed 90% of the race before retiring with two laps to go.
I think no progress has been made by the team over the winter, they look to have gone backwards I think the biggest issue has been the reliability of the car and then once that is resolved they can start going after performance. McLaren are probably unable to join the midfield fight for fourth if this goes on beyond the start of the European season in May.
Alpine going into this weekend said it had “a level of confidence” ahead of the opening race of the season in Bahrain, where it will introduce its first upgrade package. At last weekend’s test while they didn’t stand out in terms of lap times, the feeling was the team had team was satisfied with the outcome of the testing as it knows how much performance it has in hand.
Technical director Matt Harman told Motorsport.com, “We have a level of confidence. Of course, we do, because we’re clearly not running the car at its full potential. I don’t like to labour on that too much, because I have no idea where the others are running, to be quite honest.”
We know that Alpine can produce solid midfield cars and they brought updates for this weekend, to build on that good feedback from Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly during testing. Last year Alpine was notable for regularly bringing new parts to the car, while others did fewer but larger packages, with Harman hopeful the team can do the same this year.
Eight months after gambling on a move to Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso said he could not believe he has a car to fight for a podium. Since last weeks test many have predicted the top three could be the top four this season. The Spaniard had downplayed those suggestions and on Saturday evening Red Bull emerged comfortably ahead of the pack.
Alonso qualified fifth, behind the two Ferraris but ahead of the two Mercedes drivers. When asked if he can fight for a podium Sunday, Alonso laughed and said: “Let’s see! I’m laughing because going for a podium in race one… It feels too good to be true. It feels so strange for me to say we are P5 and maybe we are aiming for more.”
“We thought to be honest that the first three teams were untouchable this year with the advantage they had last year. Maybe try to lead the midfield or mix in the midfield… now we are saying we start P5 and maybe we fight with the Ferraris for the podium. This is just incredible.”
The decision to leave Alpine for Aston Martin last August had been questioned at the time as the team were on the edge of the midfield teams. But Alonso has not had a genuinely competitive car for a long time. His last pole position came at the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix, his last win at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. Perhaps vindicating his decision to join the team.
Alonso converted fifth into his ninety-ninth career podium his first in a decade, and his first in Bahrain since winning the race in 2010, on his first start for Ferrari. He says that it was the perfect start to the season and that the team weren’t expecting to be at the front.
He said, “The aim in 2023 was to be in the mix in the midfield, maybe leading the midfield and getting close to the top three teams eventually. Even a podium was maybe even not on the radar in 2023, and we’ve found ourselves with the second-best car in Bahrain over the whole weekend.”
Alonso’s third place marked only the second time Aston Martin had finished on the podium in 50 Grand Prix starts. But he says Jeddah and Melbourne would offer more evidence of how competitive the AMR23 truly is.
Alonso’s podium finish was part of a double points finish for Aston Martin, with Lance Stroll overcoming lingering pain from his pre-season injury to come home in sixth. Stroll told Sky Sports. “The last two weeks has just been the most insane two weeks of my life. It’s a terrible time to crash on a bicycle and doctors were telling me maybe Australia, maybe Baku. The light at the end of the tunnel was very hard to see, but I had an incredible medical team who helped me along the way.”
Facts and Stats
- The winner of the opening race has been the championship runner-up every season since 2017.
- Max Verstappen has never previously won the opening race of the season. He won the Bahrain Grand Prix for the first time on his ninth attempt.
- Fernando Alonso is 41 years, 219 days old today. Only one older driver has been on the podium in the last 37 years (Michael Schumacher was 43 at Valencia in 2012).
- Lewis Hamilton’s fifth place was his worst finish in Bahrain since he was fifth in the 2013 race.
- Williams scored in Bahrain for the first time since 2017, when Felipe Massa was sixth, thanks to Alex Albon’s tenth.
Race one was very much in someway a continuation of 2022, Red Bull are still the team to beat and given how to dominate they were last year you had to expect that. It was a feeling during the race that the winter hadn’t happened with Max Verstappen taking his sixteenth win in a row! I think its hard to see if we get to Barcelona in June how Red Bull can be beaten, it was almost like nothing can stop Verstappen.
Aston Martin I think has proven they need to be taken seriously this year, throughout the week they have been talked up by Mercedes and Ferrari which given the bigger picture with the investments being made, could put them on a path to join the top four. Fernando Alonso has proven he still got it nearly ten years since his last win and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a freak race win this year by Aston.
Ferrari still have things to improve, Leclerc retiring from the race is not the start he wanted with a retirement. However, remember how Red Bull got their act together after Melbourne last year and while it looks unlikely given the strength of Red Bull I feel it’s too early to write anyone off.
Mercedes are not looking in the hunt but in a much better place than 2022, but I think they are unlikely to fight for this championship based on the last ten days. They could pick up wins this year but they face a huge effort to have a major step needed to challenge Red Bull, but they are closer than 2022.
Red Bull – Honda RBPT
|1||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull – Honda RBPT||01:33:56.736||25|
|2||Sergio Perez||MEX||Red Bull – Honda RBPT||+00:11.987||18|
|3||Fernando Alonso||ESP||Aston Martin – Mercedes||+00:38.637||15|
|Fastest Lap||Guanyu Zuho||CHI||Alfa Romeo – Ferrari||01:33.996||0|
|1||Max Verstappen||26||Red Bull||43|
|2||Sergio Perez||18||Aston Martin – Mercedes||23|
|5||Lewis Hamilton||10||Alfa Romeo – Ferrari||6|