A long wait during the winter, car launches, pre-season testing and for the delight of the fans, Formula 1 is back with some proper action for this 2023 Championship with the Bahrain Grand Prix, the race which has opened the last few seasons of the fastest single-seater league in the world. The scarce three days of testing here at Sakhir have given their first verdict and created some expectations, but only in race trim the teams will show the full potential of their cars. The season picks up exactly where the last Championship ended, with Ferrari on the hunt of the Red Bull and the Mercedes in difficulty. This year various sporting and regulatory changes have been introduced: radio communications between drivers and teams are relaxed, the scoring system in the event of a race terminated by a three-hour limit has been approved with that of the other FIA categories, in order to remedy to what happened during the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix when full points were awarded despite the race being finished after 28 laps due to the three-hour limit. Grands Prix finished with a short distance are awarded reduced points even if they were not concluded with a suspension. Last year, after the stormy ending of the 2021 Championship, the FIA had taken the decision to appoint two race directors, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, to be alternated from race to race. However, this set-up was maintained until the 2022 United States Grand Prix, a race in which the Federation abandoned the idea of rotating the race directors by defining, starting from the same race, Wittich as the sole race director for the last four rounds of the previous championship and for 2023. For this Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole tire supplier, offers the choice between C1, C2 and C3 compound tyres, the central range made available by the Italian company, same option chosen in the previous race in 2022. The Italian company simultaneously appoints the choice of tyres for the next two Grands Prix, that of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Starting from this season, Pirelli introduces a new type of tyre, between the old C1 and C2: it will have the name C1, while the old compound C1 takes the name of C0. A new conspicuous wet compound is also introduced, following the complaints from drivers and teams, making it more performing. It will be available starting from the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. In this regard, Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, declares:
"The first race of the championship will be an important test bench to validate all the development work we have carried out last year, which allowed us to further improve the structure of the tires and introduce a new compound.Our latest C1 will make its debut at Sakhir : an entirely new compound based on last year's C2, which allows us to reduce the performance gap between the harder compounds in the range.We expect it to be a valid option for the race this weekend as well.The 'undercut' is often pivotal to the Bahrain Grand Prix, so it will be interesting to see how the teams make use of this new element in the trio of compounds that are nominated for Sakhir".
The Bahrain Grand Prix, as we said, represents the first round of the season, the first event of 23 established in the championship calendar, an absolute record in the category. This is the opening race for the third consecutive season, but this time in early March compared to the last edition held at the end of the month. Following the large amounts of porpoising during 2022, the Federation has imposed a 15mm increase in the fund. Furthermore, the stiffness of the bottom end has been increase and an additional sensor is required to monitor the porpoising more effectively. Important changes have been made not only in terms of the market between teams and sporting regulations, but also in terms of the single-seaters’ structure. Due to the accident of the Chinese Alfa Rome’s driver Zhou Guanyu at the 2022 British Grand Prix, the cars are now obliged to have a more rounded roll-bar profile to prevent it from rolling over subjected to excessive forces and the width of the mirrors is increased by 50mm to 200mm to increase visibility. The minimum temperature below which fuel cannot be found is redefined, either 10 °C lower than ambient temperature or 10 °C (limit lowered from 20 °C in previous years), hoping to improve power reliability unit. The minimum weight of the car had initially been lowered to 796 kilograms, only to then return to the 798 kilograms of the previous year. The most destabilizing news of this first Thursday of the season is certainly that of Lance Stroll's accident: after a fall from his bike the Canadian driver has several important fractures. The British team Aston Martin during the pre-season tests have in fact decided to field the third driver of the team, the Brazilian Felipe Drugovich. Stroll's participation at the Grand Prix is confirmed a few hours before the start of the race weekend, these are the driver's statements:
"It was frustrating not to be out in Bahrain for the pre -season test and I was disappointed to miss the three days of running. However, given the injury to my wrist, the team and I felt it was best to focus on recovery so that I would be ready for this weekend and the long season ahead. It was an unfortunate accident - I fell from my bike when my tire caught a hole in the ground - but thankfully the damage was not significant and a successful minor surgery on my right wrist fixed the problem very quickly. Since then, I've been working hard with my team to ensure that I am fully fit to compete this weekend. I would like to thank the F1 community for their support and privacy, as well as the team who helped my recovery. Now I'm ready to get my head down and concentrate on racing this weekend - something I'm really looking forward to. The start of a new season is always interesting and, having missed pre-season testing due to my cycling accident, I am even more excited to get going. The team looked to run well in the test and both Fernando and Felipe were pleased with developments that have been made, so I am hoping we can continue that positive momentum this week and put in a performance that we can feel proud of. As we have seen in previous years, the circuit is often windy, sandy and hot, which are tricky conditions to contend with. There are some great opportunities for racing though, and that is what we are all looking forward to after a long winter break".
The long winter break represented a period of great changes in the sponsorship and partnership arena. The Swiss Alfa Romeo team announce that their partnership as both title sponsor and technical partner will end at the end of the season, after having collaborated and contributed since the 2018 season with the Italian car manufacturer of the same name. Even the Polish title sponsor Orlen leaves the Swiss team and arrives as principal partner of the Italian AlphaTauri. To replace it, Alfa Romeo sign an agreement with the Canadian company Stake, which acts as co-title sponsor, so the team is called now Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake. The US racing team Haas sign a new agreement with MoneyGram, which acts as title sponsor, so the team change their name to MoneyGram Haas F1 Team. Great return of Honda which, after a year of absence in the category, officially returns to the top formula, placing its name alongside the RBPT power unit (Honda RBPT) to consolidate the collaborative relationship that began during the previous season, after the Honda's exit as an engine supplier. Winter of great negotiations also for the drivers, triggered by the retirement of Sebastian Vettel. His place in the British team Aston Martin is in fact filled by the two-time Spanish World Champion Fernando Alonso, who leaves the French team Alpine after two seasons. In place of Alonso, the 2021 Formula 2 Champion, the Australian Oscar Piastri, was initially announced. Subsequently, the driver denied having signed an agreement with the French team and stated that he would not race for the team this season, in fact the commission for the recognition of contracts of the Federation established that Piastri had no contractual obligation to race with Alpine. On occasion of the first race of the Championship, Piastri declares:
"I'm excited for my first race in Formula 1 and for it to be in papaya is really special. I've been waiting a long time for my Formula 1 debut so it's great that the moment is finally here. I'm feeling prepared for the challenges ahead and to get back on track in a competitive environment. It's been a while since I last raced so I'm itching to get going again. The work I've put in with the team over the past few months and the welcome I've had from McLaren and the fans has set me up well for the season ahead. I still have a lot to learn and some bits to get my head around with the MCL60. As a team, we've still got a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be, but I'm feeling optimistic for the season. I'm looking forward to the battles, the challenges and everything ahead of me as I properly kick start this journey. Let's go racing".
He silences any kind of speculation and shifts the focus back to the most important goal: to drive for his first Formula 1 Championship. French driver Pierre Gasly terminates his contract with Italian manufacturer AlphaTauri by one year early to take the vacancy left by Alonso. Despite the change, the French driver declares himself ready to start a new season, with the curiosity that accompanies every driver at the start of a new chapter with a new team:
"I am very excited to race for the first time with Alpine this weekend in Bahrain. Since my first test in December with the team in Abu Dhabi, I've been looking forward to this moment, and now it's almost here. All my focus is on preparing well for the race weekend and I'm already eager for my first qualifying laps in the A523 before we battle on Sunday in the race. I know it will take a bit of time to get totally comfortable with the team and the car, but right now, I'm definitely confident that we can have a strong race here in Bahrain and the target is to come away with some points in the bag and begin the season in the best way possible".
Gasly is replaced by the 2020-2021 Formula E and 2019 Formula 2 Champion, the Dutch Nyck De Vries, who has already made his debut in the category during the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, when he replaced the Thai driver of the Williams, Alexander Albon, who had been stricken with appendicitis. On the occasion of the first race of the Championship, the Dutch driver declares:
"I'm definitely feeling ready for this first race of the year. In October last year, I kind of knew I would be on the grid, so the lead-up and preparations have been long, and I've been looking forward to this moment, not only for the past five, six, seven months, but pretty much a lifetime, so I definitely feel like I am as ready as I can be. Testing was really good. We completed a lot of laps in which we were able to execute our program, learn a lot about our package and test many different things. There was plenty of information to digest and put together in time for this weekend and it's hard to get a good read on where we sit because the midfield seems very tight, but hopefully we can be up there. I think two tenths in lap time will put you up and down the order a lot, and it will probably swing round a little bit from weekend to weekend, so it is challenging but we'll obviously do our best. I only had one test in last year's car but it's clear that this one is a bit of an evolution. If you look across the grid, everyone tried to optimize their package a little bit and so did we. My honest feeling about it is that, because the rules remain the same, fundamentally, there isn't a huge difference between the two cars. I've had to adapt to working with a new PU supplier to the one I've been with in the past. It's obviously always a little bit different in the way they work, but it's not miles apart and it's fairly straightforward. How will I feel on the grid, starting my first full F1 season? You know, when you're in the car and when the engine is fired up, you're actually quite alone and it's very quiet, just you and the car alone, so I don't think it will feel much different than any other time you're on the grid waiting for the lights. It's just another car really. I don't think that will feel much different. It's more the whole circus around it which probably feels a little bit different during the weekend and in the days before, but otherwise, I've done many starts, so this is going to be another one".
There is also strong interest in the future of Daniel Ricciardo, one of the most popular drivers of recent years who unfortunately remained without an official seat for 2023. However, the Australian driver returns to his origins, as a reserve driver for Red Bull Racing from which he left in 2018 continuing his career first in Renault and then in McLaren. His place is taken by his compatriot Piastri, who chooses to compete with the number 81. New destiny also for Nicholas Latifi, who ends his presence at Williams after three years. His seat is occupied by the American Logan Sargeant, thanks to the fourth place obtained during the 2022 Formula 2 season. He becomes the first American to race in the category since Alexander Rossi in 2015 at the helm of the former English team Marussia. He chooses 2 as his racing number, last used by Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne at the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix driving for McLaren. On the occasion of his Formula 1 debut, Sargeant declares:
"Heading into round one, I feel like I'm prepared as I can be. We maximized our mileage throughout the three-day test and really built in terms of my driving as well as the car. So, I'm looking forward to seeing how we stack up this weekend and hopefully we can have a good one".
After Binotto's farewell to Ferrari during the winter break there is a real movement of the cards between the various teams. Among the news that cause the most sensation is, in fact, the interruption of the relationship between the Ferrari Team Principal and the team.
His place is filled by former Alfa Romeo Team Principal, the Frenchman Frédéric Vasseur. He, on the occasion of the start of the Championship, declares to be excited and ready for this new challenge:
"I've had this feeling quite often in my career, but I have to admit, this time it's extra special. I can feel the passion not only from every single employee in Maranello, but also from the fans - and it only took me a couple of months to get infected by this passion and excitement. We can't wait to get the season started. Testing was good and the three days last week showed that the car is matching our expectations and now we need to continue fine-tuning in order to get the most out of it. One thing is clear: this will be the Championship with the most races ever, so no matter what the result, the title won't be won or lost in Bahrain. We know the track pretty well, but the changing air and track temperatures, as well as changing wind conditions, plus the new Pirelli tires will make it very tricky to get the set-up of the car right, but both Carlos and Charles collected a lot of data during the three test days, so we should be well prepared for a good weekend".
Vasseur's role was filled by former McLaren Team Principal Andreas Seidl, assisted by Alessandro Alunni Bravi as team representative. A few hours before the start of the race weekend he declares:
"Putting pre-season testing behind us, it is finally time to go racing again. We have been working hard over the winter, going the extra mile to get ready and set up, and everyone both here and back at home in Hinwil can be proud of that. We are ready and motivated for the new season: we did a good job in testing, and we are now looking forward to the challenges ahead. Much like all the other teams, we are of course eager to get started and see where everyone else is standing; it is of course early to set targets for the new season, but our goal is to keep on growing and developing as a team.Entering their second year as teammates, our drivers form a strong, diverse line -up, and we are delighted to be continuing working with them".
To replace Seidl, McLaren promotes Andrea Stella from Executive Director to Team Principal. After two seasons at Williams, Jost Capito steps down as Team Principal, followed by Technical Director François-Xavier Demaison. Mercedes Chief Strategist James Vowles becomes new Team Principal at Grove. The big news this year, albeit soon to tell, seems to be the presence of Fernando Alonso in an Aston Martin; during the three days of testing, held right here in Bahrain, he seems to be ready to challenge the World Champion Max Verstappen:
"I am excited for the first race of the season with Aston Martin and the start of this new journey. The car felt good across the three days of the Test, but it is only testing and everyone will reveal their true pace this weekend.It is very early days but I think there is a lot of potential to unlock in the car and we will see what we can do here in Bahrain.It is great to have Lance back in the car after he missed the Test His input and experience of the 2022 car is invaluable for us to learn more about this year's car and hopefully he can get up to speed quickly".
The times recorded during the winter tests allow us to make predictions about possible teams ready to compete for the world title and about the ones that will probably encounter some difficulties in terms of performance and reliability. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case for McLaren and Mercedes, which during the tests seemed to be in difficulty and with times significantly lower than their competitor teams.
Right at McLaren, Lando Norris declares:
"It's finally race week and I can't wait to jump back in the MCL60 and get on track. I'm entering my fifth season in Formula 1 now but I'm as excited as ever to go racing and get the season underway. Testing wasn't without its challenges, but we're working hard to continue to push us forward to get us back to where we want to be on the grid. We've learned a lot about the car, and we've already implemented some tweaks to optimize performance where we can. Thank you to the whole team for their work in building the MCL60 and the effort that's gone into getting us racing. Let's get the season underway".
At Mercedes, the first statements come from Toto Wolff, who states:
"We didn't have the smoothest winter test in Bahrain. We had some reliability problems and struggled with the car set-up on day two. But the key objective was to learn about the car, and we did lots of learning. We made good progress on the final day, which gave us directions to work on in the short period between the test and this weekend's race. It's always hard to have a clear picture of competitiveness at pre-season testing - and even more so with only three days of data available. Our expectations were that we would likely be playing catch-up to the front, based on how last year ended. That seems to be the case so far, but we will only know for sure after this weekend. Nevertheless, we are confident we have got a car we can work with and are in a stronger position than 12 months ago. More importantly, we are relishing the challenge. This championship will be fought over 23 race weekends, and each one will give us an opportunity to improve. The start of a new season is always exciting, whether you've been working in this sport for a few decades, years or weeks. So much hard work has gone into the W14 over the winter and the anticipation to be get racing has kept on building. We will be going flat out this weekend - and are determined to keep that going to the final lap in Abu Dhabi".
At Ferrari, everyone is curious and impatient to start this Championship, with the desire to go back fighting for the top positions and rekindle the enthusiasm of the fans. To such, Carlos Sainz Jr. declares:
"It's about time this break came to an end. Three months without racing is too long and I'm impatient to start. We tackled it managing to make the most of the time available. I had the right approach physically and mentally and also when working with the engineers, we were always in agreement on the direction we were going in. We tried the car in every configuration to understand its strengths and weaknesses and I feel that we are coming into this season better prepared when compared to the last one. I'm not worried about that. We have the busiest season ever ahead of us and we know that nothing will be decided this weekend. Of course, I can't wait to push all the way on track to see how the car feels on the limit. I think that as the season is about to start, there are several teams that look well prepared. Obviously, the world champions, but also Mercedes and Aston Martin seem to have done a good job. At the moment, we are just focusing on ourselves, but we know that, as from tomorrow, it's the track that will decide the true pecking order between the teams".
Alongside the Spanish driver there will be again Charles Leclerc, who claims to be curious to return to the race to verify the actual sensations experienced during the tests. Pre-season tests have always been an essential tool for teams to verify the work done during the winter break, but the actual performance of the cars can only be confirmed during the races when the car is pushed to the extreme:
"I can't wait to get out on track this weekend, because only then will we see the real hierarchy among the teams. We got through our planned program and did the all the tests we were meant to do. It seems that we have made some steps forward compared to last year. I'd say this year's car is quicker down the straights and slightly slower in the corners, but that's what we were looking for to overcome our limitations from last season".
"There is still work to do, as we know we are up against very tough opponents and, in the case of the reigning champions, they seem to have a slight edge over us at the moment. But our goals for this season remain the same: we want to finish one place higher in the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships. I stayed here and relaxed, played padel and trained, as well as coming to the track every day to have lunch with the guys in the team and begin preparing for the Grand Prix with the usual meetings during which we analyzed all the data gathered at the test. The whole team is motivated. We worked so hard in Maranello, in the factory and on the simulator and I can't wait to go racing".
The declarations of the Red Bull’s drivers confirm the importance of the first race as a test of the work carried out during the winter. Sergio Perez declares:
"The RB19 felt really good in testing and responded well to set-up changes we made. I am looking forward to seeing how the car responds to qualifying and race conditions. I don't think testing is a true representation of where teams are at, so it'll be interesting to see where everyone is after qualifying on Saturday. We certainly look and feel strong but it's all about how you perform across a race weekend. I want to start the season positively and have a consistent weekend in Bahrain".
World Champion Max Verstappen defines the pre-season tests as more than positive and this pushes him to want to check the power of his car also in the race:
"With all the testing we have completed, we are heading into the weekend in a good position. There's a lot to be said about reading into the data at testing, each track is very different in terms of how a car can behave, so I think as a Team we will focus on improving and always trying to do better and that's what we have to keep doing throughout the year. We had three positive days at testing but now this is where it counts, at the race".
On Friday, March 3, 2023, lots of testing will be conducted even if only qualifying on Saturday will show the real hierarchy of the grid. However, there are some certainties: Red Bull demonstrate their strength since the beginning of the weekend, confirming the good shape seen in pre-season testing. Surprisingly, but not too much, it is Sergio Pérez who comes out on top in FP1 with a time of 1'32"758. The Mexican has had a good run and the car has proven to be quite consistent throughout the whole session:
"It was quite tricky out there, the temperature from morning to afternoon changes quite a lot so the only representative session was this evening. We have some work to do over one lap and that should automatically put us in better shape for the long run. We explored the car a bit today and generally we have a good idea on how to set-up for tomorrow. I think everything is close at the top, certainly Aston Martin and Ferrari look strong, and I think it is going to go down to who puts the best lap together in qualifying and who has the better race pace on Sunday".
Pérez precedes Fernando Alonso and his teammate Max Verstappen. The defending World Champion sits more than half a second behind Pérez in FP1 to then improve to P2 in FP2 while attempting a qualifying simulation, clocking 0.169s behind Alonso Verstappen encounters some unexpected balance issues during his Friday:
"It was a difficult start to the day. In FP1 we couldn’t get the balance right, which was a bit odd as we didn’t experience this in testing. In FP2, the short run laps weren’t too bad and the car felt a bit more connected and with the long runs, the pace was good. Overall the car isn’t too bad in the long runs. Form FP1 to FP2 we went in the right direction, I just need to find my rhythm again. The Aston Martins are looking competitive, you could see that already from testing. There’s still a bit more work to do, we know we have a competitive car, it’s just about putting it all the pieces together".
The trio set their best time with the Soft test compound available for the weekend (C3). In FP2 the top three drivers only exchange positions. In the first free practice session it is Alonso who splits the two Red Bulls, who have some more difficulties to find the right balance, while the Spaniard claims the top spot in the second practice session with a brilliant time of 1'30"907 (soft tyres). It was not only hype after all, and Aston Martin is really establishing itself as one of the main contenders for the 2023 season. The car seems fast, reliable and, much like Red Bull’s RB19, very gentle with the tyres, allowing its drivers to push without worrying too much about degradation, a feature which only Red Bull can claim to have completely. As a result, the AMR23 shows impressive pace, especially in the experienced hands of Fernando Alonso, who is obviously satisfied:
"It felt good to drive the car today and it is nice to see both cars high up on the timing sheets especially after only three days of Testing. The team is working together well, and we are still learning a lot about the new car. I think it will not be clear who is on top until after this weekend and probably into the first couple of races at different tracks. For now, we are just concentrating on ourselves and trying to find the right balance with the car. There are a few things we need to evaluate overnight and we will prepare as best we can for the first qualifying session of the season tomorrow. We have our feet on the ground, and we are realistic with our expectations heading into tomorrow".
Only two thousandths of a second separate the two Red Bull drivers in FP2. While his teammate shines like a star in the Bahrain night, Lance Stroll spends a weekend of learning and recovery. The Canadian driver suffered a bicycle accident while training for the pre-season tests and had to undergo a double surgery to his wrists and a strict routine of rehabilitation. After missing the whole pre-season test, Stroll has to work a lot on this first racing Friday. A busy day hampered at the start with a minor technical issue, which delays the Canadian’s debut. Despite showing good performance, Stroll is caught on camera and on some team radios struggling at physical level, especially when he has to turn the steering wheel in the tightest corners, holding it in a strange position. Charles Leclerc is the fastest man in FP1 with the medium compound with a time of 1'34"257, which earns him the fifth position in the final classification. A good improvement brings the Monegasque up to 4th place in FP2, sitting 0.460s behind Alonso. Despite being a productive day, Leclerc still feels uncertain about the final position when it will matter the most, i.e. Saturday and Sunday, as the different programmes of each team do not allow clear predictions:
"Our first day of free practice went OK. We completed a lot of laps and I feel more and more comfortable in the car, which is positive. It is still difficult to tell where we stand as everyone seems to have been running very different plans, but we are focusing on ourselves and will keep pushing in the right direction".
Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz offer one of the most spectacular actions on Friday as he spins at turn 9 during FP1: After touching the kerb, the Spaniard completes a full 360° and ends up in the run-off area. No damage to the car but he has compromised his tyre set. Sainz is forced to head back to the pit lane without setting a competitive lap time, which relegates him in the last place. Fortunately for him, there is time to improve in FP2, where the conditions are much more similar to the ones in qualifying and race. Sainz clinches 14th place:
"A trickier Friday than we initially expected. The balance was different and we were changing the car through the sessions to try and correct its main limitations. It’s only Friday and I’m confident we can analyse everything overnight and take a step forward tomorrow".
A comforting debut is what McLaren needed after a difficult pre-season test, where the Woking-based team completed the least number of laps. Difficulties that appear overcome with Lando Norris in an excellent P4 coming out of FP1. The Briton has a good run also in FP2, placing 9th just 0.663s behind the leader of the classification Fernando Alonso. Norris is also involved in one of the first clashes in the pit lane of the year, when he almost makes contact with the AlphaTauri of Nick De Vries:
"I think it's been a reasonable Friday. We put the car in a reasonable place, and I got a bit more comfortable with it both in low-fuel and high-fuel running. We have a lot of lap time to find to be competitive and to fight with the guys we want to fight against, but we'll keep working hard overnight and look ahead to tomorrow".
An eventful day is instead what Oscar Piastri experiences during his much-anticipated debut on Friday. The young Aussie corrects a risky snap of oversteer at turn 7 during FP1 and is involved in a dangerous situation in FP2. Bringing forward racing to Friday, Piastri engages Tsunoda in a duel along the main straight, without noticing straightaway Stroll coming slowly out of the pits. Luckily, the McLaren driver, who is running on the inside line, swerves under braking and avoids the Aston Martin with a big lock-up, which he repeats some minutes later, running wide at turn 1. He ends the session in 15th place. Piastri states:
"My first official Friday done. I feel like I'm making progress, which is good. There are some improvements to find but I feel like I'm getting there. I'm still making a few mistakes here and there, so I'm not 100% happy with my driving but I feel like we're in a reasonable place. We'll see where we are properly tomorrow but so far, it's been good. I've enjoyed my first official Friday as an F1 driver".
Another rookie full of hopes for the new season is Logan Sargeant. The first driver to bring back the US flag into Formula 1 since Alexander Rossi in in 2015 sees his debut delayed by some minor technical issues in FP1. Sargeant says on the radio he’s smelling something burning. After a quick repair in the garage, it is time to put down some laps. The Williams FW45 appears to be a good evolution of its 2022 predecessor and Sargeant manages to even stay ahead of his teammate Albon in FP1, although he concludes the day in last place:
"It was nice to experience a full day. As expected, as the temperature came down, the car really came to us. I was quite surprised with how much grip we picked up this evening which is something I need to maximise a little bit better. FP3 tomorrow is during the day when the temperatures are high so today was our best read going into Qualifying tomorrow. We're going to dig deep into the analysis tonight and see what we can go for in Qualifying. In general, it was a good first full day in the office".
Traffic is not really an issue in Bahrain, but some drivers have troubles with slower cars anyway. Sergio Pérez is one of them: in FP2 the Mexican has a misunderstanding with Carlos Sainz at turn 8, with the Spaniard going slowly and shutting the door late, forcing Pérez to lock up a bit. Practically the same thing happens to Alex Albon in FP1 with Piastri, this time at turn 13. The Thai driver concludes the day in P17, but remains optimistic for Sunday. Despite probably being disadvantaged for qualifying, Albon is confident his car will allow him to have a good race thanks to a good pace and tyre-degradation under control:
"FP2 was much better than FP1. We've still got a bit of work to do but we're close. If you look at AlphaTauri and Haas cars, on race pace we are close to them, so that's who we're fighting and let's see tomorrow if we can get those little bits together to get them. Because of the way deg is around here, race pace is a bit more important than qualifying pace. Ease of overtaking is quite high, so if you're the quicker car you tend to get past. You're setting up the car for Qualifying, but with one and a half eyes on the race! There's a bit of an unknown to race one; reliability across the paddock is less than the final races of the year and some teams get on top of their packages earlier than others. Realistically, maybe we don't have the quickest car on the grid, but we can do a better job than others and maybe finish out of sequence".
The tension feels palpable in Mercedes’ garage. After a difficult season like 2022 everybody to start the new season with a strong performance. However, the W14 has kept from its predecessor the no sidepods philosophy and has established itself as a logical (and hopefully better) evolution of the W13. The test and the first free practice sessions of the year have soon brought the Brackley-based team back to reality. On Friday, Lewis Hamilton acknowledges the team’s difficulties with an average performance on track, clocking the 10th best time in FP1 and the 8th best time in FP2:
"We've got a lot to work on. We knew we were behind some of our competitors at testing and today, we found out that we are a long way off. We'll keep our heads down tonight, go through the data, and continue to work to find some progress for tomorrow. We've got to find out if we can add performance overnight. I think I've got the car to the best place I can set-up wise. On long-run pace, we look similar to Ferrari but are behind Red Bull and Aston Martin. It's difficult for everyone and it's not where anyone in this team wants to be. Everyone continues to work so hard and is so courageous and thoughtful in the process. We need to continue to graft away and get ourselves back on the right track".
George Russell more or less agrees with his teammate and keeps his head down for the upcoming challenges. Surely the current situation is hard to accept, but the young Brit tries to see the positive aspects. Some set-up changes made for the first race of the season seem to work better on the car and the race pace could be much closer to the one of the teams in front (except maybe Red Bull), and Russell will try to exploit these small advantages:
"We have a lot of data from today that we can look over tonight. We made some big changes from testing to today, so we need to evaluate whether they have worked as anticipated. We have set the car up in a slightly different window to last week; it feels better but that doesn't always mean that it's faster. It looks like our race pace is slightly stronger than our one-lap pace right now. We will continue to look at this as we need to find more lap time. It's difficult to say exactly where we are in the order, but we want to be higher up the timing sheets than we were today. It's only our fourth day with the W14, though, so we need to make sure we have it in the right window and are reaching its full potential".
Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin confirms the impressions of his drivers and acknowledges that the car’s performance reflects the results of pre-season testing. Still, the Anglo-German team could have some aces up their sleeve to improve their performance on Saturday:
"The first session in the hotter conditions was tricky; we ran the medium tyres and even in the test we were finding that compound difficult to get into a good balance window but today seemed little better. We made some changes going into the afternoon and the cooler conditions seemed to help in terms of the feel and balance, but the pace is still lacking; single lap seems more of an issue than the long run but neither are good enough, so we've clearly got some work to do. We've got some ideas to evaluate overnight so hopefully we can put together a package of changes that will help".
For this year, Pirelli has brought a new compound for the C3 soft tyres, which the teams have had a little taste of during pre-season testing. Pirelli Chief Engineer Simone Berra gives an insight into the work done by teams on Friday:
"The teams used today mainly to assess the performance of the P Zero Red soft in race conditions. Many of these soft compound runs were done on full fuel, to analyse degradation management on the C3. Apart from a few laps with Williams, the new C1 wasn't really used today. As we expected, this latest hard compound is set to be a strong race tyre, which is why the teams wanted to hang onto it. Degradation is in line with our simulations as well as the data recorded during the three days of testing last week, on some of the most abrasive asphalt of the year".
On Saturday, March 4, 2023, the weather condition is good: air temperature is 28 degrees 24% humidity while the track one is 41 °C. Alonso also confirms that he is the fastest driver in the third free practice session. The Spaniard precedes, by a few thousandths, once again the two Red Bull Racing drivers. Immediately behind the two Anglo-Austrian cars rises Lewis Hamilton; Mercedes' improvement is confirmed by George Russell's sixth place. The former World Champion chooses a medium-load rear wing, while his teammate continues to use the model employed on Friday. The top eight positions are rounded out by the two Ferraris and the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, who improves his confidence in driving after the injury suffered before the start of the season. A few presses later, the first drivers to come down the track are those of AlphaTauri, followed by those of Ferrari and Nico Hülkenberg. Charles Leclerc loses some parts from his car right at the start of his fast lap. The race management is forced to stop the session with a red flag, to allow the debris to be recovered. After a few minutes of stopping, Q1 resumes. Lance Stroll sets the fastest time, but shortly afterwards Max Verstappen rises to first position, before being beaten, in turn, by Fernando Alonso. Then Charles Leclerc takes the lead, who can continue the session without any problems. The limit marked by the Monegasque driver is improved first by Russell, then by Carlos Sainz Jr.. meanwhile Stroll's time is cancelled, for exceeding the track limits. The balance of performance is evidenced by the presence of as many as eleven drivers within a second. All the teams, with the exception of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing, attempt to improve their times in the last phase of the session. Alexander Albon moves up to sixth place before losing his position to Yuki Tsunoda, while Lance Stroll grabs the fifth time. Guanyu Zhou rises to eleventh, while Lando Norris is thirteenth. Esteban Ocon rises to eleventh, Oscar Piastri is only seventeenth.
He does better than Nico Hülkenberg, who is sixth, while Logan Sargeant equalizes, at 1,000th, the performance of Lando Norris. Pierre Gasly's time is cancelled, so the Frenchman remains last. Logan Sargeant, ranked behind Lando Norris, Kevin Magnussen, Oscar Piastri, Nyck De Vries and Pierre Gasly are eliminated. Lance Stroll sets the benchmark time in Q2, turning in 1'32"305, but both Nico Hülkenberg and the two Alfa Romeo drivers manage to do better than the Canadian. Fernando Alonso subsequently climbs to first position, but shortly afterwards loses the position to the two Mercedes drivers, who bring the limit under 1'31"0. Max Verstappen later laps in 1'30"503, while Pérez closes in 1'30"746. Alex Albon sees his performance cancelled, again for exceeding the track limits. When there are three minutes left before the end of Q2, all the drivers take to the track again. Exceptions are Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez and Alex Albon, who damaged his front wing. Nico Hülkenberg climbs to third place, Guanyu Zhou is tenth, behind Valtteri Bottas, who is eighth. Fernando Alonso climbs to second, while Lando Norris is eighth. He does even better than Charles Leclerc who is able to beat Max Verstappen's time. George Russell rises to third place, ahead of Lewis Hamilton; Lance Stroll also improves, gaining access to the final stage. On the other hand, Lando Norris, Valtteri Bottas, Guanyu Zhou, Yuki Tsunoda and Alex Albon, who ends the session without setting any time, do not gain access. In Q3, the Red Bull Racing and Ferrari drivers get off the track right away, unlike the Mercedes drivers. Verstappen closes his first attempt in 1'29"897; Pérez does not go beyond a time of 1'30"131, and is beaten by Leclerc, who stops 0.103s from the World Champion. Sainz Jr. is fourth, author of an imperfection, ahead of Stroll. The other drivers qualified for the final stage decide to limit themselves to one fast attempt.
Alonso is fourth, Hülkenberg is sixth, with the German's time later cancelled for exceeding the track limits, before the Mercedes complete their performance: Russell sets the fifth time. Surprisingly, Leclerc decides to abandon the session, and not complete a second attempt. Pérez improves, equaling Verstappen's time in the first sector. The Dutchman scores the best overall performance in the second sector, while his teammate again improves his times. Verstappen closes in 1'29"708, followed by Pérez, who thus passes Leclerc. Sainz Jr. is fourth, while Stroll is eighth. Max Verstappen takes the 21st pole position in his career. The Dutch driver of Red Bull Racing repeats his start in first position after the one obtained in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2022, the last race of the previous season. The World Champion gets the first position in the Bahrain Grand Prix for the first time since the 2021 edition. Max Verstappen is very happy with his first pole position of the season:
"it hasn’t been the easiest weekend so far as we’ve been struggling to find the right balance and I’ve been trying to find my rhythm. Overall, it was quite a good qualifying, we recovered well with the performance. It’s great for the whole Team to have a one-two start tomorrow, and to have Checo up there as well is really promising. A lot of things can happen during a race as we all know, but I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do out there on track as a Team".
Sergio Perez explains that he missed pole position by a tenth of a second:
“When you miss pole position by a tenth of a second you always think there is a bit more you could have given, that is only a braking zone or something. It was really close out there today, look at the competition from Q2 and Q3, if you didn’t get a perfect lap then you were P5. We made some compromises in qualifying for tomorrow’s race and hopefully that will pay off so we can have a very strong race car. I am more comfortable with the car; the rear end of this car is a bit more planted, so I am able to work with it a little better so that’s a positive for me. I think Ferrari will be in the mix for the race, along with Aston Martin and Mercedes. We hadn’t seen this kind of pace from Ferrari until today, so I think they have been hiding quite a bit. If Charles was to do his final run, he would have been in with a shot for pole position. I think managing the tyre degradation will be crucial tomorrow and it will be really important for us to concentrate on our own race".
Finally, on tomorrow’s race the team will have to check on tyres degradation. Christian Horner, Red Bull’s Team Principal, says:
"This is a great start to the season in what turned out to be a very close qualifying. Both drivers managed to navigate their way into Q3 with the two sets of the softer tyres available. To lock out the front row is the best possible start for tomorrow’s race, but, the points are on Sunday, and as we know from last year, it’s important to finish. As I say though, it’s a great start from the drivers and the Team, but plenty of work still to do as we look to convert these excellent grid positions into points tomorrow".
Carlos Sainz Jr. believes that today the team made quite a lot of steps:
"Today we made a step forward as a team. It’s been a difficult build-up to qualifying for me, not having had a clean day yesterday, but we reacted well today. I lost a bit in sector 2 in a couple of twitchy corners, but apart from that the feeling overall was better. Now we’re looking forward to tomorrow. We’ll fight until the very last lap and try to bring home a good result to get the season going".
Charles Leclerc defines today as a positive qualifying:
"A positive qualifying. We were in the fight for pole, which we didn't expect coming into the weekend. Several teams seem to be quite close, which makes things more exciting for drivers and fans, and I think it's good for the sport. In terms of race pace, we could find ourselves a bit on the backfoot, as our competitors looked very strong in that area during free practice. We will give everything tomorrow and, with an extra set of fresh Soft tyres, hopefully we will have a good fight".
Says Frédéric Vasseur for his first qualifying as Ferrari’s Team Principal:
"It’s always difficult to have a clear picture going into the very first qualifying of the season, as you come here not knowing where the others are, but in the end we got a good result today. We were P1 in both Q1 and Q2 so it was looking good for the fight for pole, but then we decided with Charles to save one set of new tyres for tomorrow’s race, whereas with Carlos we used another new set since it was such a tight qualifying and a new tyre made the difference. Starting from the second row is actually a positive result considering that we will have the only driver with an extra set of new Soft tyres, so I am more than happy with this first qualifying. For tomorrow, when the points are scored, we need to put everything together and manage degradation. We have carried out some good race simulations, it’s a long season and tomorrow’s race is just the first step".
Fernando Alonso is sure about the good performance of his car:
"The whole weekend has been very good for us so far and we are very happy to be starting inside the top five for the first race tomorrow. Last year the team found itself out of Q1 and now we are lining up fifth on the grid. Everyone in the team has done an amazing job and this is a strong baseline to build upon as we start the season. We shall see what tomorrow brings, but we have been competitive in all the sessions and we are starting close to the podium positions. If there is an opportunity there for the taking, then we will look to capitalise on it".
George Russell is satisfied with todays’ results especially after Friday’s practices:
"Today was a lot better than we expected, particularly after yesterday. We had a tough Friday; we expected to add a little bit of performance overnight, but we exceeded expectations. The changes we made we thought we might find a tenth, but we found close to five or six tenths, so we need to fully understand why that was. It's positive news but after FP3, we just focused on maximising performance. The car is feeling nice to drive so we are in a much better starting place than we were with the W13. We can now focus on adding global performance rather than problem solving. Tomorrow, we are in a good place to fight for third. Qualifying three tenths behind Ferrari when they have probably been the fastest car on single lap pace is positive. Fernando is probably more of a dark horse than Ferrari".
Lewis Hamilton is also satisfied and says that the car felt much better today than it did on Friday:
"I thought today may be worse than it ended up being. We did some great work overnight and the car felt much better in FP3. Overall, Qualifying was OK. I thought we might struggle to get into Q3 yesterday, but we didn't. We were in a fight. We don't know if we have the same race pace that we showed last year but I'm hoping we can be in the fight amongst the group behind Red Bull. It's really all going to depend on what our long-run pace is like".
He gives his congratulation to Aston Martin and Alonso for today’s position in the grid:
“I am genuinely happy for Aston Martin. It's amazing to see their progress and the steps that they have taken. I am happy for Fernando as he's been here way longer than me so it's good to have him back in the mix! I'm sure we will have some good races".
Says Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ Team Principal & CEO.
"The gap to the very front isn't ridiculous considering we only ran one new soft tyre at the end of Q3. Nevertheless, it's not where we want to be and not what we had aimed for over the winter. We know what the gap is and what we need to find, or more, to win. Neither driver had a clean lap in the final run. There was probably another tenth-and-a-half still in there but it likely wouldn't have changed much. We maybe could have overtaken Alonso with both cars, but this is where we are. We are super critical of ourselves and what we need to achieve. There is no such thing as a sacred cow in our team, and we look at everything. The whole Team thinks like that, so we just need to get our heads together and work out the next steps from here. But first we race tomorrow - and we will be giving it everything we've got to move forward up the field".
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director, says that they are disappointed to be so far off the pole position but today there were some improvements compared to Friday’s situation:
"Clearly, we're disappointed to be so far off pole, but we looked much further off yesterday. It's encouraging that the car responded to the overnight changes, and we've managed to improve a few of the issues like the high-speed cornering. Through the morning session the car was behaving quite predictably given the hotter conditions. There was a bit of fine-tuning going into qualifying and early on, it looked like we were in a pretty good place. As the sessions went on the others seemed to be finding a bit more pace. We also only had one set of tyres for the final part of Qualifying so that added up to leaving us with a gap that's bigger than we'd like but one that we'll be working hard to close down. Our straight-line speed looks strong, and our degradation seems to be in a reasonable place; the Red Bulls are out of reach from what we have seen but it would be good if we can get into a race with the Ferrari and Aston Martins".
Finally, Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, gives his remarks on the teams’ strategies concerning the tyres’ choice:
"As we fully expected, the majority of teams used the soft tyre in FP3 to prepare for qualifying, Red Bull was the only team to use the hard as well, without compromising the availability of this compound for the race - as each driver has two sets available. The new hard is sure to be a key to the race tomorrow. Qualifying was run entirely on the soft, given the performance gaps between the compounds, with Verstappen beating last year's pole time from Charles Leclerc. The fact that this year's pole was around eight-tenths faster, in similar conditions, underlines the increased performance of the 2023 car-tyre package".
The Red Bull’s garage celebrates the front row: Verstappen stops the car and jumps off for enjoy the 21st pole position in his career. Bahrain is the opening race in the F1 calendar and this year’s duel in the desert involves twists, as the two Red Bulls lock out the front row, but Aston Martin seems to be their direct rival, even if the second row is made up by Sainz and Leclerc. The two-time world champion Max Verstappen in fact took a brilliant pole on Saturday, followed by team mate Sergio Perez, while Charles Leclerc did not make the last attempt and stayed third on the grid. On Sunday, the Ferrari driver needed a new energy store and control electronics before the race. As for Mercedes, George Russell qualified sixth and Lewis Hamilton seventh. Everyone, except Kevin Magnussen, who is on hards, begins on softs. During the formation lap Stroll locks up and runs wide at turn 10. Then, the grid lines up and the five lights go out for the very first race of the 2023 season, with the roar of the 20 cars fills the air. Verstappen immediately slips away, while Perez have a slow getaway and loses out to Leclerc, with Sainz on his tail. Aston Martin do not start so well as, while battling Russell, Stroll hits the right-rear of Alonso going into turn 4: that allows Hamilton and Russell ahead of the two-time champion and yellow flags briefly flies in Sector 2 for debris.
Williams drivers Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant make great starts, each picking up three places; Zhou Guanyu and Nico Hulkenberg meanwhile lose four places each, the Haas driver having made contact with Esteban Ocon on the opening lap. That allows Valtteri Bottas into P9. Verstappen’s lead grows rapidly and by the start of lap 5 he is 3.5 seconds ahead of Leclerc, while Perez is still trying to catch the Ferrari driver for P2. As for Mercedes, Russell asks himself about the tyre management of his team mate, as he is struggling for pace. On lap 10, Alonso, with DRS, tries to pass the Silver Arrows, while Verstappen is seven seconds in the lead. Pierre Gasly, who started 20th due to a qualifying lap time deleted, is the first to pit for hard tyres on lap 10, and Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda respond with the same switch on the following lap. Alonso is right on Russell’s Mercedes on lap 11, while the Briton says on the radio:
"Tyres are gone".
Asking for a pit stop. The battle comes to a head on lap 13 when Alonso makes a lunge on Russell into turn 1, taking the place down the inside of turn 4 with DRS, but Russell fights hard and the two go side-by-side down the hill through turn 5 before the Aston Martin gets the best. Hamilton pits for hard tyres on lap 13 and Ferrari respond by double-stacking a lap later, joined by Russell. Russell’s stop is a little too slow, and after Alonso’s pit on lap 15, he emerges ahead of Russell. Bottas meanwhile is sixth, having taken new tyres before that group - but Alonso makes light work of him on lap 17 at turn 4, and Russell does the same move on lap 18. Verstappen and Perez stop on laps 15 and 18 respectively, but they mount soft tyres while the Ferraris, Astons and Mercedes opt for hards on their second stints. Williams and McLaren’s Lando Norris choose the same strategy as Red Bull, while Oscar Piastri retires from his debut after just 13 laps. Problems for Alpine, too, as Ocon is given a five-second penalty for lining up in his grid slot incorrectly. Ocon is then given a further 10-second penalty for serving that penalty incorrectly. At the very back, Norris passes Ocon and with a tyre advantage he goes in P18. At the front, Perez with DRS on lap 25 makes the move for P2 into turn 1 on Leclerc. Sainz is 13 seconds away from that battle in a lonely P4, while Hamilton is another four seconds back in fifth. As for Verstappen, his lead has grown to almost 14 seconds by lap 30. Ocon is penalised five more seconds for speeding in the pit lane and Norris’s lap 29 stop for a set of medium tyres is really slow. Valtteri Bottas goes for another set of hards on lap 30, with Mercedes’ Hamilton following one lap later, as does Aston Martin’s Stroll.
Russell pits for hards on lap 31 and emerges behind Hamilton. Stroll, whose tyres are warmer, cruises past Russell for P7. Sainz also pits while Leclerc stays out until lap 34, promoting Alonso into P3. Perez and Alonso respond on lap 35, emerging second and sixth respectively, while Verstappen continues in front with a 37-second lead; he pits from softs to hards on lap 37 and 2.3 seconds later, he emerges from his box before carrying on in the lead. Alonso, meanwhile, passes Hamilton for P5 into turn 4 on lap 37, but suffers a snap of oversteer on the exit and loses the place. One lap later, Hamilton closes Alonso off at turn 5 and they battle downhill into the hairpin, where Alonso enjoys a better exit. The two-time champion attacks and passes down the inside of turn 10. The lap 41 is probably the worst for Ferrari, as Leclerc’s car comes to a stop at the penultimate corner and brings out a Virtual Safety Car, which ends too briefly to allow anyone to capitalise. With 15 laps remaining, Sainz is in the podium places but with Alonso trying to catch him. Meanwhile, there is also a battle for P9, with Gasly going around the outside of turn 1 to leave Albon 10th, both on soft tyres. On new softs, Tsunoda makes a stunning double-pass on Zhou and De Vries for P11, while De Vries finds himself 13th as Zhou passes him soon afterwards. Sargeant joins the party, passing De Vries for P13 on lap 44. Alonso with DRS passes Sainz and almost runs into the back of the Ferrari exiting turn 4 making a little contact as he is thrown off by how much Sainz is struggling for traction, and is right next to him going down the hill into the hairpin. A superior exit out of turn 10 sees Alonso sweep by the Ferrari for the final podium place, a first podium since Qatar 2021. The Spaniard says on the radio:
"This is a lovely car to drive".
As for Verstappen, he starts this season perfectly by winning the race with a lead of 11.987 seconds. Perez makes sure Red Bull also have a perfect start as he takes second place, almost 26 seconds ahead of Alonso. Sainz ends up finishing fourth, ultimately unthreatened by Hamilton, who at least holds off Stroll for P5. Stroll meanwhile finishes P6, leaving Russell seventh. For Bottas is is also a great start to the season as he makes it to P8 for Alfa Romeo.Alpine’s Gasly made up 11 places from last to ninth thanks to a three-stop strategy, something that Albon pulled off to finish 10th over Tsunoda - just a second ahead of the 11th-placed AlphaTauri. Rookie Sargeant is 11th on his Williams debut, gaining four places with a three-stop strategy, while Magnussen’s two-stopper was not a good choice as he is 13th. De Vries ends up 14th on his AlphaTauri debut with Nico Hulkenberg 15th thanks to a five-second penalty for track limits. Zhou takes the fastest lap for Alfa Romeo, pitting on the penultimate lap for soft tyres on which he rounds the track in 1'33"996. A late gamble for soft tyres and the fastest lap do not pay off for Norris, who ends the race 17th - pitting six times - in a miserable day for McLaren, who also suffer a retirement for debutant Piastri. Ocon’s day was downright calamitous: after accruing 20 seconds of penalties, Alpine decide to retire him 16 laps from the end, just two laps after Leclerc stopped with a suspected engine issue. Now everybody has two weeks to catch his breath after this stunning start, as the circus returns for the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Red Bull hold the first positions with the maximum points, and the bonus for fastest lap, in Bahrain. The 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend takes place on March 17-19. Very good start for the Red Bull, who opened the season with a one-two. Verstappen made a great getaway and was never troubled as he cruised to victory:
"This is exactly the start we wanted, a one-two finish. I’m incredibly proud that we have achieved this as a Team. I could see early on that we had the pace in the car, I was able to build a gap from the start and then just managed it for the rest of the race, it was a straightforward day for us. It also feels good to finally win in Bahrain, I haven’t had the best history here. Looking ahead to Jeddah, it's a completely different track with different conditions, there’s a lot of long straights and fast corners, so it will give us a completely different picture of where everyone is on the grid but at least this was a very good start for us".
Perez lost out to Leclerc at the start but then picked off the Ferrari after the first round of pit stops. From there the Mexican was able to build a gap to the rest:
"My start wasn’t ideal, Charles was a little too aggressive, pushed me to the right and I did my best to avoid him. That meant my first stint wasn’t ideal, Charles was very strong on that new tyre and it was difficult to get through him quickly enough. I think that’s where I lost out to Max, I was behind him by about 10 or 12 seconds and after that it was game over on catching Max, it was all about getting Charles. It was important to get by him, minimise the damage and get that P2 for the Team. There are a lot of improvements we can still make to try and make our car better, there is still plenty of work going on behind the scenes. On this tarmac we have been very strong but Bahrain is a very unique circuit and things will be closer at other circuits".
CEO and Team Principal Christian Horner is absolutely satisfied with te race:
"What a race! Max certainly showed he has not lost any of his pace coming into the new season, grabbing pole and the victory with both hands. Checo had a bit of work to do with Charles, but he played it well and then from there it was about managing the race till the end. The pace was there, the reliability too, we also had a solid pit stop strategy. It’s great to have both the guys up there within a tenth, fighting over the fine margins. That pushes the Team forward and they certainly delivered. Comparing it to last year, when we finished with no points, is quite a contrast. However, its important to remember this is just race one, there’s a lot of racing still to do, but it is a great start, from the whole team. It was important for us to get on the board, get some good points in early and we have done that today. We look forward to see what Jeddah brings".
Fernando Alonso lost out at the start, but then attacked other cars and was incredibly competitive, forcing his way past Russell, Hamilton and Sainz to pick up a well deserved podium:
"This is an incredible result from the entire team and we must enjoy this moment. I am very proud of the job everybody has done. We did not have the best start, but the race pace was strong. The car has been very predictable from day one [of testing] and I have felt very comfortable throughout the whole weekend. I really enjoyed the race and, even after the chequered flag, I felt like I could have driven for another hour! We had some great fights out there today, especially with [Carlos] Sainz and [Lewis] Hamilton. Lewis is a legend of the sport and it was great to have so much respect between us out there. It was also an incredible effort from Lance, who was a hero today for driving so well so soon after his injury to pick up some great points. You can feel the energy in the team: everybody is working flat out at the moment and we are all very motivated. This weekend feels like a dream, but we must stay realistic because this is just one track and the first race. Jeddah is a very different kind of circuit; a very different challenge. I cannot wait to get back in the car".
Bad for Leclerc, who had to change some Power Unit components before the race. He then started on fresh soft tyres and made his way past Perez, but lost out to the Mexican when he swapped onto the hard tyres and a late issue forced him to stop out on track:
"We had a great start and everything felt good. We had a solid gap behind us and were managing the pace well until unfortunately, we lost power. It’s a shame and we will look into the causes to make sure we understand what happened".
Carlos Sainz Jr. was fourth until his team mate’s retirement. He struggled with tyre wear and couldn’t hold off Alonso:
"It was a challenging Sunday. We knew already from testing that it was going to be tough here in Bahrain and now we need to focus on improving for the upcoming races. Time to put our heads down, work hard and see how we can close the gap to the top. It’s only race one, so we’ll keep pushing no matter what".
Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari’s Team Principal, is particularly disappointed:
"Of course we are disappointed, how could we not be. We knew we’d have to deal with tyre degradation, but we had not expected reliability problems. It’s a shame for Charles, because in the first stint his pace was good and even with the heavy degradation on the Hard tyre, he could have brought home a third place, that would have been a good way to start the season. Carlos drove a solid race, running at a consistent pace and he gave it his all to finish fourth. After this first race, we have a clear picture of the situation and we know what areas we must work on. We have to improve a lot in terms of tyre management and clearly, we have to ensure we have no more reliability problems like the one that affected us today".
As for Mercedes, both cars made a good start. Russell fought but then lost out to the Aston Martin:
"We are lacking performance and we are a long behind where we want to be. Aston Martin are the surprise package this year and our deficit to Red Bull and those ahead is too big. The positive we can take away is that there is no fundamental problem with the car, other than it is lacking downforce. As silly as it sounds, that is one of the easiest problems to solve compared to what we had to do last year. We are all here to win. If we must sacrifice some races or part of this season to give ourselves a chance to fight in the second half of the season, or even next year, that is what we are going to have to do. We know the Team is good at developing and finding performance, but we are a long way behind where we want to be. We need to find some performance quickly. Bahrain is an outlier circuit, but performance isn't going to swing more than three tenths positively or negatively from track to track".
Lewis Hamilton finished right on Sainz’s tail in the closing stages:
"We did the best we could today. We are the fourth fastest team right now, and the Ferrari and Aston that we were battling were just quicker than us. It was close for a second with Sainz, but I couldn't hang on and he just went away in the final laps. Big congratulations to Fernando and the whole Aston Martin team too. They did a great job today. It was a fun tussle we had for a moment, but he was too quick. We are lacking a lot of downforce, and we've got a lot of work to do to add more to the car. As soon as we put more load on the front and rear, we will be able to pick up our pace. We've just got to keep working; we know we are not where we need to be. I've got to stay positive, keep my head up and keep pushing the Team. I will be a positive light for them and get the best points I can".
Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ Team Principal & CEO, compares their car with the stronger ones, as the Red Bull and Aston Martin:
"That was one of our worst days in racing. It was not good at all; we are lacking pace front, right, and centre. The Aston Martins are very fast, and the Red Bull is just on a different planet. It hurts that they are so far ahead; it reminds me of our best years where we put one second on everyone else. That is the benchmark. We need to put one foot in front of the other to come back but nobody in this team will throw in the towel. We need to dig deep, deeper than we ever have done before. And we can do that".
Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, admits that this was a difficult day for the team. However, he is satisfied with how the team is pulling together and how well the drivers are working together:
"It was a very difficult Sunday; the gap to Red Bull is huge and we've got Aston Martin and Ferrari ahead of us too. Clearly, we have a lot of work ahead and we need to go back and come up with a plan to try and find improvements. We are lacking overall grip and, on a high degradation track like this, there was nothing that the drivers could do to attack. However, it's encouraging to see how the team is pulling together and how well the drivers are working together. This is the second season we've started on the back foot though and we're under no illusion that this is not acceptable for our team. We've got a few days to regroup and improve ahead of Saudi; we will work together to try and make sure the next race is a better one than this weekend".
Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, analyzes the race and the strategies put into place by the teams:
"The race strategies played out largely as expected at the first grand prix of the new season. All the teams stopped at least twice, but we saw a number of different choices for the second and third stints. The key compound today was the new P Zero White hard C1, which we introduced for this year. It worked exactly as anticipated, with performance in line with the data gathered over the last few days as well as during pre-season testing. The P Zero Red soft C3 instead showed less degradation than indicated by the previous data; probably influenced by track evolution as well. Congratulations to Red Bull for choosing a unique alternative strategy that helped them to seal a one-two, as well as to Aston Martin; also on the podium".
Red Bull Racing wonderfully ends the First Grand Prix of the season, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez literally humbling the competition. A wonderful surprise is Aston Martin, with Fernando Alonso taking an important podium, while Scuderia Ferrari comes out of this weekend enormously downsized. However, we are only at the beginning of a World Championship that will hopefully hold many surprises.