Two racers were chasing through the Bahrain night with 20 laps to go and a seven-time world champion on the run from a two-time world champion. They raced across the track, rear to front spoiler, corner by corner, the drivers worked their way wheel to wheel – then the pursuer put himself in front of Lewis Hamilton with a hard braking maneuver in a hairpin bend. What a duel! And that right at the start of this new season in Formula 1. It’s just a bit unfortunate that the two-time world champion wasn’t Max Verstappen, who, for reasons of tension, had been hoped that he would once again duel for the world championship this year Hamilton deliver. But Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin, fighting for fourth place.
“Yes, lets go!” the 41-year-old shouted into his microphone after the sense of achievement against his old rival. And once internally on fire, Alonso kept racing, snatching third-placed Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari eleven turns before the end after a duel around seven corners. And so it happened that Alonso from Oviedo, Spain, actually snagged a podium finish on Sunday in Bahrain for the first time since November 2021 in the former car of Sebastian Vettel, in which he had regularly bitten the steering wheel in frustration for two years. “It’s unbelievable what my team did over the winter,” said Alonso. “Finding the second best car in the first race is surreal!”
Ferrari runs out of juice at the start, Mercedes have doubts about their own vehicle
Nothing more exciting than the start of a new Formula 1 season! At least when the balance of power surprisingly shifts, as in the case of Alonso. It’s a pity, however, if this adjustment is not made in the case of the supposed top teams. From the point of view of Mercedes and Ferrari, the start turned out to be a disaster. If Charles Leclerc triumphed in Bahrain in the red racing car a year ago, this time he rolled out 16 laps before the end, he once again radioed “no power”. The even worse news was from the point of view of the gesture sportive: The red racing cars would have had no chance even without a technical defect given the dominance of Red Bull. “This is exactly the start to the season that we wanted and that we also needed,” Verstappen cheered as he beat his team-mate Sergio Perez raced down the home stretch.
After the disappointing pursuit of times on Saturday, Mercedes already realized that they had to question their entire vehicle concept. “The gap is still there. We haven’t caught up, we haven’t improved. We have to go in a different direction,” said team boss Toto Wolff. On race day, Hamilton was fifth with George Russell seventh.
Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll was happy about the place in between, which made Aston Martin’s fabulous new strength even clearer: The son of team owner Lawrence Stroll had severely injured both wrists in a bicycle accident and also broken a toe. He had to have an operation this week and at least one stabilizing screw had to be inserted. Steering caused him great pain. And yet even Stroll in a Mercedes customer vehicle hung away from one of the two Silver Arrows. “For us: the plague,” complained Wolff.
For the most part, the starting grid for the first race of the year read as if it had been borrowed from the previous year. There were often enough two Red Bulls in front of two Ferraris in 2022. The fact that the two Silver Arrows only followed at some distance felt like déjà vu. Alonso delivered a long-awaited punch line with the fifth best time by the friends of equal opportunities. Many recognized that Canadian billionaire Stroll’s plan to catch up by poaching specialists from the competition seems to be working. Aston Martin brought in aerodynamicists from the world champion team Red Bull, plus some engineers from the second row at Mercedes. And the 41-year-old Alonso brought the necessary experience to get the car, which was not badly put together, going.
Returnee Nico Hülkenberg wants to “let a cow fart”
Nico Hülkenberg immediately dropped the hammer when he returned to Formula 1 after a three-year break. In Mick Schumacher’s former Haas, he immediately qualified for the top ten; his teammate Kevin Magnussen was knocked out in the first qualifying round, losing six tenths to his new teammate in the first knockout round. He wanted to do everything to “let a cow fart” later in the season, announced Hülkenberg on the way to the starting line-up. Then he got into the car and unfortunately the cow fell asleep immediately. He was handed back right after the start and finished 15th. On the first lap, however, he damaged his front wing – his team gave him a new nose much too late. Hulkenberg also received a five-second penalty for exceeding the track limit several times.
The lights went out in the rocky desert of Bahrain and Verstappen sped off from pole position as if he couldn’t wait to collect the third World Cup of his career. Much quicker than teammate Perez, who had to let Leclerc pass before the first corner. Alonso fell victim to garage neighbor Stroll on the first lap, who braked too late and hit the Spaniard on the right rear wheel. Both Silver Arrows used the bump to pass Alonso and Hamilton overtook Russell.
And then Verstappen raced up and away – which promised little good for the expected arc of tension this season. After six laps, the Dutchman had already gained a four-second lead over Leclerc – and the fact that Perez effortlessly stayed in the slipstream of the Monegasque also spoke volumes.
Radio problems have been reported at Aston Martin. There is Hall. On the other hand, if anyone likes hearing their own voice twice, then Fernando Alonso. And lo and behold: he edged closer and closer to the rear of Russell – and after 13 laps he rolled past the Mercedes with superior strength and a great deal of skill, thus writing the first part of the decisive story of the day.
The Frenchman Esteban Ocon secured the Oscar in the best comedy category: because he positioned himself incorrectly at the start, he initially received a five-second penalty. After he didn’t finish it in the pits, he received a ten-second penalty. And because he stupidly raced even faster than allowed in the speed-controlled lane, he received an additional five-second ticket. The continuation of a season in which Verstappen had already won 15 of 22 races was not a laughing matter for the competitors.
Especially since Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko allowed himself a tip in the direction of the Silver Arrows lying on the ground: “We expected that you would start here with a competitive car. Whatever your plan B, we will be surprised.”