Bahrain Grand Prix: Verstappen’s title defence off to perfect start as Ferrari rivalry gets spicy

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen parks in front of the No1 board

Max Verstappen and the very familiar No1 board.

A new F1 season but it was the same old Max Verstappen as the Dutchman raced from lights to flag in Bahrain, taking the opening win of the season ahead of Sergio Perez.

Behind them, there was a fair amount of intrigue as Carlos Sainz went wheel-to-wheel with Charles Leclerc, twice, as Ferrari battled Mercedes and McLaren. It was Sainz who joined the Red Bull team-mates on the podium.

New season, same ol’ Max Verstappen

Lights out and away we go on the 2024 F1 season… Max Verstappen made a good start, Charles Leclerc tried to challenge into Turn 1 but had to back out with the Ferrari driver under threat from George Russell who had Sergio Perez all over his rear wing, the Mexican driver having overtaken Carlos Sainz.

Lance Stroll went spinning as he was hit by Nico Hulkenberg, who reported front wing damage and had to pit, with Valtteri Bottas tagging the Haas behind.

With DRS available at the end of lap 1, the drivers weren’t given any freedom to scamper out of range and Leclerc felt that as he lost out to Russell while Lando Norris took Fernando Alonso, with Oscar Piastri then passing the Aston Martin.

As Verstappen pulled clear behind him Russell, Leclerc, Perez, and Sainz all ran within DRS range of one another. Further back, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen, Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant, and Daniel Ricciardo also played the DRS game ahead of the Alpines.

Ten laps in ane Alonso lost eighth to Lewis Hamilton, with the yellow flags waved shortly after as Sargeant went straight on at Turn 4 with a growl from the American. He was able to get his Williams going and continued but down in 20th place. He pitted for a new steering wheel.

A lap later any thought Sainz would sit back for the preferred Ferrari driver in Leclerc was put to rest as the Monégasque driver, having lost third to Perez, was overtaken by his team-mate. Wheel-to-wheel and oh-so-very-close for the Ferrari pit wall, the Spaniard bullied his way through into fourth.

Ferrari pitted Leclerc with Russell in a lap later, followed by Perez, Piastri and Hamilton. Norris and Sainz were the next in as the drivers swapped to the hard tyres. The white-walled Pirellis worked well on the Red Bull, Perez using the switchback to take a position off Russell. Sainz came out behind Leclerc. Albon and Alonso pitted leaving Verstappen as the only driver yet to stop. recommends

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Lap 17 saw another Ferrari fight but this time Leclerc held firm and kept his team-mate at bay. Corners later, Sainz tried again and made it stick with Leclerc reporting “dangerous” braking issues with his car pulling to the right. And Verstappen pitted, in from P1 and out in P1.

Sainz then swooped past Russell to run third behind the Red Bull with reports the Mercedes drivers were having engine issues. Russell was told not to press the overtake button, for Hamilton it was the battery. Hamilton’s woes continued: “My seat is broken”. Bono: “OK, copy.”

A lull before the second round of pit stops saw just two notable points in a long 52-second stop for Bottas, who had a front left nut problem and an overtake on Zhou by Lance Stroll.

And then the pit stops began with Russell using his fresher tyres to pass Alonso, Hamilton getting the jump on Piastri as the Aussie pitted a lap later. Leclerc and Norris also overtook Alonso, the only driver inside the top ten yet to stop after the Red Bulls came in. Another P1 in, and P1 out for Verstappen with not another car in sight.

Alonso finally pitted on lap 42, putting a set of shining new hard Pirellis on his Aston Martin. That dropped him outside the points into 11th place, make that P10 as he overtook Zhou.

Closer to the front, Leclerc closed the gap on Russell in the fight for fourth, that heating up as he closed the gap to sit on the W15’s rear wing. An off-track at Turn 10 for Russell gave Leclerc the advantage into Turn 11, the move made.

RB ordered a driver swap between Yuki Tsunoda and Ricciardo. Tsunoda’s response: “Are you kidding?” He gave Ricciardo P13 a lap later but let the team know he wasn’t happy.

Verstappen cruised to the victory 22.5s ahead of the chasing pack – up on last year’s 12 seconds – as he scored a perfect 26 with the fastest lap point. Perez and Sainz joined him on the season-opening podium.

Leclerc was fourth ahead of Russell and Norris with Hamilton, Piastri, Alonso and Stroll completing the points.

Bahrain Grand Prix 2024 result

1 Max VERSTAPPEN 1:31:44.742 57 laps
2 Sergio PEREZ +22.457
3 Carlos SAINZ +25.110
4 Charles LECLERC +39.669
5 George RUSSELL +46.788
6 Lando NORRIS +48.458
7 Lewis HAMILTON +50.324
8 Oscar PIASTRI +56.082
9 Fernando ALONSO +74.887
10 Lance STROLL +92.900
11 Guanyu ZHOU +1 lap
12 Kevin MAGNUSSEN +1 lap
13 Daniel RICCIARDO +1 lap
14 Yuki TSUNODA +1 lap
15 Alexander ALBON +1 lap
16 Nico HULKENBERG +1 lap
17 Esteban OCON +1 lap
18 Pierre GASLY +1 lap
19 Valtteri BOTTAS +1 lap
20 Logan SARGEANT +2 laps

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