Red Bull had a perfect start to the 2023 season with Verstappen leading a dominant 1-2 in Bahrain, with Alonso rounding out the podium on his first race for Aston Martin.
Everyone but Magnussen had elected to start on the soft C3 tyres, though of the front runners only Leclerc had fresh softs. This proved to be crucial at the start as he managed to jump Perez into turn 1 for second place.
The first lap also saw contact being made between the Aston Martin teammates as Lance Stroll went into turn 4 too quickly and slightly clipped Alonso. No damage was done but both drivers lost a couple of positions after the incident. Hulkenberg also had contact on the first lap with Esteban Ocon, and a bit of his front wing would fall off half way through the opening lap.
By the end of lap 2 Verstappen had already extended his lead over Leclerc by two seconds. This gap would continue to grow as it became clear Ferrari just didn’t have the race pace of the Red Bull.
By the end of lap 9 Gasly had the first pitstop of the season, triggering the drivers around him to come in and protect themselves against an undercut.
Verstappen’s race did have a little jeopardy when he informed his team that downshifting caused a little bit of locking on the rear tyres, but this never became a major issue.
After falling back early on the Aston Martin pair looked to regain some ground. Stroll had already overtaken Bottas on lap 5 and by lap 11 Alonso was pressuring Russell for 6th, whilst the Mercedes driver was complaining that his soft tyres no longer had any grip. This culminated in Alonso making the move on lap 13, as the two drivers were side by side on the exit of turn four, with Alonso just winning out.
Lap 13 also saw the first retirement of the season in Oscar Piastri as his power unit failed with what the team suspects to be an electrical issue. McLaren experienced technical issues all race, with Norris pitting six times, needing to keep topping up his car’s pneumatic air pressure.
The next lap saw the start of Ocon’s torrid luck for the day. He received a 5 second penalty for being in the wrong position on the grid at the start. Later on he would receive a 10 second penalty for not having served the original penalty correctly. After that, he would speed into the pitlane to serve the 10 second penalty, getting another 5 second penalty. He would later retire on lap 44.
Perez was looking much quicker than Leclerc after their first pitstops. Because Red Bull only had one set of hard tyres, it forced them into using two sets of softs. This gave Perez the pace over the hard-running Leclerc to retake second position on lap 26.
Alonso started chasing down Hamilton as the second round of pitstops began. Hamilton had managed his tyres well, and whilst he felt his tyres were still good, he was told to box at the end of lap 30 in order to protect an undercut from Alonso. However it was the other Aston Martin who would follow Hamilton into the pitlane, as Lance Stroll looked to undercut Russell.
The undercut did work for the Canadian as when Russell came out of the pits on the following lap, Stroll was able to use his warmed up tyres to get a better run into turn 4 and take seventh place.
Alonso would then pit at the end of lap 35, having tyres that were four laps younger, and was only 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton at the end of his out lap. Alonso initially tries a move on lap 37, but a snap of oversteer on the exit of turn 4 meant Hamilton kept the position. However on the next lap Alonso made a sensational move going down the inside of Hamilton at turn 10, an uncommon overtaking spot.
With Alonso’s sights now set on fellow Spaniard Sainz, a fight for fourth quickly became a fight for the podium on lap 41 following the retirement of Charles Leclerc with a power unit problem. Stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car as a result to safely collect the car.
When action resumed Alonso’s pace proved to be too much for Sainz. Though he didn’t succeed on the first attempt, Alonso eventually passed the remaining Ferrari on lap 46 and never looked back. In the following laps Hamilton was putting pressure to take fourth off of Sainz, but ultimately came up short.
Further back, Gasly was quietly gaining places throughout the race, resulting in a 9th place finish on his Alpine debut, having started last. He overtook Alex Albon for 9th, who remained in the top 10 following the first round of pitstops.
The race was Verstappen’s 35th win in Formula 1, and Alonso’s 99th career podium. The next race is in Saudi Arabia on the 19th March.