Verstappen Leads Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain
March 2, 2024

Verstappen led teammate Sergio Perez over the line to see Red Bull begin their season with a 1-2 finish. The timing couldn't be better, with the team facing unwelcome media attention in the wake of an investigation over Team Principal Christian Horner's behaviour. The spotlight didn't distract the reigning Constructors' champions, though, and the Milton Keynes team will feel confident for the remaining 23 races in F1's longest-ever season.

While Verstappen led from pole to flag, Perez had to advance from a P5 starting position and soak up pressure from the chasing Carlos Sainz through the race duration. The Mexican began that charge with the best start of all the front-running cars and took P4 in the opening corners as the field showed little sign they had had nearly three months without racing. The only exception was a small tangle between Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll at Turn 1, with Hulkenberg taking the unwanted accolade of 2024's first front-wing change.

Verstappen Leads Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain

George Russell seemed the quickest of the chasing pack, and the Brit surged past Ferrari's Charles Leclerc on the outside of Turn 4 early on to take P2. Even though the race was just beginning, Verstappen's advantage was so great that Russell's Mercedes was already over a second adrift of the Red Bull ahead, so he couldn't use DRS to close in. The 26-year-old racer instead had to drive on his mirrors as Leclerc, Perez, and Sainz kept on his tail as the contemporary 'big three' teams asserted their speed once again.

Lewis Hamilton will join Ferrari in 2025 at the expense of Sainz, and the Spaniard looked to show the F1 world how much value he has to offer with a determined Bahrain driver. A radio message to his engineer to inform them that he had more speed preceded his Ferrari teammate Leclerc making an error at the Turn 10 hairpin, locking his front left wheel. Perez needed no excuse to pounce, and the Mexican made it to third by Turn 11 to let the fired-up Sainz get close to Leclerc's rear wing. A lunge up the inside of Turn 1 a few laps later was a heart-in-mouth moment for any watching Tifosi, but the two men from Maranello kept it clean, and Sainz through to P4.

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Verstappen Leads Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain

2024's first pit window had Russell and Leclerc swap from their soft Pirelli tyres onto the hard compound, and the two benefitted from the additional performance of the undercut. With Sainz pitting some laps later, the Spaniard had to repeat his overtake on the sister Scuderia, and he again made a daring Turn 1 move to get by. Leclerc's earlier Turn 10 lock-up had become a repeat problem for the Monegasque, and he couldn't keep up with the pace of Sainz, who eventually finished some 14 seconds ahead.

Elsewhere, Perez had passed Russell for P2 at Turn 4, with the fresh Pirelli rubber on the Mercedes not delivering the necessary grip to turn in and defend. The pain was only beginning for Russell, who initially might've hoped he could grab a podium finish. However, the charging Sainz was next to pass at Turn 4, and mechanical problems forcing the Mercedes to lift and coast ended any hopes of a fightback. Even the troubled Leclerc could close in and pass Russell in the closing laps after the Mercedes went wide at Turn 10. The Brit eventually crossed the line in P5 ahead of compatriots Lando Norris and Hamilton.

The day belonged to Verstappen, though, and his victory saw him have a pit stop in hand over Perez in second place, plus the bonus Fastest Lap point to start his season in style. Sainz rounded out the podium, keeping close to the Red Bull ahead but unable to challenge, with Leclerc will be thankful to take P4 after his front-row qualification. Whether or not this was 2023 Part Two or a false dawn on the upcoming F1 season will be clearer in a week as the racing returns at the Saudi Arabian GP on Saturday.

Verstappen Leads Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain
Verstappen Leads Red Bull 1-2 in Bahrain