Formula 1: Takeaways from Max Verstappen’s season-opening win in Bahrain

Nick Bromberg

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALI HAIDER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Just like last season, there wasn’t anyone close to Max Verstappen on Saturday at Bahrain. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALI HAIDER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The first race of the 2024 Formula 1 season looked a lot like the 2023 season.

Max Verstappen easily won from pole position ahead of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. Carlos Sainz finished a comfortable third ahead of his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.

Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s season opener. We’ll try not to draw any solid conclusions from what we saw.

Red Bull is still comfortably ahead of everyone else

Verstappen made sure Charles Leclerc didn’t get past him on the start of the race and wasn’t challenged the rest of the way.

Verstappen had a lead of over six seconds just eight laps into the race and was able to run a pit strategy that didn’t take anyone else into account. Verstappen ran longer than everyone else on the first stint and still comfortably retained his lead despite the undercut being the preferred pit strategy for the rest of the field.

Red Bull entered the race knowing that they had a tire life and pace advantage and had an extra set of soft tires compared to the rest of the field. As most teams pitted twice for hard tires on each stop after starting the race on softs, Verstappen and Perez ran hard tires during their second stint and soft tires at the end of the race.

That allowed Verstappen to comfortably beat Perez by about 20 seconds.

The fight for second-best looks tantalizing

Ferrari was able to blame second-best status on Saturday despite brake issues for Leclerc throughout the race. Leclerc’s tires wore out quickly after the start and he dealt with a loose car. Sainz ended up passing him twice during the race and finished 13 seconds ahead of his teammate for the final podium position.

Mercedes’ George Russell finished fifth after jumping to second not long after the start. Russell dealt with an engine that was running too hot for Mercedes’ liking and finished two spots ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton was sandwiched by McLaren’s Lando Norris in sixth and Oscar Piastri in eighth. Though the Ferraris — especially Sainz — sprinted away from everyone else at the end, the three teams look extremely close together like they were at the end of the 2023 season. At the very least, the chase for second place in the constructors standings could be intriguing once again.

Alpine has a lot of work to do

The most disappointing team of the race was easily Alpine. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly qualified on the last row and each hardly moved up throughout the race. Ocon finished 17th and Gasly was in 18th.

2023 was a brutal season for Alpine as the team dealt with reliability issues and was way behind the top five teams in the constructors standings. Instead of rebounding into the 2024 season, Alpine looks to have regressed even further. Barring a significant improvement — and there’s plenty of time for that — Alpine could be fortunate to finish sixth again.

Aston Martin looks like the No. 5 team again

As Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren look like the next three teams after Ferrari, Aston Martin maintained its status as fifth-best on Saturday.

Fernando Alonso qualified sixth but didn’t have the race pace to match his qualifying pace. He quickly fell to ninth and finished in that position.

Lance Stroll, meanwhile, had an impressive drive through the field after an incident on the first lap. He rebounded to finish 10th and grab the final point available.

The Aston Martins were the final two cars on the lead lap and had a clear pace advantage over the other five teams. A season ago, Aston Martin started strong as Alonso looked like a challenger to Verstappen before fading as the season went on. If there’s still performance to extract from this season’s car, don’t rule out Aston Martin joining the fight among the three teams ahead of it.