Red Bull could not have made a better start to the new F1 season. Verstappen took the win ahead of Pérez. The story of the race was written by Alonso, who finished third and took the podium. Ferrari have reason to be concerned. Leclerc retired with a technical defect.
At 18:00 local time, the long-awaited first F1 Grand Prix of the season got underway in Bahrain. The pole position was taken by reigning champion Verstappen in qualifying. Behind him were Pérez, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Russell, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon, Hülkenberg, Norris, Bottas, Chou, Cunoda, Albon, Sargeant, Magnussen, Piastri, De Vries and Gasly.
Leclerc and Ferrari had already caught the attention of the field before the start of the race. But not in the way they would have liked. In fact, Monacan's monoposto had undergone a precautionary battery change and new control electronics. The first changes have been made without penalty so far.
Pirelli said before the race that the fastest strategy was a two-stop strategy. It called for riders to start on the soft set, then switch to the hard set (laps 14-20) and then back to the soft set (laps 35-42).
The air temperature before the start was around 28 degrees. However, as the sun set before the start, it was clear that the temperature would drop during the race. The air temperature was 32 degrees.
Almost everyone chose a soft set of tyres for the start. There was only one exception. That was Magnussen. The Dane was on a hard compound. He was expected to have a long first stint.
On the opening lap, Stroll had an interesting moment. The Canadian went off the track in turn 10. It was a question of how much his recent injuries from a bike crash would limit him.
After the start, Verstappen held on to first place. But Pérez was worried. He was sandwiched between the two Ferraris. In the end, Leclerc was second. Pérez was third and Sainz fourth. The start of the race didn't go well for Alonso. The Spaniard dropped back to seventh behind the two Mercedes. He was passed first by Hamilton and then by Russell. Aston Martin had a big scare on the first lap. Stroll crashed into Alonso in turn four and there was contact. But both were unharmed. There was also contact between Ocon and Hulkenberg.
Verstappen extended his lead at the front. By lap five, he was more than three seconds ahead of Leclerc. Pérez was six tenths behind Leclerc. The Monegasque braked in the first corner of the fifth lap. The fastest lap of the race was set by Russell in sixth place.
The Commission of Inquiry has looked into the incident between Alonso and Stroll. They concluded that no penalties would be imposed.
Verstappen continued to pull away from Leclerc. By the eighth lap he was five and a half seconds clear. Russell was chasing Hamilton and went off the track in turn 10. He told his engineer that he was faster than Hamilton.
Russell's mistake allowed Alonso to close the gap to less than a second. Verstappen complained that his rear wheels locked up when he understeered. Gasly was the first to go to the mechanics at the end of lap 9. He put on the hard tyres.
Alonso increased the pressure on Russell. Cunoda and Norris were next to pit. Verstappen was now almost eight seconds ahead of Leclerc. The Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race.
The stewards have opened an investigation into Ocon. The Frenchman was suspected of starting from the wrong side of the grid. The Frenchman was ninth at the time and had the race in the points.
On lap 13, Russell finally succumbed to Alonso. Although he was still in contention on the home straight, the Spaniard had already won the side-by-side battle through turns 4-6. Hamilton was already out of the way and on his way to get new hard tyres.
One lap after Hamilton, Leclerc and Sainz also went for new tyres. They also changed to the hard compound. Piastri reported problems with the gearbox. McLaren tried to change both the steering wheel and the tyres during the pit stop. It took a long time. It was not a good start to his F1 career for the former FIA F3 and Formula 2 champion.
Verstappen and Alonso also pitted for new tyres. The Dutchman put on a softer set and briefly dropped to second behind Perez. Alonso defended his position in front of Russell.
Meanwhile, Piastri's problems could not be solved. The race was over for the Australian. Ocon received a five-second penalty for a bad grid position.
On lap 16, Pérez was the only one on the track without a stop. Verstappen was second, Leclerc third, Sainz fourth and Hamilton fifth. The Alfa Romeo strategists did the honours by moving Bottas up to sixth. Alonso dropped to seventh and Russell to eighth. Stroll and Albon were also in the top ten. The Thai was one of two drivers to continue on the softer compound for the second stage. He was joined by team-mate Sargeant.
It didn't take long for Alonso to overtake Bottas. He passed the Finn on the straight before turn four. One lap later, Russell was attacking the Alfa Romeo driver. He managed to pass Bottas in the same place as Alonso. The Mercedes driver had just set the fastest lap of the race.
Pérez finally pitted. He was back in third place, but had the advantage over Leclerc in second. Like the Williams drivers, he opted to stay on the soft tyres.
McLaren's misery continued. Norris had engine problems and pitted for a second time. Understandably, he dropped back to 19th.
Bottas lost another position at the start of lap 20. He was overtaken by Stroll.
Things were also complicated for Ocon. The Alpine driver dropped back to 18th during the pit stops, where he had to spend an extra five seconds due to a penalty. To make matters worse, the stewards suspected that he had not served his penalty correctly.
Pérez took advantage of the soft tyres. He set lap after lap, pulling away from Leclerc. By lap 23, the gap between them was less than two seconds. Verstappen, on the other hand, had an 11-second lead.
Ocon received a further ten-second penalty for a poorly served penalty. The Frenchman dropped back to 19th place. He was overtaken by Norris.
Pérez was already breathing down Leclerc's neck. And by the first corner of lap 26, he was in second place for good. Although the Monegasque tried to overtake him and hinted at an attack at Turn 4 (despite Pérez having the DRS advantage on the previous straight), his efforts were in vain and the Red Bull driver began to pull away in the following metres. Second place was the best that Pérez could normally hope for. Verstappen was already 14 seconds ahead.
Ocon's troubles were not over. The Alpine driver was investigated for speeding in the pit lane during his second pit stop. He was penalised five seconds. Norris continued to experience engine problems.
Hülkenberg struggled after damaging his front wing in the opening stages. He replaced it at his second pit stop. Once back on track, he managed to set the fastest lap despite having hard tyres.
At the second stop, the top drivers started to come in. Hamilton was the first. The seven-time champion was not happy about this, but Mercedes were worried that Alonso might build up ahead of him and then overtake him.
Sainz and Russell were soon to follow. The Mercedes driver couldn't be satisfied on his return. He rejoined Stroll, but the Canadian took advantage of the warm tyres to pass Russell. Stroll then set the fastest lap of the race.
Leclerc remained in front of Sainz after his second pit stop. Alonso moved up to third. The Spaniard was still going strong, trying to close the gap on Hamilton. The two were running similar times, but Hamilton was slightly quicker.
One lap later, Alonso pitted, as did Pérez. Alonso was unable to overtake Hamilton. Pérez had no problem keeping up with Leclerc, despite some minor wheel set-up problems. He had a nine-second advantage.
Alonso, on new tyres, was pulling away from Hamilton. Verstappen, meanwhile, was the last driver to make a second stop. Of course, he remained first when he came back.
Alonso set the fastest lap in an attempt to catch Hamilton, and then he overtook Hamilton in turn four. He got ahead of him for a short time, but had a skid on the exit, which Hamilton took advantage of to move back up to fifth place. But the battle wasn't over yet.
Alonso's next attempts came on lap 38. First, Alonso signalled an attack in turn one. But he couldn't get more than a hint in fourth. So the order remained the same for a while. But then Alonso surprised Hamilton with an attack on the inside in turn 10. As he was still behind Hamilton before the detection zone, he could have used the DRS system on the straight.
But Alonso couldn't pull away. A lap later, Hamilton was less than a second behind Alonso and tried to hold him off. But the Spaniard still managed to cut into his compatriot Sainz's lead.
It looked like the podium was more or less decided. But on lap 41 there was a bolt from the blue. Leclerc's car lost power coming out of Turn 13 and the race was over for the Monegasque. The virtual pit stop was called.
Albon, Gasly, Cunoda, Sargeant, Magnussen and Hülkenberg decided to take a risk and use a soft set during the virtual slowdown. The rest stayed on the track.
The race was restarted at the end of lap 41. And the battle between Sainz and Alonso suddenly became a battle for third place.
Sensing an opportunity, Alonso pulled Sainz back. Ocon decided to end his misery and retired. Gasly took advantage of the soft tyres to set the fastest lap of the race. The Frenchman finished ninth.
The battle between Sainz and Alonso continued. Ferrari asked Sainz to try and defend his position. But Sainz was worried that if he pushed too hard his tyres wouldn't last until the end. The first attack came in turn four on lap 45, but Sainz held his position. The next opportunity came at turn 10, but Sainz took it. But in turn 11 he was too close to his compatriot and Alonso moved up to third.
Alonso immediately began to pull away from Sainz. Sainz, on the other hand, had to face the onslaught of Hamilton. However, the Mercedes driver later relaxed.
Hülkenberg exceeded the track limits and was given a five-second penalty. But he was 16th, so it didn't matter too much.
Verstappen was no longer threatened at the front and took the win. Pérez underlined Red Bull's successful start to the season with second place. Alonso outpaced Sainz by almost ten seconds to finish on the podium for the first time since the 2021 Qatar GP. Stroll, despite an injury, beat Russell to start the season in sixth place. Albon surprised with a point for tenth place.
HISTORY OF THE CIRCUIT IN IMOLA