The 2023 Formula 1 season kicked off to an amazing start in Bahrain, a small island kingdom nestled in the Persian Gulf.
After preseason testing concluded last week, all signs pointed to Red Bull being in a class of its own, followed by Ferrari, Mercedes, and an ascendant Aston Martin.
Aston Martin finished seventh in the Constructors’ Championship last year, but has been on an aggression quest to top the midfield and challenge for podium finishes since the team was acquired by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll in 2018.
Today’s race confirmed what was hinted at during testing: Aston Martin has arrived.
After a vigorous qualifying session on Saturday saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez lockout the front row of Sunday’s race with a 1-2 finish, respectively, the real race looked to be for who would secure the third-place podium finish.
While the second row of the starting grid was locked out by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Red Bull senior adviser Helmut Marko acknowledged to the press that the real race would be between his team and Aston Martin’s newest driver, 41-year-old Fernando Alonso.
The issue for Marko: tire degradation.
Based on a review of data from testing and the practice sessions this weekend, Ferrari looked to have a significant problem with tire wear over longer stretches. So, while Ferrari may qualify better—having a one-lap top speed advantage—the Aston Martin was the real race-day threat.
Mercedes, for their part, had mixed results during testing but impressed throughout most of qualifying and looked to be closer to Red Bull and Aston Martin in terms of tire degradation. With that in mind, the most dominant team of the last decade held out high hopes for a great Grand Prix Sunday.
When the lights went out in Bahrain, Leclerc quickly advanced into second after a sluggish start by Perez, and both Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were able to pass Alonso after his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll made contact with his car early.
From there, the race was on. Red Bull went counter to the strategy of the rest of the field, opting for soft tires during the first pit stop while the rest of the field put on the hardest compound tire available.
Bahrain’s track is the far-and-away most abrasive surface on the 2023 calendar, so the decision was questionable, but the results were not: Verstappen pulled away from the field and Perez quickly reeled in and passed Leclerc, never looking back.
Mercedes called in Hamilton ahead of Alonso to protect him from being potentially undercut by Alonso—a strategy in which a trailing car pits for new tires ahead of the car in front and is able to get the new tires up to temperature, and speed, to mount an attack.
Alonso and Aston Martin, however, pushed hard and long and effectively pulled off the overcut, pitting later than the car in front and mounting an attack on fresher tires.
Alonso and Hamilton, former teammates and bitter rivals over the years, battled beautifully, but ultimately Alonso took the place and began an assault on the Ferraris ahead.
Soon after, Leclerc’s Ferrari came to a grinding halt on the track, bringing back unwanted feelings from the storied franchise’s cursed 2022 season. With Leclerc now out, his teammate Sainz was promoted to third, with Alonso fast on his heels.
The two Spaniards battled briefly, but in the end, the Aston Martin was simply too quick.
“Bye, bye,” Alonso said as he passed Sainz, securing third and the final spot on the podium.
The final standings featured a Red Bull 1-2, with Verstappen taking his first win in ten attempts at Bahrain. Alonso, who won Driver of the Day honors, called the race “a perfect start” to his new stint at Aston Martin.
Mercedes’ Team Principal, Toto Wolff, summed up the opening action, stating, “There was not a single positive thing we can take from this race. We‘re lacking pace. The drivers have to push and that‘s hurting the tyres. Red Bull is on another planet. Aston Martin has the 2nd quickest car. It was a real wake-up call for us.”
Formula 1 travels to Saudi Arabian for the next race on Sunday, March 19.
This Formula 1 column is brought to you by Elliott Griffin, principal of Griffin Communications. To read his previous coverage on all things F1, click here.
Poor lewis hamilton. He gets to find out what it’s like to be outclassed by a driver that’s “beneath” him.
Difficult to win without the best epuipment money and cheating can buy, isn’t it?
It was good to see seven different teams with drivers finishing in the Top Ten, including even Williams!