The oldest driver on the grid looked like he was in his prime.
The 2023 F1 season opener has finally come and gone, giving us an indication of what to look forward to for the year ahead: Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominance up front while Fernando Alonso and his Aston Martin school the rest of the field in how to overtake.
The Flying Dutchman won the first Grand Prix of the season in typical Max Verstappen style. He opened a two-second gap between himself and Charles Leclerc during the first two laps, and that's basically the last time we saw him until the end of the race. His teammate, Sergio Perez, finished in second place, 12 seconds behind.
But the real winner was Fernando Alonso. We admit being perplexed by Alonso's decision to leave a solid midfield contender (Alpine) for a team that couldn't even get into the triple-digit points last season, but now it makes sense. One has to wonder how much the Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes team revealed to 'Nando to get him to sign on the dotted line. This is excellent news for the British manufacturer. If they continue performing like this, the DBX707 orders will flood in.
The progress made by Aston Martin is astonishing, only properly revealed once you crunch the numbers.
Fernando Alonso not only finished third, but the self-proclaimed antihero gave the viewers some of the most spectacular racing action we've seen in years, putting on a masterclass on how to apply pressure and overtake in the most unlikely places, and how to manage tire degradation while setting blindingly quick lap times. Lance Stroll finished in sixth place, also scoring points for the team, placing Aston Martin second in the Constructors' Championship with 23 points.
While the season is only just beginning, it's worth mentioning that in one race, Aston Martin scored 42% of the total points it scored in 2022. And it built a better racing car than Mercedes-AMG, with which it has a technical partnership. Mercedes has eight Constructors' titles behind its name. How did this even happen?
So Alonso and Aston Martin's performances are the main talking points of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but a few other things happened.
Here are the rest of the main talking points from the first Grand Prix of the F1 season.
This year, three rookies are making a full-season debut, while Nico Hulkenberg returns to F1 to join Haas after Mick Schumacher's contract expired and was not renewed. The time off may have been too long, as Hulkenberg failed to outperform all the rookies apart from the one that retired from the race. However, he also suffered with front wing damage early on in the race, which hampered his progress.
One of the biggest surprises was overlooked, as the American did the best out of the lot. Logan Sargeant made a quiet debut with Williams and finished in 12th. While he walked away without points, he can hold his head high, knowing he outperformed a few veterans and all his fellow rookies.
Following the high-profile battle between McLaren and Alpine for Oscar Piastri's ownership, the young Australian did not finish after his car gave in after 14 laps. Can Piastri be blamed, now that we know McLaren built a tractor instead of a racing car? If Lando Norris finished stone dead last, you know there's a severe problem.
Nyck de Vries finished 14th, which is not what we were expecting. On his first F1 outing, he took a Williams into the points, so we were hoping the same would happen in a superior Alpha Tauri car. Instead, teammate Yuki Tsunoda outperformed him substantially.
We're going to give all of them a pass for now. It's extremely rare for a rookie to make a spectacular debut. Max Verstappen's Torro Rosso broke down during his debut. Sir Lewis Hamilton scored on his debut, however. It's an exclusive club.
So far, three teams stand out. Red Bull, Aston Martin, and Mercedes. The latter still has a long way to go, but at least the car is reliable again. Hamilton and Russell lack the pace of the current frontrunners, but a significant upgrade package is looming. Toto Wolff called the Bahrain Grand Prix one of the worst ever and said that a radical upgrade is in the works. It can't come soon enough, as the Mercs are struggling to keep up with three teams.
Ferrari continued the tradition of being its own worst enemy. Charles Leclerc's car died on lap 41 due to electronics issues, while Carlos Sainz struggled to keep Alonso's car off his tail due to severe tire degradation. We know from qualifying that the Ferraris are fast, but drastic action is needed to maintain that momentum for an entire race.
Ferrari's struggles are typical by now, but what's going on with McLaren? Piastri's retirement was bad enough, but Lando Norris as the last of the finishers was a surprise to us all. He clearly wasn't lacking pace, as late on he was able to keep up with Hamilton, despite being a lap down. But he finished last because he had to pit six times to refill compressed air for his car's pneumatic system. One would think McLaren would retire him to save the engine and other components, but as a team that struggled in pre-season testing, it needed all the race data it could accrue.
The knock-on effects could be devastating. Norris has a multi-year contract with McLaren, but a contract goes both ways. If a team doesn't deliver a decent car, Norris is likely within his rights to walk away and join someone else. With Sergio Perez's contract with Red Bull expiring at the end of 2023, McLaren will have to do some magic to keep Christian Horner from luring its star driver away.
Several outstanding performances were lost in the Red Bull and Aston Martin hubbub. Yuki Tsunoda pulled some epic overtakes but finished just outside the points 11th. Alex Albon went from 15th to 10th, netting Williams its first points in the first race - a massive improvement over previous years.
Valtteri Bottas and his glorious mullet qualified 12th, and he drove his Alfa Romeo to eighth place, just behind George Russell's Mercedes.
But the most impressive of the lot was Pierre Gasly, who started from the back of the grid after getting his time deleted in qualifying. Gasly was under immense pressure, making his debut at Alpine. Since Esteban Ocon received all of the penalties, the team needed Gasly to score some points to get them on the board. Thankfully, Gasly performed brilliantly under pressure, driving his Alpine to ninth place.
The season's second race is in Saudi Arabia two weeks from now.
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