F1 champion Max Verstappen wins season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix amid Red Bull turmoil

Verstappen started on pole position and was never seriously challenged in a commanding one-two win for Red Bull ahead of his teammate Sergio Pérez

Max Verstappen lifts the trophy after winning the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, 02 March 2024.
Max Verstappen lifts the trophy after winning the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, 02 March 2024.ALI HAIDER (EFE)

The ongoing drama around Red Bull had no effect on its three-time reigning world champion as Max Verstappen routed the field by 22 seconds in the season-opening Formula 1 race on Saturday.

Verstappen started the Bahrain Grand Prix on pole position and was never seriously challenged on his way to a commanding one-two win for Red Bull with teammate Sergio Pérez. Embattled team principal Christian Horner was joined before the race and during the podium celebration by his former pop star wife, Geri Halliwell.

“Today went even better than expected,” Verstappen said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. was third for Ferrari after fighting hard with teammate Charles Leclerc.

At the start of the longest ever F1 season at 24 races, Verstappen already shows signs of repeating his near-perfect record from 2023, when the Dutch driver won 19 of 22 races.

Bahrain was the eighth win in a row for Verstappen going back to last September. He set an F1 record of 10 consecutive wins last season.

The F1 paddock’s focus has firmly been on Horner, with Verstappen saying on Saturday his boss was “probably a little bit distracted.”

“Obviously, it’s not been pleasant, some of the unwanted attention, but the focus is now very much on the cars,” Horner said. “My focus has very much been on what’s going on on track and the result today, I think, demonstrates where the whole team’s focus is and we move onwards.”

Horner arrived on race day hand in hand with Halliwell, also known as Ginger Spice of the pop group the Spice Girls, and they celebrated together as Verstappen received his trophy. The race came after FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said the turmoil around Horner was “damaging the sport,” in comments to the Financial Times.

On Wednesday, the team’s parent company dismissed a complaint of alleged misconduct by Horner toward a team employee. A day later during practice in Bahrain, a file alleged to contain evidence against Horner was emailed to nearly 200 people in the F1 paddock, including Liberty Media, F1, the FIA, the other nine team principals, and multiple media outlets.

The authenticity of the files has not been verified by The Associated Press; the file came from a generic email account.

In another sign that Red Bull is significantly faster than any other team, Pérez climbed from fifth on the grid to second and faced little challenge after that.

Sainz’s third place was his first podium finish since the United States GP in October as a challenge from George Russell’s Mercedes faded.

After qualifying second, Leclerc talked of Ferrari making a “step forward” compared to its dismal 2023. But the Italian team couldn’t get close to Red Bull on race day.

Leclerc’s challenge to Verstappen ended when the Dutch driver held the inside line at the first corner. After that, Leclerc was overtaken by Russell, Perez and his Ferrari teammate Sainz in quick succession.

Sainz, in particular, fought closely with his teammate — and then did it again after Leclerc briefly got back ahead at the pit stop. It was Sainz’s first race since it was announced he would lose his Ferrari seat to Lewis Hamilton for 2025.

Leclerc’s day went from bad to worse as he complained to Ferrari that the car was pulling sharply to the right under braking in a “dangerous” way that left him unable to defend his position. However, he later recovered to overtake Russell and finish fourth.

Russell was fifth, Lando Norris sixth for McLaren, and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton seventh after an uneventful race in the second Mercedes. Oscar Piastri of McLaren was eighth, ahead of the two Aston Martins of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

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