Alonso, Verstappen jubilant; Hamilton brutally honest; Leclerc, Ocon disappointed: How drivers reacted to the 2023 Bahrain GP

Verstappen took the lead from the go, switching his starting set of soft tyres for another set on Lap 14 before switching to hards on Lap 36.

Max Verstappen after winning the 2023 Bahrain GP. (Image: Twitter)
By Nilavro Ghosh | Mar 6, 2023 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

On Sunday, Max Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at the ninth attempt while Sergio Perez helped Red Bull to a one-two finish. The reigning champion was obviously overjoyed with his successful season opener. Verstappen won the Bahrain Grand Prix by 11 seconds over teammate Perez. Verstappen took the lead from the go, switching his starting set of soft tyres for another set on Lap 14 before switching to hards on Lap 36. The two-time champion, who is vying for a third championship, never appeared to be challenged for the lead and has now added 25 points to his total.

“This is exactly what we were dreaming of and what we wanted to achieve, so yeah, great day for the whole team,” said Verstappen. “It has been a great start for us, for the whole team, so this is not something we are used to. We are very happy at the moment, but we always keep working. I think for me, the first stint was the most important, where I could pull a gap. Once we had the gap it was just about making sure we could do our stint plan. And that worked out well.”

Fernando Alonso ecstatic

Following the team’s successful conversion of the hype surrounding their testing and practise performances at the Bahrain International Circuit, Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin finished the 2023 season opener on the podium in spectacular fashion. Alonso qualified fifth fastest, trailing only the Red Bull and Ferrari cars, but he used his characteristically tenacious racing style and the retirement of Charles Leclerc to move up to third place during the race on Sunday night.

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“It’s a perfect start for this project. We didn’t expect to be that competitive. I think the aim in 2023 was to get in the mix with the midfield, maybe leading that midfield and get close to the top three teams eventually,” he said after the race. “Even a podium maybe was not on the radar in 2023, and we found ourselves with the second best car today in Bahrain, of the whole weekend, just behind Red Bull. This is a little bit of a surprise, but we are extremely proud, happy with the job done at Silverstone in the factory.”

Mercedes fourth fastest team: Hamilton

After a solitary run to fifth place in the Bahrain Grand Prix, which served as the season’s opening race, Lewis Hamilton was left with no doubt that Mercedes had distanced themselves even further from the front of the F1 field in 2023. After a tumultuous 2022 campaign, Mercedes stuck to their guns and persisted with a distinctive “zero sidepod” design, but over the course of the Sakhir weekend, they fell behind Red Bull, Ferrari, and Aston Martin. In fact, the Mercedes-powered cars were over a second off the pace in qualifying, and Hamilton’s lead W14 crossed the finish line more than 50 seconds after race winner and reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

“I genuinely loved the racing. I had a great start, got Fernando in Turn 4 and I was like, ‘Oh jeez, this is a great start to the race’. It felt like one of my better opening laps,” the seven-time world champion said. “Then I just was sliding around. I had so much understeer at the beginning, I took so much wing out, I couldn’t get around some of the corners, and I just couldn’t keep up with the guys ahead. My middle stint was good and then at the end I was so close to catching Carlos [Sainz for fourth position], but [it was] not good enough. We’re the fourth fastest team now, as opposed to the third last year. We’re going backwards, [so] we really have a lot of work to do to close that gap.”

A dejected Leclerc calls for improvement

In the immediate aftermath of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc presented a deflated image as his 2023 season got off to a rough start with his retirement and lack of a point at Ferrari. Leclerc’s race got off to a good start when he moved up from third to second by effectively utilising the fresh soft tyres he had saved from qualifying, between Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

Read More – Bahrain GP 2023: From Red Bull’s 1-2 to Fernando Alonso’s podium, everything that happened at the first race of 2023

“We definitely had the car to fight for the podium. I mean, honestly, the podium was there. We had a good gap behind, I was managing the pace, everything felt good, so it is a shame. Now I just hope we can look into it, understand what went wrong and don’t have this problem anymore.”

Everything went wrong: Ocon

Esteban Ocon’s Bahrain Grand Prix was one to forget after the French driver was not only forced to leave the race early but also received three separate penalties on Sunday night for various infractions. From ninth on the starting grid, Ocon struggled through the first few turns of the race, losing positions to Valtteri Bottas and Lando Norris. He eventually fell to 11th before being struck in the back by Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas at Turn 4. After Ocon entered the pit lane and was forced to retire on Lap 43, his race came to an end. The winner of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix expressed his dissatisfaction with his performance in a post-race interview.

“Quite impressive how it was not our day today,” said a frustrated Ocon. “We are usually quite good on these operational things. Pit stopping, stopping at the right places, and these are things that we put a lot of effort on, so everything went wrong today for sure. It has never gone like that in the past ever, so I’m a bit surprised to see that this happened. But we will analyse and come back stronger from it.”