Verstappen cruises to victory in Bahrain

Reigning champion sees the chequered flag 22 seconds ahead of second-placed Sergio Perez

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 and the rest of the field into the first corner at the start of the race during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202403020328 // Usage for editorial use only //

It was a comfortable start to Max Verstappen’s title defence, as he secured victory by more than 22 seconds at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The pole sitter never came under pressure at the front of the field as he cruised to the win ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz completed the top three.

There was early contact between Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll, forcing the Haas driver to pit early with a damaged front wing, while Stroll had to recover from a spin.

While Verstappen pulled away at the front of the field, there was a fierce contest for second in the early laps, with George Russell making his way past Charles Leclerc, with Perez closing in behind.

Leclerc continued to slip backwards as Perez climbed up to third, before Carlos Sainz moved ahead of his teammate.

There was concern for Williams when Logan Sargeant locked up and ran wide, initially grinding to a halt, but the American managed to get his car going again, although he immediately came into the pits for new tyres.

Russell and Leclerc were the first of the frontrunners to come into the pits, with Perez, Oscar Piastri and Lewis Hamilton following one lap later.

Perez appeared to bring his hard tyres up to temperature more quickly than Russell, with the Mexican moving ahead of the Mercedes driver, but Sainz’s decision to stay out longer than his teammate didn’t pay off, as he rejoined from the pits behind Leclerc.

As Leclerc complained about his car pulling to the right under braking, Sainz was able to regain the advantage over his teammate, and moved ahead of Russell shortly after.

As drivers started to come in for their second pitstops, Sainz started to close the gap to Perez, but Perez switched to the soft tyre compound, giving him the edge at the start of the stint.

Russell slipped further back as Leclerc closed in on the Mercedes before Russell ran wide, allowing the Ferrari to move back up to fourth.

After his early struggles, Stroll recovered well, picking his way through the field to find himself running in the points positions in the closing laps of the race.

Further back, the VCARB drivers switched positions in the final few laps as Daniel Ricciardo tried to overtake Kevin Magussen for 12th, but he couldn’t find a way past.

All 20 cars were running at the end of the race, marking the first time there have been no retirements in Bahrain.

Provisional classification:

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)

3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

5. George Russell (Mercedes)

6. Lando Norris (McLaren)

7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

8. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)

9. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)

10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

11. Guanyu Zhou (Sauber)

12. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

13. Daniel Ricciardo (VCARB)

14. Yuki Tsunoda (VCARB)

15. Alex Albon (Williams)

16. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)

17. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

18. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

19. Valtteri Bottas (Sauber)

20. Logan Sargeant (Williams)

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