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Max Verstappen kicks off F1 title defence with easy Bahrain GP win

Max Verstappen dominated the opening race of the 2023 Formula One season in Bahrain as Fernando Alonso rolled back the years to secure a remarkable podium finish on his Aston Martin debut.

Verstappen looked invincible over the course of the 57-lap grand prix and cruised serenely to his 36th career victory, 11.9 seconds clear of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez in second place.

Although the one-two finish never looked in doubt for the reigning world champion, Alonso generated excitement in the second half of the race as he moved from sixth to third with a series of measured overtakes.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who briefly ran in second place after passing Perez at the first corner, had looked locked on for the final podium spot until a suspected engine failure forced him to retire on Lap 40.

One lap earlier, Alonso had set up a stellar move to overtake Lewis Hamilton at Turn 10, which meant he suddenly found himself in the hunt for a podium with the sole remaining Ferrari of Carlos Sainz just a few seconds ahead.

Sainz appeared to be struggling with tyre degradation in the second half of the race and lost third place to Alonso at Turn 11 on lap 45 with another impressive pass by the Aston Martin driver.

While the race saw a continuation of two familiar themes from last year in Red Bull’s domination and Ferrari’s unreliability, the arrival of Aston Martin as a podium contender is new for 2023.

Alonso joined the team from Alpine over the winter, a move that was criticized when he signed the deal last summer as Aston Martin was sat seventh in the constructors’ championship, but one that now looks fully justified.

In contrast, Ferrari and Mercedes appear to have made steps backward, with Sainz 9.4s shy of Alonso at the flag after holding off Hamilton for fourth place in the closing stages.

Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll concluded sixth just one week after surgery on a fractured wrist and a broken toe. On the opening lap, Stroll risked the wrath of his new teammate when he clipped Alonso as the two-time champion defended position from Hamilton, but Alonso’s fightback meant all was forgiven by the chequered flag.

George Russell took seventh for Mercedes ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, the Alpine of Pierre Gasly in ninth and the Williams of Alex Albon in tenth.

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