While Red Bull look nailed on favourites to win both Formula One titles this season, as with the era of Mercedes dominance there’s still plenty of interest to be found for the die hard Formula One fan.
Of course Sergio Perez is not the Nico Rosberg challenger that Hamilton had for 3 seasons and his capitulation for second place after the first corner in Bahrain was sad to see.
Perez doomed to P2 at start
In the moment Charles LeClerk jumped the Mexican at the start of the race, Checo knew any hope of challenging Verstappen was over. So he simply bided his time until as predicted the Ferrari ahead of him would run out of rubber and cruised by back into P2.
Were it not for Fernando Alonso and team mate Lance Stroll coming together on the first lap Ferrari and Mercedes days would have been even worse.
Having lost places on the opening lap the Aston Martin duo set about rebuilding their races. Alonso had a tasty battle with Hamilton for a lap or so before the quick thinking Spaniard fooled the 7 times world champion and duked him into turn 11, delivering a rare pass on this section of the Sakhir track.
Aston Martin’s easily picked off Mercs
Stroll picked off Russell and ran out of time to put the other Mercedes behind him.
Meanwhile as had happened with Mercedes, Ferrari’s tyres began to fade and Alonso in a more classic Bahrain overtake passed Carlos Sainz for what would be P3 and a podium as LeClerk’s Ferrari failed him once again.
Toto Wolff described the Bahrain GP as “one of the worst days in racing” for his Mercedes team.
Wolff amazingly defeatist
Even more astonishing was the claim from the Brackley boss that there “was not a single positive thing we can take from this race”.
“We have given this concept a year’s chance. It is not working,” said Wolff. “
We have not come any closer. The gap to Red Bull has doubled or even tripled.
“We will tackle this immediately after returning to the factory.”
No B-Spec car for 2023
While Toto has maintained throughout the woes of the W13 and now its successor that they operate a ‘no blame culture’ back in Brackley, Mike Elliot the Mercedes team technical director has some big questions to answer.
Nico Rosberg, mastering the understatement claimed his old team is in an“extremely difficult situation”.
As Lewis Hamilton noted in the drivers’ press conference, the budget cap means Mercedes cannot simply design a new car concept and launch it mid way through this season.
Rosberg incredulous art Wolff’s comments
The 2016 world champion told Sky, “Toto Wolff said that this concept won’t go any further – that’s a big statement. You have to take a step back this year and then start with the new concept already preparing for the new year.
“I don’t want to be in those shoes. The problem is you can’t just put new sidepods on it and then it works. The whole car is in a river. The whole car has to change.”
If the gap of 50 seconds from the best placed Mercedes to Verstappen was not enough to worry about, Verstappen’s post race comments reveal it cold have been much larger.
Verstappen scolded for driving too quickly
Further, Hamilton was not coasting at the end because he needed to push to stay ahead of Lance Stroll.
“After that first stint, I just drove home,” Verstappen told Dutch broadcaster Viaplay.
“Of course, I had a big gap right away and after that, we didn’t really need to push anymore.
“Every time I wanted to push a bit, GP (Gianpiero Lambiase) – my engineer – got angry, so of course that says enough about the race.
“Of course, I’m very happy, it’s obviously a top start to the season and a very different start to last year.”
RB19 ride height was raised
The RB19 in the hands of Verstappen was realistically at least a second a lap faster than Mercedes and probably more.
Red Bull had raised the ride height of their cars before the race over concerns they would wear the underfloor plank too thin for FIA scrutinnering.
The lower setup of the RB19 would have been even quicker.
Toto Wolff revealed the team had a planned upgrade for round 4 in Imola expected to deliver 3 tenths improvement in lap time. On that basis its a miracle Mercedes need to remind even third for this season.
It wasn't Esteban Ocon's day 😔
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 6, 2023