The pinnacle of motorsports is back for its 74th season, at last. It’s a much anticipated season, with multiple changes even after one of the biggest overhauls in technical regulations last season. The changes included a different lineup of drivers, with three rookie drivers, one returning driver after years of absence and a little shuffle in the rest of the lineup with teams acquiring drivers racing for their rivals. Furthermore, this year will see an even larger calendar with 23 races scheduled for this season, up from the 22 races held in 2022 (they were supposed to be 24 races but the China Grand Prix was canceled due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions). The first race at Bahrain International Circuit unfolded last Sunday with an absolutely dominant performance by the reigning champions, Red Bull. Here we will be looking at the most important stories that marked this weekend, with unusual winners, an early dominance, and of course some drama.
Leading up to the race
A Formula 1 Grand Prix (GP) is a three-day event, beginning on a Friday with two separate free practice sessions (FP1 & FP2) of 90 minutes each, then on Saturday the third practice session takes place before qualifying where the driver with the fastest lap gets to start first on the grid during race day. The practice sessions witnessed the return of Lance Stroll, the Canadian driver for Aston Martin, who had missed out on pre-season testing due to an injury to his wrists after a minor biking accident. He was replaced by Aston Martin’s reserve driver and last year’s F2 champion Felipe Drugovich. Lance’s teammate, two times world champion Fernando Alonso set unbelievable pace being in the top 3 in every session, together with the Red Bull duo, The Ferrari and Mercedes teams struggled during practice with tires issues, with the biggest headline being the spinning of Ferrari’s driver Carlos Sainz. The Qualifying round saw the first pole position of the season go to defending World champion Max Verstappen with second place to his teammate Sergio Perez, giving a first row lockup for Red Bull while the second row was occupied by their rivals, the Ferraris. The star of the practice sessions, Fernando Alonso finished behind them in P5. Drivers like the returning Nico Hülkenberg and Frenchmen Pierre Gasly saw their lap times deleted because they exceeded track limits.
The first race of the season was a hard one for all of the teams but that did not stop them from giving us an unforgettable show. Starting first with the unusual podium, of, you guessed it, Fernando Alonso. The Spanish driver went to Aston Martin during last year’s mid-season. Sunday, was his first grand prix with his new team, and he finished magnificently, scoring a podium as he finished P3 that he earned after strong battles. Another unusual winner emerging is Pierre Gasly, who started off at the very back of the field, managed a very impressive race, finishing in P9. Also on the lists of our unusual winners is the team Williams, now if you are even a bit familiar with F1, you would know that Williams has been stuck at the back of the grid for years now. Yet this season, they started their year strong, although yes finishing the race with one point when their driver Alex Albon finished P10, their rookie driver Logan Sargent managed to defend well and hold on to his position, even if it was 12th.
An early dominance
The reigning constructor’s champions Red Bull and their star driver and defending driver’s world champion Max Verstappen continued where they left off at the end of last season, on the top. Last Sunday, Verstappen led the GP in a successful way, building a big gap over the other racers; he was basically just cruising at some point. His teammate, Sergio Perez finished behind him in P2. These points that the two have gathered will give their team valuable points in the constructor’s championship. But the question remains, will they enjoy a dominant season once again or will competition rise to face and challenge them that is a question only time can answer.
Drama was never a stranger to Formula 1. And during the season opener we saw two kinds of interesting drama. Ferrari last year had a horrible season with their reliability issues, prompting the higher ups in the team to get rid of the then team principal Mattia Binotto, replacing him with the then Alfa Romeo’s team principal Fred Vasseur. Charles Leclerc of Monaco, their main driver, was keeping a solid P2 until the engine of his car decided to stop, with flashbacks of last year passing by. After the race, Ferrari confirmed that it was an engine and setup problem. McLaren was also on the list of teams with a bad start, their newest driver Oscar Piastri couldn’t even finish his first official F1 race because of an electrical issue, while his teammate Lando Norris had to make several pit stops to ensure that his car kept on running. Esteban Ocon, driver of the Alpine team could not share the joy of his teammate, Pierre Gasly, as he received a 5 second penalty because he lined up with his right front tire outside the starting box while awaiting lights out. He then received a 10 second penalty because he did not serve the first penalty right, and if that wasn’t enough he received another 5 second penalty because he speeded in the pit lane while coming in to serve his 10 seconds penalty.
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