(CNN) Max Verstappen He traveled to victory in Bahrain Grand Prix On Sunday, he stamped his authority on the season in the opening race.
After winning his second consecutive world championship with four races to go in October 2022 and setting the record for most race wins in a season, Verstappen started this weekend as absolute favourite.
And the Dutchman justified that tag in emphatic fashion, leading from start to finish as he won the Bahrain Grand Prix for the first time in his career.
It turned out to be a perfect evening for Red Bull as 41-year-old Fernando Alonso finished third for Aston Martin with Sergio Perez second to claim the 99th podium of his career.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was sitting in third place with 16 laps remaining, but a mechanical failure forced him out of the race and a virtual safety car briefly put him on track.
Mercedes’ struggles show no signs of abating, with Lewis Hamilton fifth and team-mate George Russell seventh.
“It was a good first stage and I basically built my gap,” Verstappen told Sky Sports in his post-race interview.
“From there it was just about taking care of the tyres, because you never know what can happen later in the race, so we wanted to make sure we had the right tires and in good condition. I was also very happy. To finally win here in Bahrain.
“I think we have a good race package, of course it’s a bit race-to-race but we can definitely fight it out. And a big thanks to what they’ve done over the winter. A quick race car again.”
From his first acceleration, Verstappen began to pull away from the rest of the field, while Leclerc overtook Perez for second and separated the two Red Bull cars.
After just 10 laps, Verstappen already had a substantial advantage, which only continued to grow through the first wave of pit stops.
Red Bull’s evening only got better when Perez took second from Leclerc just before the race’s halfway point.
Immediately behind them, Mercedes and Aston Martin occupied the bottom half of the top 10 with Russell, Hamilton, Alonso and Lance Stroll exchanging places throughout the race.
With Leclerc out of the race, Alonso emerged from the fight in the best position, poised to battle Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz for the podium.
He used every ounce of his experience and eventually overtook his teammate to secure a podium spot that would have been impossible before this week.
“We know in Formula One, it’s very difficult to overcome the gap to the top teams in just one winter,” Alonso told CNN’s Amanda Davies last month.
“So let’s see if we can make the car faster and faster over the course of the season. Let’s start with the points.
“Every race we try to lead this midfield and get closer to the top three teams. If we can be on the podium at the end and fight for wins or whatever it comes, that’s a plus.”