Max Verstappen wins in Bahrain as Red Bull takes 1-2

SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — New season, another victory. Max Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday, leading almost the entire race as he opened the defense of his back-to-back Formula One titles.

Red Bull also clinched a dominant 1-2 with Sergio Perez finishing second while 41-year-old Fernando Alonso took a brilliant third place — and claimed a 99th career podium — on a stunning race debut for Aston Martin.

“I’m so proud of you guys,” a jubilant Alonso told his team.

It was Verstappen’s 36th career win but the Dutchman’s first at the flood-lit Sakhir circuit, where he retired just laps from the end in last year’s opening race.

“That was exactly the start to the season we needed,” Verstappen said.

This time it was Charles Leclerc, after winning last year, who retired on Lap 41 of 57 when his Ferrari lost power.

“No, no, no, no,” pleaded Leclerc over his radio as his car slowed to a stop. Ferrari had changed an engine battery before the race but that didn’t stop Leclerc from making a dismal start to the year after such a frustrating season in 2022.

“There was just no more power. It’s a pity because it’s at these weekends where you have to maximize points,” Leclerc said. “Unfortunately we’ve taken a step back and Red Bull’s on another planet. Third was the best we could hope for.”

Leclerc’s retirement caused panic at Ferrari, and Carlos Sainz Jr. didn’t even bother trying to defend from Alonso — probably through concern he might lose power himself — and Aston Martin overtook him with 11 laps left.

Sainz finished fourth ahead of seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton in fifth place ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in sixth. Hamilton’s teammate George Russell was seventh for Mercedes.

Verstappen started from the pole with Perez alongside him. Leclerc and Sainz were on the second row with the 41-year-old Alonso going from fifth.

Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, was 12th after starting from 16th.

Stroll’s performance was impressive considering he missed preseason testing because of an injury picked up in a bicycle accident that required minor surgery on his right wrist.

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