Home » F1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Max Verstappen sets chilling tone for season

F1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Max Verstappen sets chilling tone for season

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F1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Max Verstappen sets chilling tone for season

“Max is not in a different league; he’s in a different galaxy,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “The performance is extraordinary.”

But there were at least some reasons for optimism. Not hope that he can be challenged for the championship, realistically; but hope that he can be challenged in races from time to time.

For one, Verstappen had only narrowly beaten Leclerc for pole position, and would have been second on the grid had the Ferrari driver repeated in the top 10 shoot-out the lap he managed in the second session.

For another, Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez was only four seconds up the road from the man in third place, whereas last year the margin was much larger than that, even before Leclerc’s retirement with engine failure handed third to Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.

And then there was the condition of the other teams – Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren are all in a much better place with their cars at the start of this season than they were last year.

Verstappen’s view – which was shared by some other teams – was that Bahrain played into Red Bull’s hands. The track is particularly brutal on tyres. Gentle tyre use was Red Bull’s biggest single advantage last year, and the new car is showing similar strengths. Other tracks are not as tough on the rubber, so in theory rivals should be more competitive there.

“In general, other teams are closer,” Verstappen said, “but everything just worked really, really well and I don’t expect that to happen every single grand prix in the near future.

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“Here we were particularly good on the deg, but I do expect in race pace everyone is closer in Jeddah (for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix next weekend).”

Wolff was downbeat, despite recognising the fact that the field had been closer to the second Red Bull than last year.

“That is maybe the silver lining I can see,” he said, “but it is very thin and far away and I almost can’t see that far.”

But others saw more reason for optimism, even within his own team.

Lewis Hamilton had a difficult race after a poor qualifying left him ninth on the grid. Mercedes started running into overheating problems after a handful of laps, and Russell and Hamilton had to turn their engines down, costing an estimated 0.5secs a lap in performance.

They did not think that would have been enough to challenge the Ferraris for the podium but they took encouragement nonetheless from the fact that their car is at least nice to drive this year – unlike in 2023 – and simply lacks performance.

“Red Bull are going to win everything for a while,” Hamilton said. “But what I feel is that for the past two years we have had all these problems and we have spent several races undoing all the problems.

“As opposed to now, we have a platform we can start adding to. Now it’s a building process and we’re a great team.”

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