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Verstappen powers Red Bull to one-two victory in Bahrain

RED Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen (left) and third-placed Ferrari’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr. celebrate during the podium ceremony. | ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Agence France-Presse

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Three-time world champion Max Verstappen began his title defense in flawless fashion on Saturday when he guided his Red Bull team to a crushing one-two triumph, ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

FIRST-PLACED Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen holds the trophy during the podium ceremony of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on Saturday. | ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Agence France-Presse

In a statement of emphatic superiority, the 26-year-old Dutchman came home 22.5 seconds clear of Perez, who started from fifth, to ease some of the pressure on team boss Christian Horner.

Pole sitter Verstappen held off the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc to lead into the first corner, and it was business as usual from there to the flag as he enjoyed the perfect start to his quest for a fourth consecutive title.

By claiming the 33rd pole of his career, fastest lap and race win, Verstappen delivered the 12th “hat-trick” of his career leaving only the seven-time champions Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton ahead on 22 and 19 trebles respectively.

It was Verstappen’s eighth successive win, his 55th race victory and 99th podium finish as Red Bull dominated an uneventful race on a cold evening at Sakhir’s Bahrain International Circuit.

It also extended his run as championship leader to 40 races since the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix.

“Unbelievable!” Verstappen said.

“I think today went better than expected and we had a lot of pace. It was super-enjoyable to drive and we stayed out of trouble. It’s a good start to the year — it couldn’t be better.”

“It was a lot of fun. And it’s very special to have days like today as it doesn’t happen often, when everything is all ok with the car. It felt great today.”

Teammate Perez praised the team.

“The team definitely had good momentum. We’ve got to keep it up now for the coming weekends,” he said.

“It was the maximum we could achieve — a tricky race with the tire management and plenty to learn from the race.” Carlos Sainz, whose seat at Ferrari is to be taken by Hamilton next year, finished a pugnacious third ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc, who profited from a rare error by Mercedes George Russell in the closing laps.

“I felt really good today and had good pace. We had a clear plan and it worked well,” Sainz said.

“I managed my tires and then I could overtake a few cars on the way to the podium. A good step forward compared to last year.”

Russell finished fifth ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, Hamilton in the second Mercedes, Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren and the Aston Martin duo two-time champion Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

AHEAD of everyone, Max Verstappen doesn’t look back. | Giuseppe CACACE/Agence France-Presse


Horner show of unity

After days of speculation, Red Bull boss Horner arrived hand in hand with his wife, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell — a show of unity following the release on Thursday of a cache of alleged messages from him to a female member of staff.

That had come just 24 hours after he had been cleared by Red Bull’s int internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior.

On track, the team showed no apparent distraction as Verstappen topped qualifying to secure his 33rd pole position — and lead the pack when the lights went out in cold, dry conditions in the desert.

The Dutchman made a clean start and led from lights to flag.

MAX Verstappen in action. | Giuseppe CACACE/Agence France-Presse

When he came in for his final set of new softs at the end of lap 37, he re-joined with a 17-second cushion ahead of Perez.

It was a commanding performance from the champion, decorated with a fastest lap of 1:32.608 as he cruised through the final 16 laps: a lap that was fully 1.5 seconds quicker than any other.

“Look, it’s been the best possible start to the season,” said Horner afterwards.

“Very clinical from the team and a well-executed race. The perfect start.”

Asked about his own position and the confidence that Red Bull’s owners have in him, Horner was bullish. “Do I have their backing? Absolutely, yes,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

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