Reigning champion Verstappen sends out warning to rivals with Bahrain Grand Prix victory

Flying Dutchman beats Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez by 22 seconds

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen delivered a chilling warning to his Formula One rivals as he won the opening race of the season in Bahrain on Saturday with ease.

Verstappen blew away the field in the 57-lap race to lead a Red Bull one-two, with teammate Sergio Perez taking second place, trailing in a distant 22 seconds behind the flying Dutchman.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took the chequered flag in third, one place ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton a disappointing fifth and seventh respectively for Mercedes. McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth.

Verstappen has raced to the past three world championships and his crushing streak looks set to continue into 2024 following a commanding lights-to-flag win.

The Dutch driver saw off teammate Perez’s challenge by 22.4 seconds to take his 18th win from the last 19 races and, remarkably, his 36th victory since Hamilton last won a Grand Prix.

Such was Red Bull’s stranglehold on last season’s championship, that they were afforded the luxury of turning their attention to this year’s machine earlier than their competitors.

And revered designer Adrian Newey appears to have built a car which could take Verstappen to another stratosphere.

After holding off the challenge from Ferrari’s Leclerc on the run down to the opening corner, his victory never appeared in doubt. By the end of lap 11, Verstappen had already pulled 10 seconds clear.

Behind, Russell was on the move – taking second from Leclerc on the third lap in an encouraging start for the Mercedes man.

But that would be as good as it got for the Silver Arrows, with Perez moving ahead of Russell on the exit of Turn 4 on lap 14 before Sainz gazumped the British driver for third three laps later.

Hamilton started ninth and was making little early progress, complaining on lap 25 that his seat was broken.

He started to make his way through the field, getting past McLaren’s Oscar Piastri on lap 35 and then Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin for seventh on lap 39.

But the seven-time world champion, who will join Ferrari next year, made no inroads into Norris ahead before Mercedes’ poor evening was dealt another blow when Leclerc took fourth off Russell with 11 laps to run.

For Verstappen, it was another emphatic display, with fireworks exploding into the night sky as he cemented his status as the overwhelming favourite to march to another title.

After the race, Verstappen told Sky Sports: "Unbelievable, I think today went better than expected. We had a lot of pace, it was super enjoyable to drive. We stayed out of trouble. It's a good start to the year, it couldn't be better.

"It was a lot of fun, I felt good in the car, it's very special to have days like today. It doesn't happen often, when everything is ok with the car.

"I think the start was good. The first corner is a tight hairpin, but from there onwards we focused on our own race."

On the next race at Saudi Arabia, he said: "It's fine. it is a long season, it's a great place in the world to be. A couple of days rest and we go again."

Updated: March 02, 2024, 5:29 PM