Max Verstappen operating in 'a different galaxy' after season-opening win in Bahrain GP

Red Bull champion dominates first race of 24-round season

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Red Bull champion Max Verstappen was performing at a different level after he made a dominant start to his bid for a fourth consecutive Formula One title with victory in Saturday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen took the chequered flag 22.4 seconds clear of teammate Sergio Perez, easing to victory and already raising prospects of a one-sided season.

He did it having started from pole, led every lap and with the fastest lap.

“Unbelievable, I think today went even better than expected,” said Verstappen.

“It was a lot of fun, I felt really good in the car. It's special to have these kind of days, where it all feels perfect and you feel at one with the car.”

His Red Bull proved hard to catch last season. And at least on the evidence of the 2024 season opener, there is every possibility he could be even more dominant.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Mercedes boss Wolff said when asked if Verstappen could be uncatchable. "(We) just have to acknowledge his performance levels are really strong.

“I think today Max is not in a different league but he's in a different galaxy – the performance is extraordinary.”

It was not expected to be so straightforward. A close-run qualifying on Friday and three different teams occupying top spot in practice had raised the prospect of a closer race on Saturday.

However, the ease with which Verstappen won in the first race of a record 24-round season swiftly dashed those hopes.

The 26-year-old had similarly won last year’s Bahrain season-opener from pole.

Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz said he was relieved to be able to tap into his aggressive side with a series of overtakes, including two close moves on teammate Charles Leclerc, on his way to third place at the Bahrain GP.

Sainz's first podium finish since October starts his last season with Ferrari on a high. The record 24-race season means it will be an extended goodbye before Lewis Hamilton takes over his seat next year. Sainz is still seeking a team for 2025.

“It wasn’t a straightforward and an easy race, but I enjoyed it a lot,” Sainz said, adding it was his first race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July where he felt free to attack for positions without fear of his Ferrari ruining its tires while following closely behind another car.

“I love going racing, and I love going overtaking, being aggressive, attacking. And with last year’s car, it was simply impossible to do that,” Sainz said.

It wasn't all good news for Sainz in Bahrain, though. Both Ferraris struggled with brake problems that Leclerc called “dangerous”. Even in cool conditions in the desert night, Sainz said his brakes overheated too when following other cars but he “tried not to panic”.

“It never felt close inside the car,” he said. “Whenever I do an overtake on my teammate I will always try and leave as much margin as possible. I try and do it whenever I feel like I’m fully under control and I’m not putting any car at risk.”

Updated: March 03, 2024, 10:52 AM