Talking points at the Bahrain Grand Prix: Lance the Warrior, Ferrari retired, Red Bull wins 1-2

The 2023 F1 season is finally here and after the first race of the season it’s time for me to bring my talking points column back after a few years of absence. And after quite an interesting first race of the year there is a lot to do.

Aston Martin are the real deal

It’s pretty easy to dismiss a team that has hype all around them heading into a new season from the top three. Every few years we get a bit of hope that a team will topple the apple cart, and we’ll take a different look at the front of the pack, albeit that hope soon fades and the status quo resumes.

Enter Aston Martin in 2023 and at last the apple cart has fallen.

An absolutely stunning race from the rejuvenated Fernando Alonso set the bar in motion, with the team’s pace reigning supreme throughout the weekend. This was helped by a strong weekend from Lance Stroll, who fought his way up to sixth place despite two broken wrists and a broken toe to help Aston Martin finish second in the constructors’ standings after the first race.

And while it’s still early days, there’s every chance, at least in the earlier rounds, that we’ll see the British Greens continue to fight for podiums and possibly even wins for the time being.

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Anything is possible with Alonso at the wheel, the two-time world champion hasn’t looked so self-confident since his Ferrari days. And with a fit and igniting Stroll and a new, improved facility with a slick new wind tunnel, there’s no limit to the team.

The last time the Silverstone team finished on the podium in the opening race of the season was at Albert Park in 1999 when it was still known as Jordan with Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the wheel. That year Frentzen finished a famous third place for the team in the championship and almost won the world championship. Oh, and to make things even more interesting, Alonso made his F1 debut at the same circuit two years later.

That year was a yellow year for Team Silverstone back then, and 2023 could well be a green one.

Lance Stroll the warrior

Yes, I just mentioned the Canadian above, but anyone who remembers that column from a few years ago knows that I’m a huge defender and fanboy of Lance Stroll. So of course I’ll take every opportunity to praise him when I can. And how could I not after the weekend he put in?

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Lance Stroll (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Yes, Alonso should get all the podium credit, but we’re talking a healthy, fit and firing two-time world champion. Stroll, on the other hand, is a fellow midfielder who doesn’t enjoy the best reputation among fans, experts and his ilk. However, his performance at the weekend in Bahrain must help change some of those opinions.

Twelve days before the race, Stroll underwent surgery on his wrists after injuring both of himself and a broken toe in a bicycle accident. A week before the race he was lying in a hospital bed and could hardly move. Two days before the race he visibly had trouble driving the car in practice, was removed from the car by his team and many people were demanding that he be removed and replaced by Aston reserve driver Felipe Drugovich.

However, many people seemed to ignore the fact that Lance had been setting competitive times in those practice sessions and on Saturday woke an obsessed man, setting fast times again and qualifying to an impressive eighth place, three places behind his more coveted teammate.

After an inevitable collision with his team-mate early in the race, he battled hard against Valtteri Bottas and George Russell, beating both before pushing Lewis Hamilton hard in the closing stages of the race to claim sixth place, his best ever in an F1 start season.

Despite this, several people seemed to ignore his achievements because he is Lance Stroll. The praise, however, came – rightly – from the likes of Martin Brundle, as well as his teammate Alonso, who even dubbed Stroll “his hero” after his performance.

It’s another example of just how good the Canadian is and what he’s capable of, and a sign that he could be a real threat if he moves forward in perfect health for consistent podiums and even wins should Aston Martin maintain this pace.

Red Bull sends an ominous warning to the rest of the field

With all the fanfare surrounding Alonso and Aston Martin, Max Verstappen picked up where he left off in 2022 and comfortably won the race ahead of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

The pair really weren’t challenged at all during the race and their strong pace on both tire compounds saw Ferrari do everything they could to limit the damage.

Fernando Alonso of Spain and Aston Martin F1 Team talk to the media in the paddock during practice ahead of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Believe it or not, it’s the first time Red Bull have finished 1-2 in the opening round of a season and it’s the first time since Sebastian Vettel in 2011 that the Austrian team has won the opening race.

The result this year? An absolute title fight of the German.

Fear was felt throughout the paddock, with Mercedes’ George Russell even saying they could very well win every race this season.

With a performance like this, it’s hard not to see where Russell is coming from. And given the records the team and Verstappen broke last year, who could stand to make even more history in 2023?

Another year, another Ferrari disappointment

ok ok It’s just a race. But as a Ferrari fan, how can I not experience déjà vu now?

Scuderia kept a decent pace all weekend and the team saw a chance for pole on Saturday if they had opted for it.

However, the pace of the race just wasn’t there as Charles Leclerc couldn’t keep up with Verstappen in the early stages of the race.

From there, Perez got the jump on Leclerc, and it was likely looking like an unspectacular third and fourth for Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz before the sad but everyday sight of a roadside Ferrari hit our screens and the sad sight of the collapsed Leclerc reappeared.

Sainz then lost his chance for a podium as the barnstorming Alonso took the final step onto the podium and took a disappointing fourth place. Again it’s a race. There are 22 left. But doesn’t that feel all too similar?

Let’s hope this is just a small speck on the radar and when we get to Saudi Arabia there is a glimmer of hope that will allow Ferrari fans like me to get a brief whiff of hope before they send us later definitively be taken back the season.

Disappointment for Piastri as Alpine wins first fight

All Australian eyes were on rookie prodigy Oscar Piastri in Bahrain as many tried to see if last year’s battle for his services between Alpine and McLaren was justified.

And while the Melbourne driver didn’t have a bad weekend, he didn’t set the world on fire either.

Yes, the McLaren isn’t a great car, but it was clearly beaten by teammate Lando Norris and looked arguably the slowest of all three rookies over the weekend.

After qualifying in 18th place, Piastri fought his way up early before eventually retiring with an electrical issue.

It was a bitter blow for the Melbourne driver in what could be a very long season if McLaren’s woes continue.

Adding fuel to the fire would be the sight of the man destined to take his seat at Alpine, Pierre Gasly, who finished an impressive ninth place after starting from last on the grid.

Similar to Ferrari, it is still very early. Very, very early days. And you can’t just judge a driver on their opening weekend, especially when the circumstances are beyond their control.

But surely Oscar had a little thought in the back of his mind after the checkered flag in Bahrain.

One thing is for sure, I’m sure that after the season’s opening run there was another Aussie with McLaren connections standing on the sidelines with a small smile on his face.

The cars return furiously to the track in Saudi Arabia in two weeks, with plenty more talking points no doubt to follow. Talking points at the Bahrain Grand Prix: Lance the Warrior, Ferrari retired, Red Bull wins 1-2

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