Relieved Verstappen happy to claim opening win at 10th attempt
Max Verstappen beamed with relief on Sunday after claiming a long-awaited season-opening win and leading Sergio Perez home in a Red Bull one-two at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The win was also his first at Sakhir's Bahrain International Circuit at the 10th attempt and the 36th of his career, cementing his status as a strong favourite to secure a third consecutive drivers' crown this year.
Red Bull had not won in Bahrain since 2013, when Sebastian Vettel triumphed on his way to his fourth drivers' title.
"I'm very happy to finally win a race here in Bahrain," said Verstappen, a 25-year-old Dutchman. "We have a very good race package. We can definitely fight with this car and a big 'thank you' to the team for such a quick race car again."
Behind the dominant Red Bulls, two-time champion Fernando Alonso made the most of Charles Leclerc retiring his Ferrari with power failure to charge through in his Aston Martin and seize his first podium finish since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix, when the Spaniard was with Ferrari.
Verstappen's success reversed Red Bull's misfortune in 2022 when they suffered two retirements and Ferrari came home first and second.
"It was a very, very good first stint where I made my gap," said Verstappen. "From there, it was all about looking after my tyres.
"You never know what's going to happen later on in the races so we just wanted to make sure we had the right tyres and in good condition as well."
"I had nothing to worry me, or nothing big, just little things you want to fine-tune that are easy to get on top of.
The next race is in Saudi Arabia on March 19.
"Jeddah is a very different track. Our pace will depend now race to race," said Verstappen
His team-mate was happy too.
"It's a great start. When we look back at last year and how we started here...It's really nice," Perez said. "It's a nice comeback as a team. We worked really hard over the winter so it's great to see all the boys enjoying the first race.
"We have a strong package so it was important today to get both cars to the end."
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said the team had biased their pre-race preparations towards long-run performance instead of pure speed in practice and qualifying.
"We are delighted. It was as good as it could be for us," he said.