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Red Bull's Max Verstappen cruises to victory in Bahrain Grand Prix

Max Verstappen delivered for Christian Horner's crisis-hit Red Bull team by winning the opening race of the Formula One season in Bahrain on Saturday.

The build-up to the first round of the campaign here in the Gulf Kingdom has totally been overshadowed by allegations whirling around Red Bull team principal Horner.

But Horner, who was joined by his wife Geri in a show of unity ahead of Saturday's 57-lap race, can take temporary relief from seeing Verstappen lead a Red Bull one-two, with Sergio Perez second.

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

During an extraordinary week in Bahrain, Horner was exonerated by Red Bull Racing parent's company, Red Bull GmbH, on Wednesday following an internal probe into allegations of "inappropriate made by a female colleague.

Hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him were then leaked to the F1 world a day later.

Horner has remained defiant throughout and put on a show of unity with his Spice Girl wife Geri, as they strode hand-in-hand along the paddock one hour and 45 minutes before the lights went out.

Red Bull's majority shareholder and Horner ally, Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya, joined the duo on the team's terrace in another public show of support for Horner.

Horner planted a kiss on wife Geri before he headed to pit wall to watch his team blow away their rivals. The pair stood together smiling underneath the podium as Verstappen celebrated his win.

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 team-mate Perez's challenge by 22.4 seconds to take his 18th win from the last 19 F1 races and, remarkably, his 36th victory since Hamilton last won a grand prix.

"Great start to the year, guys, a one-two finish, as well so fantastic," said Verstappen over the team radio.

Horner replied: "As you say, Max, pole-position, one-two finish, fastest lap, a clean sweep. A brilliant way to start the year. Thanks very much."

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.

Hamilton finished 50 seconds behind Verstappen.

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 – despite Red Bull's ongoing off-track turbulence.

"Unbelievable," said Verstappen after claiming his 55th career win. "Today went even better than expected. The car was really nice to drive. We had a lot of pace. It was super enjoyable."


Bahrain Grand Prix results: 

1 Max Verstappen NED Oracle Red Bull Racing 57 Laps
2 Sergio Perez MEX Oracle Red Bull Racing +22.457s
3 Carlos Sainz ESP Scuderia Ferrari +25.110s
4 Charles Leclerc MON Scuderia Ferrari +39.669s
5 George Russell GBR Mercedes AMG F1 Team +46.788s
6 Lando Norris GBR McLaren F1 Team +48.458s
7 Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG F1 Team +50.324s
8 Oscar Piastri AUS McLaren F1 Team +56.082s
9 Fernando Alonso ESP Aston Martin F1 Team +74.887s
10 Lance Stroll CAN Aston Martin F1 Team +92.900s
11 Zhou Guanyu CHN Sauber +1 Lap
12 Kevin Magnussen DEN Haas F1 Team +1 Lap
13 Daniel Ricciardo AUS RB F1 Team +1 Lap
14 Yuki Tsunoda JPN RB F1 Team +1 Lap
15 Alex Albon THA Williams Racing +1 Lap
16 Nico Hulkenberg GER Haas F1 Team +1 Lap
17 Esteban Ocon FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team +1 Lap
18 Pierre Gasly FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team +1 Lap
19 Valtteri Bottas FIN Stake F1 Sauber +1 Lap
20 Logan Sargeant USA Williams Racing +2 Laps

Read More: McLaren's comprehensive approach to boost Lando Norris' confidence (planetsport.com)

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