Fernando Alonso's legacy in Formula One will be defined by questions about what might have been, according to former Force India driver Paul di Resta.

However, Di Resta hopes Alonso will not call time on his glittering career for some time yet, as the 42-year-old begins his second season with Aston Martin. 

Alonso impressed en route to a fourth-placed finish in the drivers' championship last year, securing eight podium finishes in his first campaign with the team.

The two-time world champion's future has been a subject of speculation throughout the offseason, with the Spaniard touted as a candidate to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes when he joins Ferrari in 2025. 

Ahead of Saturday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Alonso said he is yet to decide whether he will race at all next year, and Di Resta would be disappointed if F1 lost one of its biggest characters.

Di Resta also believes Alonso will look back upon his short-lived move to McLaren in 2007 – and his subsequent switch back to Renault – with a few regrets. 

"I've got a huge amount of respect for him. I wish he hadn't taken that [break] when he disappeared out of Formula One for a couple of years," Di Resta told Stats Perform.

"I think the biggest thing with Fernando is what could have been, with the championships he probably should have won and the ones he came close to. 

"Some of the choices he made, moving to teams… I'm sure he's not scared to talk about that. I think he's just a born racer, absolutely committed to it. 

"His spatial awareness, in race starts or on the first lap, wheel to wheel, there's probably not many people like it. 

"I will miss watching him. I hope he's around for a long time and I think he's showing that age is not a thing, he can still grab great results. 

"I think he's happier than he's ever been, less emotional, he sees the journey for what it is, he probably sees the end is closer in that sense and he's milking everything he can from it.

"I just love to see [Max] Verstappen, [Charles] Leclerc, Alonso, Hamilton in different teams going against each other, and I think people definitely respect what he's done, and he draws a lot of attention, and attention is a great thing for the sport."

While reigning world champion Verstappen is expected to dominate again in 2024, Alonso is among a group of drivers looking to take race wins off Red Bull. 

McLaren's Lando Norris is another with lofty ambitions for the new season, and Di Resta thinks the 24-year-old has a big future ahead of him.

"I'd be surprised if he doesn't win a world championship, given his ability," he said. "I think the key for him will be reading where the best place to be for the future is, whether McLaren are back to being a consistent team to deliver a world championship. 

"I think Lando definitely is up to that. Oscar [Piastri], he did a very good job for a rookie last year. He was a bit short of Lando in the races if you're being honest. 

"In qualifying, he definitely had the measure and had the speed, so I'm expecting him to push Lando even more and I'm expecting him to be even closer to Lando. 

"They've got great foundations and great team spirit to move forward. They will get into battles and you can see there's some frustration in their races with strategy and how it's going to play out, but Lando is very comfortable and I think he's probably in the top three picks within the grid."

Lewis Hamilton admitted he was shocked to finish fastest in practice for Saturday’s Formula One curtain raiser in Bahrain.

The seven-time world champion has not won a race for more than two years, but he led a surprise Mercedes one-two under the lights of the Sakhir Circuit on Thursday night.

Hamilton finished two tenths clear of team-mate George Russell, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third.

On yet another explosive off-track day for Red Bull, Max Verstappen bemoaned the handling of his machine. He finished sixth.

The Silver Arrows went under the radar at last week’s test in the Gulf kingdom, but they were quietly optimistic heading into Thursday’s running – and the second session belonged to the team that once dominated the sport.

“This has been a crazy Thursday,” said Hamilton, 39. “I don’t understand it, and it is a shock to see us where we are, but we will take it for now.

“We cannot get ahead of ourselves. We need to keep our head down and keep working on the setup.

“But I am much happier with the car. I have a better feel of it approaching the corners, and there are other areas that have been fixed and improved.

“It feels like a race car and the last two cars didn’t feel like that. It is a really good platform to work from. We have to keep our heads down and keep on chasing.”

Hamilton is gearing up for his final season with Mercedes after he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to join Ferrari in 2025.

Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven titles. But last year marked a second straight season without a victory for the British driver – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

However, Hamilton, in his radically revised car – after the design concept which failed so spectacularly for the past two seasons was abandoned – will take faith from an encouraging day.

But Hamilton expects Verstappen, who has raced to the past three world championships, will still be the one to beat.

“I think we are going to be in the mix,” added Hamilton. “We are there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston Martin and McLaren.

“It is going to be close, but if Max is out in front he will drive off as he has done for the past couple of years.”

Verstappen had been regarded as the heavy favourite heading into Saturday’s curtain-raiser in the Gulf kingdom.

But he struggled in the first running and then failed to match the speed of the Mercedes cars later in the day.

“Everything is s***,” yelled Verstappen over the radio. “Like miles off.”

However, the 26-year-old remained confident he would be in a strong position for the 57-lap Grand Prix.

“It is very close and maybe some people around us have turned up the engine in terms of top speed,” he said.

“I’m not too worried about the gap to first, for example. It is going to be close in qualifying. I was happier about the long run for the race.”

Lewis Hamilton raised hope of taking the fight to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix after finishing fastest in practice.

The seven-time world champion led a Mercedes one-two under the lights of the Sakhir Circuit, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz fourth.

World champion Verstappen finished sixth, nearly half-a-second back for Red Bull.

Verstappen had been regarded as the heavy favourite heading into Saturday’s curtain raiser in the Gulf kingdom.

But the Dutch driver bemoaned the handling of his machine in the first running and then failed to match the speed of the Mercedes drivers later in the day.

The Silver Arrows went under the radar at last week’s test in Bahrain, but they were quietly optimistic heading into Friday’s running – and the second session belonged to the team that once dominated the sport.

Hamilton, who has not won a race for two years, was back at the top of the order as the seven-time world champion enjoyed a two-tenth margin to team-mate George Russell, with Alonso 0.286 seconds off the pace.

Red Bull’s preparations for the new season have been overshadowed by claims of “inappropriate behaviour” made against its team principal Christian Horner.

The 50-year-old was cleared to remain in his role on Wednesday following an investigation by the racing team’s parent company GmbH.

But the world champions were surprisingly off the pace in both sessions here. With Verstappen appearing to be in trouble, team-mate Sergio Perez was only ninth in the order.

“Everything is s***,” yelled Verstappen over the radio during the first session. “Like miles off.”

Earlier in the day, Daniel Ricciardo finished fastest.

The Australian – driving for the newly rebranded RB team – saw off Lando Norris by just 0.032secs, with Oscar Piastri third in the other McLaren.

Ricciardo was dropped by McLaren at the end of 2022, but he was handed a lifeline by Red Bull’s junior team midway through last season. He finished 11th in the day’s concluding running.

Lewis Hamilton raised the prospect of challenging Max Verstappen for pole position at the United States Grand Prix after he finished third in practice.

Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 0.281 seconds in the sole running before qualifying later on Friday with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc splitting the rivals.

But the seven-time world champion, in his upgraded Mercedes, clocked the fastest first and second sectors before hitting traffic in the final part of his speediest lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

Verstappen claimed his third world title in as many years at the previous round in Qatar.

But Hamilton’s early pace at a track where he has enjoyed so much success over the years suggests he might be able to give the Dutchman a run for his money in qualifying for Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leclerc could also be a contender in the Lone Star State after he finished just 0.156 sec behind Verstappen.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took fourth spot, three tenths back, a place ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen with George Russell sixth for Mercedes.

Oscar Piastri survived a hairy moment when he temporarily lost control of his McLaren through Turn 8.

The Australian rookie, who won the sprint race in Lusail a fortnight ago, looked destined for the barriers after he ran on to the grass at high speed.

Piastri wiggled one way to the next but managed to catch his out-of-control machine to avoid a big shunt. He sustained minor damage to the floor of his McLaren in the accident and finished only 19th.

Lance Stroll was rooted to the foot of the time charts after he completed just five laps following a brake failure on his Aston Martin.

Qualifying takes place at 4pm local time (10pm BST).

Lewis Hamilton can bounce back from a difficult three years to win a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship, eclipsing Michael Schumacher's achievements.

That is the view of 1978 champion Mario Andretti, who does not believe Hamilton has made a mistake by committing his future to Mercedes.

Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record haul of seven world titles in 2020, but he has failed to surpass the German great amid three years of dominance from Max Verstappen.

Having edged out Hamilton for the 2021 title in controversial circumstances, Verstappen has dominated the last two seasons while his rival has struggled. 

Verstappen clinched his third straight title with six races to spare by finishing second in the sprint race in Qatar last Saturday, and the Dutchman followed that up with another triumph on Sunday – his 14th victory in 17 Grands Prix this year.

While Verstappen holds an unassailable lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in the drivers' standings, Hamilton has found himself battling Fernando Alonso for a top-three finish, having ranked sixth last year.

Despite rumours linking him with Ferrari, Hamilton extended his contract with Mercedes until 2025 in August, and Andretti believes the 38-year-old made the correct decision. 

Asked if Hamilton needed to move to boost his chances of winning another title, Andretti told Stats Perform: "Why would he go anywhere else? 

"With Mercedes, that is probably the best possibility to resume his winning ways and win another title. No question. He's young enough. 

"He certainly still has the desire to be at the top. After being a multi-time world champion, you don't lose that ability.

"Right now, he equalled a record that I thought would never be approached, not in my lifetime anyway. He's still young enough that he could go for the eighth title. 

"It's going to take a long time for anyone to reach that and surpass that. So yeah, he's definitely one of the greats, for sure, deservedly so."

Hamilton sits 11 points clear of old rival Alonso in the standings ahead of next week's United States Grand Prix, with the Spaniard enjoying a resurgence since leaving Alpine for Aston Martin ahead of the 2023 season.

Having won four IndyCar championships during his own career, Andretti has a particular admiration for Alonso, who himself competed in the IndyCar Series during a two-year stint out of F1.

"Oh, Fernando is timeless," Andretti said. "I just love to see how much energy he still has and how much desire is still within him. 

"After taking a sabbatical from Formula One, I thought, 'I don't know, he'd better be careful about coming back'. Here he is, coming back as strong as ever. 

"I think he brought Aston Martin to a level that they almost did not expect. They certainly are giving him equipment which is capable, but he's taking it there.

"Fernando's legacy is that of a very ambitious driver, to try to conquer different disciplines. He ventured into IndyCar at Indianapolis. I respect somebody like that. 

"That's pure love for driving and the sport, to be curious like that, not just to drive, but to try to win in a category that's not your speciality."

Jody Scheckter does not believe Lewis Hamilton's recent struggles will impact his Formula 1 legacy, insisting he will be remembered alongside Michael Schumacher as an all-time great.

Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record of seven drivers' championship titles in 2020, but he has failed to surpass the German icon's tally due to the dominance of Max Verstappen.

Having captured the title in controversial circumstances in 2021 and defended it last year, Verstappen has now won 10 successive races to close in on a third championship, which he could seal as early as the Japanese Grand Prix later this month.

Hamilton, meanwhile, sits fourth in the drivers' standings amid another difficult campaign, which has been plagued by suggestions he could soon walk away from the sport.

However, Hamilton opted to extend his F1 career until at least 2025 by penning a new contract with Mercedes last week, and Scheckter is pleased to see him still enjoying his time on the grid.

"I retired at 30 years old. He wants to carry on," the 1979 world champion told Stats Perform. "That's such a personal decision. He's got to do what he wants to do, if he's enjoying it.

"He's doing a good job, too. I thought [team-mate George] Russell would be quicker. But you know, Lewis is quick, he's doing a good job.

"If he gets a team-mate that beats him all the time… it's going to come, there's no question about it, it will come sooner or later. But people will still remember.

"You can't win that many world championships and not be recognised as an all-time great. 

"Some people get off at the wrong time, they carry on and want to hold onto it until they lose that, and people forget some of the other stuff that happened before."

Asked how Hamilton's achievements compare to those of Schumacher, the former Ferrari driver added: "I put them all in the same category. You know, there's the car there. 

"I think Lewis was a cleaner driver than Schumacher. In his tactics and stuff, he was more like a gentleman on the track than Schumacher was, so I commend him for that."

Sitting above Hamilton in the 2023 standings is his former McLaren team-mate and long-term rival Fernando Alonso, with the 42-year-old enjoying something of a renaissance with Aston Martin.

Alonso has racked up seven podium finishes in 2023 after finishing ninth in the drivers' championship while representing Alpine last year, and though Scheckter has not always been the Spaniard's biggest fan, he respects his longevity.

Reflecting on his own decision to retire in 1980, just one year after being crowned world champion, Scheckter said: "Some people say they enjoy it. I used to say if I'm enjoying it, I'm not trying hard enough.

"But if you're enjoying it, you're going to carry on longer and longer, you know? Maybe I pushed too hard to try and do it, so it's just a personal thing.

"Fernando's obviously very good. I didn't like some of the stuff he did earlier in his career, I didn't like it very much at all, actually. 

"But he's good, he's aggressive. I don't think he's as good as some of the press think he is, but he's doing a good job. Now, he's doing a really great job."

Ralf Schumacher has told Max Verstappen to either leave Formula 1 or accept the new Sprint Race weekend format, which will debut at the upcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The 'Sprint Shootout' gets introduced this weekend and will set the grid for Saturday's Sprint Race, which means the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix is now determined by Friday's qualifying. 

It leaves just one free practice session in Baku with FP2 and 3 being replaced, and is the first of six Sprint Race weekends in 2023 after only hosting three in 2021 and 2022.

This comes after Verstappen issued a 'quit threat' if F1 continues to make race weekend changes, but Schumacher believes the championship will thrive either way. 

"The past, the present and the future have shown or will show that Formula 1 is much bigger than any individual," he told Sky Sports Germany.

"Bernie Ecclestone is also gone, and without him Formula 1 wouldn't exist - and now it’s more successful than ever.

"So Verstappen should either pack his things and leave, or just accept it as it is. I understand his attitude because there are a lot of risks.

"But still, he gets paid to do it. If he wants to go, then he has to go. Formula 1 will not perish, as much I love him."

Guenther Steiner has hailed the changes saying it is what fans want, and believes F1 could eventually keep adding the format to more race weekends. 

"I don't know if we will do it every race weekend," the Haas team principal told Reuters. "Maybe do a few more or maybe do half of the calendar - the F1 promoter will know what to do.

"At the moment, there is more demand for races [than slots available] so how can you get more races in, more competition, more racing if we cannot do more than 24 events? So just make the event double count."

Will Baku finally have a repeat winner?

In six previous races at Baku, there has been a different winner each time. Nico Rosberg won its inaugural Grand Prix in 2016, before Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez and defending winner Verstappen all stood on the top step.

With two of that six no longer in F1 and Bottas now in an Alfa Romeo, chances are only three of them are in with a shot of victory. However, given Red Bull have dominated the opening three races to this season, they will be odds-on favourite to win again on Sunday.

To many, the battle will be between Perez and Verstappen with the double world champion currently 15 points ahead of his team-mate in the standings. If Red Bull wins again, then that will extend Hamilton’s winless run to 27 - his worst in F1 - after Mercedes have struggled since the start of 2022.

However, Fernando Alonso has stood on the podium in each race this season. Therefore, should Red Bull encounter any problems then maybe the Aston Martin driver will extend Baku's record. 

Charles Leclerc faces worst ever start to F1 season

Charles Leclerc's retirement in Australia means he is the first Ferrari driver since Felipe Massa in 2009 to have two DNFs in the opening three races of a season. For the other round, Saudi Arabia, he only finished seventh which leaves Leclerc 10th in the championship on six points.

It is a stark contrast to this time 12 months ago, where the Ferrari driver was leading the championship by 34 points after winning two of the opening three races. Should he fail to score a point in Baku then that will make it Leclerc's worst start to an F1 season, despite driving for Alfa Romeo in his debut year.

Championship Standings

Drivers

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 69Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 45Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 38Carlos Sainz Jr (Ferrari) 20

Constructors 

Red Bull 123Aston Martin 65Mercedes 56Ferrari 26McLaren 12 

Ferrari have lodged an appeal against Carlos Sainz's five-second penalty for his collision with Fernando Alonso during the Australian Grand Prix last Sunday.

Sainz was demoted from fourth to 12th place after the Spaniard was sanctioned for making contact with his compatriot's Aston Martin following a chaotic penultimate-lap standing restart.

There were another two crashes prior to a red flag being waved for a third time at Albert Park.

Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were involved in a collision, while Logan Sargeant ran into the AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries but none of those four drivers were penalised.

Sainz was not impressed with the punishment imposed on him and Scuderia team principal Fred Vasseur has confirmed the team have challenged the decision to hit the 28-year-old with a penalty that left him out of the points.

Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were involved in a heavy collision, while William's Logan Sargeant ran into the AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries.

Vasseur said: "We did the petition for review of the case, we sent it to the FIA.

"As we are discussing with the FIA, I don't want to disclose any details of this discussion."

He added: "The only thing is that about Gasly-Ocon, also Sargeant-De Vries turn one, and the reaction of the stewards was not the same.

"What we can expect is to at least have an open discussion with them.

"Also for the good of the sport, to avoid to have this kind of decision when you have three cases at the same corner and not the same decision."

Fernando Alonso's 100th podium finish in Formula One has been reinstated after Aston Martin appealed a decision to hand him a 10-second penalty at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Alonso celebrated consecutive third-placed finishes on Sunday, having taken the lead from Sergio Perez early on before receiving a five-second penalty for an incorrect starting position on the grid.

The Spaniard recovered to finish behind Red Bull duo Perez and Max Verstappen, but an investigation after the race concluded he had not served his full five-second punishment while in the pit lane.

Mercedes' George Russell moved up to third after an Aston Martin engineer was said to have placed the rear jack on the back of Alonso's car just before the end of his penalty.

Alonso subsequently claimed that decision "didn't hurt too much" but criticised a "poor show" from the FIA, though the two-time world champion will be more content after his team's appeal was successful.

The outcome of Aston Martin's bid to reverse the penalty was announced shortly after 1am in Jeddah, confirming Alonso's century of podium finishes.

Alonso is just the sixth driver to reach that figure, after Lewis Hamilton (191), Michael Schumacher (155), Sebastian Vettel (122), Alain Prost (106) and Kimi Raikkonen (103).

Race stewards said they were shown footage of seven similar incidents in which cars were touched by the jack while serving a time penalty – all of which went unpunished – as part of the appeal.

Fernando Alonso hit out at the FIA after he was denied a 100th podium of his Formula One career due to a time penalty.

Alonso finished third in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday, seemingly grabbing his second podium of the season for Aston Martin.

The Spaniard had taken the lead from polesitter Sergio Perez early on, yet was penalised for an incorrect starting position on the grid.

He recovered to cross in third, yet an investigation after the race concluded that one of the team's engineers had placed the rear jack on the back of Alonso's car just before that five-second penalty had been served in the pit lane.

Alonso was subsequently handed a 10-second penalty that saw him drop out of the podium places, with Mercedes driver George Russell benefiting.

Aston Martin might well appeal the decision, and Alonso suggested he cares little about the FIA's ruling after he already celebrated becoming only the sixth driver in F1 history to claim 100 podium finishes.

"I was good and it doesn't hurt too much to be honest," he told Sky Sports. "I was on the podium, I did pictures, I took the trophy, I celebrated and now I have apparently three points less – I don't have 15, I have 12. 

"I think it is more FIA, poor show today. More than disappointment from ourselves. You cannot apply a penalty 35 laps after the pitstop.

"They had enough time to inform me about the penalty because even if I knew that maybe then I open up 11 seconds to the car behind. 

"I know the team is trying to review it with the stewards now because we didn't understand fully the second penalty.

"I care, but I don't care that much as I have celebrated and now I have three points less? OK, let's try and recover in Australia."

Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack told Sky Sports: "First of all we need to look at the videos what happened exactly so right now I can not really say how this is going to go.

"The regulation said you may not work on the car, it's maybe a little bit ambiguous but this is something we need to look at, we have a clear procedure for it, a countdown, and everything was fully safe. No advantage came from it so let's see how this develops."

Russell, who claimed third place, described the decision to penalise Alonso as "harsh", though he added: "They are the deserved podium finishers but I will take the extra trophy and not complain too much!"

Alonso, meanwhile, reflected on a strong weekend as Aston Martin look ahead to the next race in Melbourne at the start of April.

"We had some concerns about Jeddah after being very strong in Bahrain but arguably here, we were faster than Bahrain on race pace," he said.

"We could control the Ferraris, we could control Mercedes and I don't want to be too optimistic but it looks pretty good for the future."

Fernando Alonso will occupy the front row of the grid for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix but is not harbouring dreams of a first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

Alonso and Aston Martin continued their strong start to the season as the Spaniard qualified third in Jeddah behind Red Bull's Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc after defending world champion Max Verstappen failed to make it out of Q2 because of a driveshaft issue.

Leclerc's 10-place grid penalty will see him start 12th, promoting Alonso to his first front row start since last season's Canadian Grand Prix for Alpine.

Alonso endured a disappointing race on that occasion, finishing ninth.

Though Alonso is confident of greater fortune in the Aston Martin on Sunday, the two-time world champion does not believe he can challenge Perez for victory and anticipates eventually being caught by Verstappen, who will start 15th.

"I don't know. I think we are not in that position yet," the 41-year-old said when asked if he felt he could beat Perez. "I think on pure pace, I think Red Bull is in another league. And I think we have to concentrate more on the teams behind.

"So Ferrari will be very strong. Mercedes, they are strong, and also Alpine, they are fast here. So I think our race is just behind us. We saw today, Max probably was in his league today in qualifying and he could not complete the qualifying with a mechanical issue apparently, so we will try to take the opportunity for sure.

"I don't want to sound pessimistic but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice, we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone. So that's not, let's say, the target tomorrow, you know, to fight for the win with Checo.

"But as I said before, Formula One is not exact mathematics, you know, anything can happen and today no one of us will put Verstappen P15, but these things happen sometimes.

"So, for us, the most important thing is to score points. We are starting both cars in the top five. We try to finish both cars in the top five and keep accumulating points for the constructors' championship. That's the main goal for Aston Martin this year.

"I think Max will come eventually in the race. They have this advantage. I don't know which race it was last year that he started last, so he changed the power unit and still finished P2 or even won the race. So, I think tomorrow, there is no doubt that he will be in the podium, probably, minimum."

Verstappen won from 10th in Hungary last season and 14th in Belgium, results that underlined his dominance once Leclerc's title challenge dissipated, and he is not giving up hope of another charge through the field even at a tight circuit where overtaking may prove difficult.

"We now have a bit more work ahead of us tomorrow, but it is what it is," said Verstappen. 

"It is a long championship and we will stay positive. I think a win is tricky from that position but I will try to score as many points as possible. It will be hard to get to the front, but we won't give up.

"Anything is possible at this track, we have seen some crazy things here, but we have to be realistic. It will be tough but we have good pace so, for sure, we will move forward."

Red Bull still managed to get on pole for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with Sergio Perez topping the timesheets after Max Verstappen's driveshaft issue, and Charles Leclerc conceded the defending champions are "on another planet".

Verstappen was stunningly knocked out of Q2 after the mechanical failure forced him to limp back to the pits.

That left the fight for pole in Jeddah wide open but Perez shut the door for Red Bull's rivals, claiming his second career pole at the circuit where he claimed his first last year with a lap of one minute and 28.265 seconds.

Leclerc was second for Ferrari, but his 10-place grid drop for taking on too many control electronics units will see him start 12th, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso taking his place on the front row after qualifying third.

While Leclerc, who challenged Verstappen last season before reliability and strategy problems dashed his hopes, was pleased with his performance, he was realistic about the Scuderia's capabilities compared to those of Red Bull.

"It has been a very difficult weekend in terms of pace for us but on my lap I think I put everything into it and it was really on the limit," said Leclerc, who was just 0.155 seconds behind Perez.

"On the other hand, Red Bull are on another planet and we are struggling a little bit, so we need to keep pushing, but that is what we are doing as a team.

"Tomorrow isn't going to be easy. I have a 10-place grid penalty, so we will be starting a little bit further back, but we will focus on the race and hopefully come back to the front as quickly as possible." 

Asked about apparent improvements in race pace in Friday's second free practice session, Leclerc replied: "The race pace looked quite good but it's very difficult to compare because in FP2 everyone is running a different programme, but it seemed a little bit better. 

"We will see but it is not going to be easy because I think everyone is going to be very close on race pace."

Alonso's mood was in stark contrast to that of Leclerc, the two-time world champion clearly revelling in being a car that can compete at the front again.

"Qualifying was our weak spot in Bahrain but we performed very well [here] so let’s see what we can do. It is amazing," Alonso said.

"We are confident, the gap on the long runs [on Friday] was affected by traffic, so we feel very strong. The strongest point of the car is the long-run pace and how we treat the tyres, so it should be better on Sunday."

George Russell will start third for Mercedes after qualifying fourth, four spots ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Russell will have Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz for company on the second row, with Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin behind them on an intriguing grid.

Verstappen, who has won the last two world titles and tasted victory in the Bahrain season-opener, will start in 15th position.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) [has 10-place grid penalty]
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
4. George Russell (Mercedes)
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
7. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
8. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
9. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
10. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

Max Verstappen believes Fernando Alonso can end his decade-long wait for a Formula One win this season after an encouraging start for Aston Martin.

The Spaniard finished third in his first race for his new team at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday, which Verstappen won ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

Alonso signed a multi-year deal to replace Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin, making the move from Alpine.

The 41-year-old, who took a two-year sabbatical from F1 before returning in 2021, has not taken the top step of the podium since his victory at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix on home soil.

But reigning champion Verstappen thinks Alonso can add to his tally of 32 wins this year.

The Dutchman said: "I hope so for Fernando as well because he has had a few years where there was not really a possibility to fight at the front, so I'm happy to see him sitting here already in race one.

"I think also again, I mentioned it before, but at Aston Martin, they really have the spirit and drive, they want to win and they've hired a lot of good people.

"So I guess it can only get better for them. And I think for this year, difficult to say if they're going to challenge for the championship, but race wins are definitely on the table.

"I've been in the same position where some races I'm finishing 20 to 40 seconds behind the winners and you still win two or three races a year because sometimes there are some tracks which really suit your car and everything just comes together and you can win a race with maybe sometimes a bit of help or luck.

"But for sure they have a really strong package. And now of course it's all about developing it further."

Max Verstappen was delighted to break his Bahrain Grand Prix hoodoo, but Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez is promising a tight Formula One title race in 2023.

The reigning world champion picked up his first career victory at the Bahrain International Circuit to kick off the new season where he left off last term.

Verstappen led a one-two ahead of teammate Perez, while Fernando Alonso came third on his Aston Martin debut.

Having failed to win on any of his previous visits to Bahrain with the team, the Dutchman acknowledged he was gratified to finally claim a win at the circuit.

"I was very happy to finally win here in Bahrain," he said in his post-race interview. "It was a very good first stint. From there, it was about looking after the tyres.

"[There are] just little things we want to fine-tune. I think we have a good race package. I think it will depend race-to-race, [but] we can definitely fight with this."

Perez, who was aided in securing second by the late retirement of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to an engine issue, feels he can press his team-mate this year though.

After finishing third in the standings last term, the Mexican is looking to ensure he can stay on the heels of the Dutchman as the latter eyes a third consecutive crown.

"We worked really hard over the winter, so it is nice to see all the boys enjoying the first race," he added. "It was important today to get both cars to the end.

"Finishing second was the maximum I could do today [with my start]. It is a long season. I think I am getting closer every single session and I will give my best."

Alonso, who departed Alpine for Aston Martin during the off-season, nabbed his first podium finish since he came third at the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix.

For the Spaniard, the oldest driver in the field at 41, it marked a vindication of his decision to make the move as he continues to defy expectations.

"[It is] amazing for the team, [it] was [a] great weekend," he added. "Finishing on the podium in the first race of the year, it is just amazing.

"What Aston Martin did over the winter to have the second-best car on race one, it's unreal."

Max Verstappen started the defence of his Formula One title with a comfortable victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The two-time world champion was in front from the start and never truly came under threat, leading a Red Bull one-two ahead of Sergio Perez to secure his team's first opening-weekend victory since 2011.

With Charles Leclerc forced into a retirement due to an engine issue, Red Bull's closest challenger was Fernando Alonso, who worked his way through the field for a podium finish.

But a rejuvenated Aston Martin were no match for a dominant Verstappen and Red Bull in what proved to be a comfortable race for the defending champions.

Leclerc, who had a power unit change before the start, leapfrogged Perez to take second place at the start but could not stay ahead of the Mexican, who regained his grid position after the first round of pit stops on lap 26.

Mercedes' fight with Aston Martin was the battle to watch, Lewis Hamilton completing an undercut on Alonso before a stellar move on lap 38 saw the Spaniard move ahead again.

Engine problems for Leclerc led to his retirement three laps later, opening the door for Alonso to battle Carlos Sainz for a podium spot after the virtual safety car was deployed.

Alonso was able to catch his compatriot on lap 46 to clinch third spot in his first race for Aston Martin, though there was no challenge for Red Bull as they eased to only their second ever win in the first race of the year.

Ferrari frustration

Having had to retire from the lead twice in the 2022 season due to engine issues, Leclerc would have hoped those problems were a thing of the past heading into Ferrari's 2023 campaign.

Never appearing to have the pace to put the Red Bull duo under threat, calamity struck with another forced retirement in a nightmare start to the season.

Ocon's Alpine agony

Esteban Ocon's season did not get off to a good start, with the Frenchman given three time penalties over the course of the race.

An initial five-second penalty came for incorrect grid position, with a 10-second penalty following for failing to serve that correctly and another five-second penalty issued for speeding in the pit lane before the Alpine was eventually retired.

 

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +11.987

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +36.637

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +48.052

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +50.977

6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +54.502

7. George Russell (Mercedes) +55.873

8. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1:12.647

9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +1:13.753

10. Alexander Albon (Williams) +1:20.870

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 18

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 15

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 12

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 10

Constructors

1. Red Bull 43

2. Aston Martin 23

3. Mercedes 16

4. Ferrari 12

5. Alfa Romeo 4

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