Some of Max Verstappen‘s competitors seemed ready to concede the season to him after his dominant win at Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished 11 seconds behind him, while the nearest non-Red Bull rival, Fernando Alonso, trailed by 38 seconds. However, the victory came in the first race of a 23-race season, and Bahrain’s track conditions make it an outlier on the F1 circuit. Red Bull may continue its form in upcoming races, but it’s too early to predict whether they will maintain a perfect record.
Despite Verstappen’s margin of victory, Red Bull’s performance in Bahrain is not indicative of the entire F1 season, and other teams may be able to challenge. The Bahrain International Circuit has a unique track surface that punishes rear tyres, so Red Bull’s advantage may not be the same on other racetracks. The circuit in Saudi Arabia has a layout that is less taxing for tyres, so Red Bull may not have the same edge there. Verstappen acknowledged the differences between races and the need to wait for more races to play out.
Red Bull’s victory in Bahrain owed partly to Verstappen’s ability to preserve his rear tyres. Red Bull’s setup focused on protecting its tyres in the race, compensating for a slow qualifying lap time. Verstappen was also able to use the softer tyre compound in his first two stints before switching to the harder compound. This tyre strategy would not have been feasible for other drivers, who used a set of softs followed by two sets of hard tyres in the top eight finishes. However, Red Bull’s rivals are not so far behind that they can’t catch up.
Red Bull’s improvement over the winter was significant, while Ferrari and Mercedes failed to improve enough. Verstappen’s success is remarkable, but the performance of the competition was disappointing. Mercedes in particular seems to have regressed to the level of the upper midfield teams, and Ferrari has already shown similar traits as last year where they were quick over a single lap but struggled to match Red Bull over the entire race. Red Bull’s rivals are not far behind, and Mercedes has already called for a change in car concept.
Although Red Bull’s performance in Bahrain was impressive, the team will face serious competition this year. The season is still long, and Red Bull’s competitors still have time to catch up. Bahrain’s unique track conditions make it difficult to assess Red Bull’s chances in other races, and it remains to be seen whether they can maintain their dominance over the season.