Red Bull's Max Verstappen outclasses rivals and saves Red Bull in hour of need - Hindustan Times
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Bahrain Grand Prix: Max Verstappen outclasses rivals and saves Red Bull in hour of need

Mar 03, 2024 06:28 PM IST

Red Bull's Max Verstappen set the Bahrain track ablaze and won the season opener in 1:31:44.742.

So it has just turned out the way it was expected. Rivals, particularly Mercedes, tried to trade on the Christian Horner controversy but what appeared to be their last resort has not succeeded in disrupting the season for Red Bull and Max Verstappen.

First placed Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) and third placed Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr celebrate during the podium ceremony(AFP)
First placed Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) and third placed Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr celebrate during the podium ceremony(AFP)

Last month amid the buzz for the 2024 season, big tremors were felt in F1 when the news emerged that a female colleague had accused Horner of controlling and inappropriate behaviour. To many it appeared the scandal could hurt Red Bull in a bad way. Having been the most dominating team, particularly in the last two seasons, they are undoubtedly the hunted at present. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and driver Lewis Hamilton expressed their concerns over the matter which appeared more of a strategy to break the rhythm of Red Bull than anything else.

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Horner was eventually acquitted just days before the Bahrain GP action but the controversy has refused to die down as some damning messages involving Horner have come to light, adding fuel to the fire not a little. All this was expected to rattle Red Bull at the season opener but to the disappointment of the rivals, Horner’s team has delivered a top-notch performance with Verstappen razing the rivals to the ground.

His victory may not have surprised many but the manner certainly would have thrown a scare into the nine other teams. The Dutch driver set the Bahrain track ablaze and won the season opener in 1:31:44.742. The second on the podium, Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez, was eerily 22.457 seconds behind. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. took the third position 25.110 seconds behind.

That Perez, driving the same RB20 car, was so far behind Verstappen suggests the Dutchman had started just the way he had left off last season. In 2023, he won a record 19 races out of 22, and in the lead- up to the new season, there was a lot of speculation if he could emulate that number of wins or do even better. It’s safe to say that the 26-year-old has laid those speculations to rest.

In the face of the Horner controversy, Verstappen would have been under pressure to deliver for sure. God forbid, if he had not delivered the expected result, all fingers would have pointed at the controversy and Red Bull would have been in dire straits, make no mistake. So the Verstappen performance was the need of the hour and like he had delivered for Red Bull in the last three seasons, he was up to the task once again, delivering champion stuff both in the qualifying on Friday and the race on Saturday.

Mercedes, who particularly looked to gain from the controversy, had not had the kind of show they would have hoped for, with George Russell and Hamilton taking the fifth and seventh places respectively. 'We had a lot of pace, it was super enjoyable to drive. We stayed out of trouble. It's a good start to the year, it couldn't be better. It's very special to have days like today. It doesn't happen often, when everything is ok with the car. I think the start was good. The first corner is a tight hairpin, but from there onwards we focused on our own race,' Verstappen enthused after the race.

Verstappen did what he was expected to do for his team but the truth of the matter is the Horner situation has grown in size. While Verstappen has appeared to take a neutral stance on the matter since day one, his father Jos has changed the whole complexion of the controversy in the last few hours by saying things that don’t show Horner in a good light. So far, we have learned two things. One is that Verstappen is on the way to winning his fourth successive drivers’ title and joining the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher (who actually won five in a row), Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton. He is not affected by the controversy. The second is Horner is in a fix. It’s obvious he is losing support, particularly within the team. By the look of it, if he can last through 2024, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

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