Esteban Ocon’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Bahrain Grand Prix

The first Grand Prix of the 2023 Formula 1 season is in the books.

Before the field heads to Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, it is time to take one last look back at the first weekend of F1 action. There were some surprise storylines — such as the strength of Aston Martin — as well as some parts to the story that unfold as expected, namely a tremendous weekend for the defending Constructors’ Champions.

Let’s dive into the winners and the losers from the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Winners: Red Bull

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The race began with a Red Bull-lockout at the top of the grid, with Sergio Perez having qualified second, just behind teammate — and two-time Drivers’ Champion — Max Verstappen in pole position.

The race ended with that same 1-2 lockout, as Verstappen pulled away from the field, and Perez followed him, giving Red Bull a double podium to start the season.

It was a far cry from last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, which saw both Red Bull drivers fail to finish. However, this was just a continuation of what had been a strong two weekends in Sakhir. Verstappen and Red Bull looked strong throughout pre-season testing, leaving the rest of the field wonder if anyone could close the gap early in the year, and that continued into the first race of the season.

While Team Principal Christian Horner cautioned that it was very early in the season, and that there is a long way to go in the campaign, it is hard to call this anything but a massive win for Red Bull to start the season.

Loser: Esteban Ocon, Alpine

For Esteban Ocon, it was the kind of day you just want to forget.

“Quite impressive how it was not our day today,” said the Alpine driver after the race, and frankly, it was impressive just how many things did not go his way. Ocon qualified in ninth, but lost two positions through the first few corners of the race, sliding back to 11th on the grid. Then he was hit from behind by the Haas of Nico Hülkenberg, which only compouded a poor start.

But his pitfalls were just beginning.

Ocon was then notified by race stewards that he was being given a five-second penalty for being out of position at the start. He came into pit lane to serve the penalty, but shortly after returning to the track, he was informed that his pit crew began working on his car too soon, and thus now faced a ten-second penalty for improperly serving the initial penalty.

Five more seconds were added for speeding down pit lane.

Making matters worse, Ocon’s day then ended early when he retired on Lap 43.

Winner: Pierre Gasly, Alpine

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

While Ocon struggled, Alpine managed to salvage points on the day, thanks to an heroic effort from his new teammate, Pierre Gasly.

Gasly began the day last, as he struggled during the first qualifying session on Saturday and rolled off 20th at the start. “In quali you kind of go for it. And all the references or expectations that I built up through the weekend just disappeared, and it was very different in terms of car balance. I just didn’t put the lap together and it’s a shame,” said Gasly after qualifying on Saturday.

But his fortunes changed on Sunday. Gasly was the first driver to box during the Grand Prix, and eventually worked his way up to ninth. He could not finagle past Valtteri Bottas on the final lap, settling for two points. But given where he started — and what was happening with his teammate — those were two points Alpine probably did not expect earlier in the race.

“I knew we had a lot more pace than we showed yesterday,” said Gasly after the Grand Prix. “It was important to make it up today. I had a lot of fun. It was a great start and gives us some good hopes for coming races.”

Losers: McLaren

Pre-season testing ended with Team Principal Andrea Stella looking for answers, and opining that the team might struggle to see Q3 in upcoming qualifying sessions.

The Bahrain Grand Prix ended with Oscar Piastri retiring early due to an electrical issue, and Lando Norris having to pit every ten laps to deal with a pressure leak that saw his day end early as well.

Stella stated after the race that he has faith in the development team, and upgrades that are coming to the MCL60. But he also conceded that those could be weeks away, which means we might see McLaren in this category a few more times before they can truly right the ship.

Winners: Aston Martin

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Minutes into pre-season testing, it looked like Aston Martin was in trouble. Lance Stroll was sidelined from testing with an injury suffered during training and his replacement, reserve driver Felipe Drugovich, brought out an early red flag when the AMR23 suffered an electrical issue.

Since then? Oh how Aston Martin’s fortunes have reversed.

That early red flag was the only, well, “red flag” their entire week of testing. Aston Martin was the team everyone pointed to after those three days as potential dark horses for the 2023 season. They lived up to the hype on Sunday, with Stroll returning to the cockpit to place sixth, while Fernando Alonso powered his way to the podium, finishing third.

Aston Martin leaves Bahrain in second place in the Constructors’ Championship, behind only Red Bull.

Sure, there is a long way to go, but what a dream start for Aston Martin.

Losers: Ferrari

“No, no, no! No power!”

Those were the desperate words from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, as his dreams of a podium were cut short late in the race when his SF-23 suffered a failure, ending his race early. Leclerc got off to a strong start, moving from third to second early in the race, and Ferrari was on the verge of perhaps a very strong day.

Teammate Carlos Sainz managed a fourth-place finish, after he was unable to hold off the hard-charging Alonso, but what could have been for Ferrari, was not.

Making matters worse, Leclerc took on new Energy Store and Control Electronics power unit elements pre-race, meaning questions about Ferrari’s reliability will linger long beyond Bahrain.

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