F1 season opens with Verstappen in 'a different galaxy'

AFP

Max Verstappen could not have hoped for a better start to his bid for a fourth-consecutive Formula One title, with even rivals hailing his crushingly dominant display in Saturday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as being in "a different galaxy".

The Dutch driver took the chequered flag 22.4 seconds clear of his teammate Sergio Perez driving a similar RB20.

He did it having started from pole, led every lap and with the fastest lap to complete a 'grand slam'.

"Unbelievable, I think today went even better than expected," said Verstappen.

"It was a lot of fun, I felt really good in the car.

"It's special to have these kind of days, where it all feels perfect and you feel at one with the car."

A close-run qualifying on Friday and a constant changing of the guard in practice, with three different teams occupying top spot in the three sessions and none of them Red Bull, had raised the prospect of a closer-run race on Saturday.

The seemingly untroubled ease of Verstappen's win in the first race of a record 24-round season swiftly dashed those hopes, instead giving way to a sense of resignation and foreboding.

The 26-year-old, barely breaking a sweat as he got out of the car, had similarly won last year’s Bahrain season-opener from pole.

But that wasn’t as commanding as his win on Saturday, with his winning margin then half what it was this year and no fastest lap.

Nevertheless, it set the stage for Verstappen to sign off 2023 with 19 wins from 22 races.

With his Red Bull harder to catch, at least on the evidence of the 2024 season opener, there is every possibility he could go better.

Rivals are not ruling out the prospect.

"Unfortunately, yes," Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said when asked if Verstappen could be uncatchable. "(We) just have to acknowledge his performance levels are really strong.

"I think today Max is not in a different league but he's in a different galaxy — the performance is extraordinary."

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