Max Verstappen wins Bahrain Grand Prix amid Red Bull turmoil

Max Verstappen wins Bahrain Grand Prix amid Red Bull turmoil

SAKHIR, Bahrain — The ongoing drama around Red Bull had no effect on its three-time reigning world champion as Max Verstappen routed the field by 22 seconds in the season-opening Formula 1 race on Saturday.

Verstappen started the Bahrain Grand Prix on pole position and was never seriously challenged on his way to a commanding one-two win for Red Bull with teammate Sergio Perez. Embattled team principal Christian Horner was joined before the race and during the podium celebration by his former pop star wife, Geri Halliwell.

“Today went even better than expected,” Verstappen said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. was third for Ferrari after fighting hard with teammate Charles Leclerc.

At the start of the longest ever F1 season at 24 races, Verstappen already shows signs of repeating his near-perfect record from 2023, when the Dutch driver won 19 of 22 races.

Bahrain was the eighth win in a row for Verstappen going back to last September. He set an F1 record of 10 consecutive wins last season.

The F1 paddock’s focus has firmly been on Horner, with Verstappen saying on Saturday his boss was “probably a little bit distracted.”

“Obviously, it’s not been pleasant, some of the unwanted attention, but the focus is now very much on the cars,” Horner said. “My focus has very much been on what’s going on on track and the result today, I think, demonstrates where the whole team’s focus is and we move onwards.”

Horner arrived on race day hand in hand with Halliwell, also known as Ginger Spice of the pop group the Spice Girls, and they celebrated together as Verstappen received his trophy. The race came after FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said the turmoil around Horner was “damaging the sport,” in comments to the Financial Times.

On Wednesday, the team’s parent company dismissed a complaint of alleged misconduct by Horner toward a team employee. A day later during practice in Bahrain, a file alleged to contain evidence against Horner was emailed to nearly 200 people in the F1 paddock, including Liberty Media, F1, the FIA, the other nine team principals, and multiple media outlets.

The authenticity of the files has not been verified by The Associated Press; the file came from a generic email account.

In another sign that Red Bull is significantly faster than any other team, Perez climbed from fifth on the grid to second and faced little challenge after that.

Sainz’s third place was his first podium finish…

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