Daily Mail

Tornado alert as Max blows the field away

Red Bull dominance is agony for Wolff

- JONATHAN McEVOY in Bahrain

IT was as if a tornado had ripped through the paddock last night. Predicted long enough ago for windows to be bolted tight. But preparedne­ss did no good, and once Max Verstappen had ripped through the place, nothing was left standing.

George Russell, as calm in the bad weather as you could expect, summed up the feeling of the devastated, by saying of Red Bull: ‘ They could win every race this season.’

The trail of destructio­n in the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first page of a 23-race calendar stretching to the last sunday in November, barely contradict­ed Russell’s prediction. Not only did Verstappen win, sergio Perez completed Red Bull’s pulverisin­g one-two.

Fernando alonso, rampant in a newly invigorate­d aston Martin, was an isolated 38 seconds adrift. and that was with Verstappen cruising, from pole, in a display that the TV cameras barely covered, and with good reason.

Carlos sainz, the only surviving Ferrari, was 48 seconds back in fourth. Lewis Hamilton, fifth, was 51 short; Lance stroll, sixth in the second aston, 54.5 away; Russell, seventh, 55.8 distant.

Recent history underscore­s the strangleho­ld Red Bull, and especially Verstappen, are exerting on the larynx of Formula One. This was the Dutchman’s 10th win in 12 races, and his 17th in 24 stretching back to that fateful evening in abu Dhabi at the end of 2021. The night the lights went out for Mercedes.

Russell continued his narrative of hard reality by saying: ‘Red Bull have got this championsh­ip sewn up and I don’t think anybody will be fighting with them this year. Their pace here was weaker than in testing, but they have got it easy at the moment and they can do what they like.

‘They might not take every pole, because Ferrari are competitiv­e over one lap, but when it comes to race pace they are in a very strong position.’

Caught in the trail of destructio­n are Mercedes, of course. Team principal Toto wolff hardly helped their predicamen­t with one of the most pessimisti­c eve- of-race statements imaginable, when he said on saturday night that they had misconceiv­ed the car and would bin it. They will move to a new design.

Many along the paddock could not believe their ears. what would his comments do for morale? It was clearly also an embarrassi­ng U-turn, having obstinatel­y stuck with their floor and ‘zero’ sidepod design despite it obviously acting like a caravan for an entire year.

It is now back to the drawing board, this year’s championsh­ip basically written off; just the hope of a few mid late-season wins hazy on a future horizon.

after the chastening weekend was over, it was clear that aston Martin are closest — ahem — challenger­s to Red Bull with Ferrari a small fraction behind and Mercedes fourth, a place lower than 12 months ago.

‘It was one of the worst days in racing,’ admitted wolff, whose honesty cannot be faulted. ‘It is really not good at all and we are lacking pace left, right and centre.

‘Red Bull are just on a different planet. That is what hurts because they are so far ahead. It reminds me of our best years where we just put a second on everyone else. That is the benchmark and we need to come back and we can absolutely do that.’

Perhaps they can. Perhaps not. They have lost key personnel, and not even the Roman Empire lasted forever. It also sets in motion a million other imponderab­les, not least whether Hamilton will want to stick around as the clock ticks on his dazzling career. He can hardly have liked the evidence of his eyes.

‘we cannot beat around the bush,’ added Russell.

‘I want to win championsh­ips, not come second, and that is what every single person in Mercedes wants to do. second is not good enough and if we need to make drastic changes to give ourselves a shot in the second half of the year or whenever that is what we will do.’

affecting this step change is not easy in this era of the cost cap. Now teams can only spend £110million — or thereabout­s depending on the exchange rate — and cannot raid fat coffers in search of a solution. Progress will necessaril­y be slower, the skills required different from those the free-wheeling Mercedes

once honed so successful­ly. And, now, on to another contributo­r to the sport’s tornado-torn conditions: the mess that is Ferrari, under the control of new team principal, Frenchman Fred Vasseur.

Not only are the Scuderia off the pace, but Charles Leclerc suffered an as-yet undiagnose­d engine problem when lying third. The misfortune befell him 17 laps from the end.

‘No, no, no — come on,’ wailed the Monegasque. ‘No power.’ He hopped on to a scooter back to the paddock, his race finished. Over in the garage, Piero Ferrari, the younger and only surviving son of Enzo Ferrari, removed his headphones in seeming dejection. Ferrari, eh! Plus ca change.

Will the world championsh­ip picture take on a different complexion when the carnival pitches up in Jeddah a week on Sunday?

Well, it promises to be not quite as predictabl­e as it was here in Sakhir, where pre-season testing, practice and qualifying, amounting to 30 hours, had already set the pecking order in stone.

But all hope of a real contest breaking out is no more than a candle blowing in the wind.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? First class: Verstappen (right) cruises to victory as his team celebrate
GETTY IMAGES First class: Verstappen (right) cruises to victory as his team celebrate
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 ?? PA ?? Pain game: Lewis Hamilton trundled home in fifth
PA Pain game: Lewis Hamilton trundled home in fifth

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