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Max Verstappen wins Bahrain Grand Prix, laying down marker in opening race of the F1 season

By Issy Ronald, CNN

(CNN) — Max Verstappen coasted to victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, laying down an ominous marker for the rest of the field in the opening race of this F1 season.

His win dispelled any notions that Red Bull’s dominance might have waned over the winter or that its preparations were significantly disrupted by an external investigation into team principal Christian Horner over allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Horner was cleared of wrongdoing on Wednesday and reiterated that he denied the allegations on Friday after alleged leaked messages were distributed to members of the F1 community on Thursday in a Google Drive. CNN has been unable to corroborate their authenticity.

Before the race began, Horner was joined in the paddock by his wife and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell-Horner as they put on a display of unity amid the controversy.

While that overshadowed Red Bull’s race weekend, it did not seem to affect the team’s performance on the track as Sergio Perez completed yet another 1-2 – a repeat result of last season’s opening race. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz rounded out the podium in third.

Verstappen and Red Bull enjoyed one of the most commanding seasons ever last year, and the three-time world champion continued that utter dominance in Bahrain, albeit in a newly designed car, picking up as many points as possible in the drivers’ championship by also recording the fastest lap.

“Unbelievable, I think today went even better than expected,” Verstappen told Sky Sports after the race.

“I think we had a lot of pace and it was just super enjoyable to drive today. We stayed out of trouble and it’s a great start of the year, it couldn’t have been better.

“It was a lot of fun and I felt really good in the car. It’s always very special to have these kind of days because they don’t happen that often where it all goes perfect and you are at one with the car.”

Verstappen held off a challenge from Charles Leclerc on the first corner and simply coasted away from the rest of the field, opening up a 1.2 second gap by the start of the second lap.

Eventually, he finished more than 22 seconds ahead of Perez as he cruised clear of all the machinations unfolding behind him.

Mercedes’ George Russell briefly sneaked into second while Perez, who began in P5, worked his way up the field, slipping past the Ferrari pair of Sainz and Leclerc, as well as Russell, to move up into second place.

Despite his early success, however, Russell was eventually overtaken by the Ferraris to finish in fifth. His teammate Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, never really troubled the front of the race and finished in seventh place.

The F1 season continues next weekend and remains in the Middle East with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah.

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