Opening Day for open-wheel racing dazzles in St. Pete, Bahrain

Published On March 19, 2023 | By John Haverlin | News, Top Posts

Editor’s note: This piece will be featured in the April edition of the New Mexico Motorsports Report magazine.

March 5 started a new season for two of the world’s top racing leagues — the NTT IndyCar Series and the Formula 1 World Championship.

IndyCar kicked off its year at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, while F1 saw the lights go out for the first time in 2023 at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Marcus Ericsson and Max Verstappen won their respective events, but they weren’t the ones to make all the headlines when the racing was all said and done.

Romain Grosjean, now in his third IndyCar season, started from the pole and looked like he would be the man to beat in St. Pete. He led 31 laps but only completed 71 of the total 100 after battling and crashing with Scott McLaughlin, who was looking to blend onto the track ahead of Grosjean after exiting the pits on Lap 72.

McLaughlin came out in front of Grosjean’s No. 28 Honda, but he couldn’t hold him off for long on cold tires. Grosjean had the hot, grippier tires, and the two were side-by-side on a narrow straightaway before it all went sour.

Grosjean tried to overtake McLaughlin from the outside on a righthand turn, but they touched and collided into a tire barrier, thus ending both drivers’ chances at a trophy. Grosjean, clearly frustrated, climbed out of his car and slammed his fist against the tire barrier before heading to the infield in the AMR safety vehicle.

McLaughlin continued to drive but ended up a lap down in 13th after leading a race-high 38 laps. Ericsson won his fourth IndyCar race, while Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon rounded out the podium.

After the race, McLaughlin and Grosjean talked things over. They hugged and had a conversation as good sportsmen would do.

“Glad we could talk man to man. Racing hard, both going for the win. We have had many good battles with @RGrosjean – I apologise for my part in this. Press on.,” McLaughlin tweeted.

“Thanks for coming to see my friend!” Grosjean replied. “I’m excited to fight for the lead with you in many more occasion.”

In Bahrain, two-time defending world champion Max Verstappen took the pole and led Red Bull to a 1-2 finish to start the 2023 campaign. He was P1 for all but three laps, led by his Mexican teammate Sergio Perez.

But while the Red Bulls dominated out front, the battle for the final place on the podium contained all the excitement. Fernando Alonso, in his first race with Aston Martin, got P3 after overtaking Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz Jr. in the second half of the race. Alonso passed Hamilton for fourth on Lap 38 and then overtook fellow countryman Sainz seven laps later.

After getting by a Mercedes and Ferrari, it was a well-earned and exciting 99th career podium for the 2005-2006 champion.

He repeated the feat two weeks later in Saudi Arabia. Alonso started second, took the lead in Turn 1 on the first lap, but then was given a five-second penalty for improperly positioning his car in his grid slot after the formation lap.

Alonso attempted to serve his time penalty in the pits, but race control initially declared that it wasn’t done correctly. The race stewards said that the rear jack shouldn’t have been touching his car in the pit box before the five seconds was up, but Aston Martin petitioned the decision saying that there were seven previous instances in F1 of the jack touching a car during a time penalty that didn’t result in further discipline.

Because of the additional five seconds added for the jack touching the car, Alonso was relegated to P4. But when the FIA reversed its decision, it placed the Spaniard back on the podium for the second time in two races.

Perez won the race from the pole, while Max Verstappen salvaged a P2 finish after starting 15th from a driveshaft failure that occurred during the second round of qualifying.

IndyCar and F1 both return to action on April 2. The American series will compete on its first oval of the year at Texas Motor Speedway while F1 heads Down Under for the Australian Grand Prix.

Photo by: Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment

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About The Author

— a Long Island, New York native, is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he studied communication and journalism. Since 2013, he has covered auto racing’s various forms, including NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, IMSA, and Formula E. During his downtime, he likes to play his Les Paul guitar, hit the golf course and watch the New York Mets.

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