Aston Martin, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Paddock Diary: 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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After the longest off-season in years, the teams assembled for the first race of the 2023 Formula 1 season in Bahrain. The winner was widely expected, but there was a surprise addition to the podium.


After spending the last few days exploring Bahrain (turns out you can complete that in around two days) I was excited to get back underway ahead of the new season. Press day is always extremely busy but one of my favourite parts of the weekend: it’s the first chance we get to sit and talk to the drivers and get a feel for their headspace. Considering we had spoken to many of the drivers during testing, I focused mostly on Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren, whose drivers hadn’t been available outside of the FIA press conferences.

The drive in was relatively chaotic as has been much of the stay – but once in we started the day with a trip to AlphaTauri to speak with Yuki Tsunoda, who looked relaxed in his sunglasses. He opened up about his third year in F1, and the extra pressures he feels as he is now no longer one of the new drivers on the grid.

As the day went on, more drivers were ticked off the list. Heading to speak to Lewis Hamilton, he caught my eye as I sat down. “Where are all the women?” he mouthed to me. “That’s the question I keep asking,” I replied.

The promoters kindly arranged a media dinner evening which set us up nicely for the first day of real action.


Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Friday serves as an information-collecting day for me, with far fewer media opportunities besides the team bosses’ press conference. On my way there I bumped into Christian Horner and his head of communications Paul Smith. Smiling warmly, he gestured for me to walk ahead of him up the stairs. Horner may play the pantomime villain in Drive to Survive, but in real life, he is always very conscious to acknowledge the “guys and girls” when greeting us in group media situations, which is appreciated.

The new press conference look was in full swing with drivers and team principals gathered on what is apparently an Ikea sofa. I took my seat alongside the other journalists as the session got underway. Horner earned a chuckle by jokingly suggesting the FIA had put Red Bull’s £6 million budget cap fine to good use with the seat and a new suit for mediator Tom Clarkson, which earned a laugh too.

Fridays are also a good opportunity to go trackside and see the cars in action. F1 journalists are either accredited race-by-race or permanently, and the former are only allowed tabards to go trackside if there are enough left after the photographers and permanent journalists have collected them. As I became permanently accredited this year, I now have the freedom to roam trackside as and when is safe, which makes me one of a very fortunate few.

Shortly after the press conference I walked down to the other end of the paddock and through the turnstiles to head trackside at turn ten. Moving aside for a photographer, I took a step back to asses the atmosphere. It felt like testing as crowds were hard to spot and the huge circuit felt empty. A Red Bull RB19 tackled the tricky, curved braking zone with no obvious difficulty, the Ferraris appeared to lack stability and the Aston Martin’s handling looked compliant.

Leaving the track after 10pm following a series of quick reaction interviews after practice, I returned to the hotel for a late dinner and sleep.

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Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Walking in at the same time as the teams, I wandered through the long tunnel down towards the paddock with the sound of Porsches ringing around the track. Even on the morning of qualifying, the event felt like it lacked atmosphere, the circuit television presenters working double time to create any buzz.

There was excitement however around the Aston Martin garage. The Fernando Alonso ‘hype train’ had fully left the station after he topped two practice sessions, and every journalist I spoke to that morning predicted he would put his Aston Martin AMR23 in the top three in qualifying.

The paddock meanwhile was fairly empty of fans and VIPs, which makes the working environment far easier for us, though the logistics could be better. Paying TV stations get prime spots and far more space to interview drivers in the pen; written media are given a small section alongside a barrier to stand behind. Fail to turn up early (during Q1) to bag a good space and you run the risk of an armpit in your face as journalists are crammed in four rows deep, desperate to get a question to the drivers at the end of sessions.

The day ended with a trip to McLaren, with Lando Norris in a surprisingly upbeat mood considering the struggles on track. His debuting team mate Oscar Piastri looked a little like a rabbit in headlights, while new team principal Andrea Stella continued to insist McLaren’s coming upgrade package would reverse its fortunes. That done, I left the track at gone 10pm in search of food.

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Opting to get in before the F3 race on Sunday morning I first made my way to speak to Jock Clear at Ferrari before a very frank chat with James Key at McLaren. The team’s technical director was making his first appearance before media this year and gave us more useful into into their troublesome new car.

As the temperature dropped slightly, the pit lane opened ahead of the race and we poured our way onto the grid. The scene was beautiful as twilight descended as I could hear the cars firing up in the pit lane.

The grid started to fill with people and cars. As I watched Mercedes’ engineers applying tape around the cooling ducts of the W14s, team principal Toto Wolff appeared next to me, arms crossed and a whimsical expression on his face. “The carbon fibre is flapping on the bodywork,” he explained. “It’s not good… really not good.” He flashed a smile after I offered him good luck – I felt he needed it.

Once the Bahraini national anthem ended I made my way to the front of the grid. After nearly getting run down by a smiling Hamilton on a scooter I decided it was about time to leave the grid. I always find it amazing when drivers have any sort of mental capacity to smile or engage with anyone bar engineers at that point in the weekend, but Hamilton looked chilled as ever on his way past.

The race was much as many of us expected as Red Bull dominated and their rivals’ challenge faded, with Ferrari encountering more unreliability. Aston Martin were the undoubted talking point with Alonso’s podium finish, and he made his way into the media pen with a gaggle of photographers in his wake.

Hamilton spotted the beaming Alonso and waited politely behind him out of shot before embracing him to congratulate the 41-year-old on his third-place finish. As Christian Horner later observed, Alonso showed there was still hope for the “40-somethings” and “still some life in the old dog yet”.

After that, it was a quick dash to the airport for a 3:30 am flight. Unsurprisingly the whole airport was filled with people from the F1 paddock.

The first weekend was done, but worry had already begun to set in with many I spoke to about how easily Red Bull may wrap up the championship. However – as every driver loves to remind us – “it’s a long season, and anything can happen”.

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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6 comments on “Paddock Diary: 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix”

  1. The longest in years? Not any longer than on average since the mid-2010s or thereabouts.

  2. Nice read through, who would have thought an F1 car would need to be held together with tape?

    1. @skipgamer Seconded, nice read. Also about the tape, though Wolff didn’t seem to think it particularly normal (good) either.

  3. F1 pen is no different to the mixed zone for football, track and field athletics etc.

    TV broadcaster rights holders require (minimum) 2 people and their equipment. Written press? Do not…

    My athletics reporter acquaintance works in the mixed zone – similar workspace to that described above, but doesn’t complain. Funny, that…

    1. Is your acquaintance female or male? If not female then i find your comment pretty distasteful. You seem to have no empathy for what is a very very male dominated and toxic working environment.

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