Red Bull’s Max Verstappen started the new season as he ended the last, with a dominant victory in the Middle East.
The two-time champion led the Bahrain Grand Prix almost from start to finish, initially lapping at a pace beyond his rivals and then controlling the race.
The drive, Verstappen’s 36th victory, underlined his status as favourite for a third consecutive world title.
Sergio Perez made it a Red Bull one-two ahead of an inspired drive by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in third.
Perez had won a fight with Charles Leclerc over second place, before the Ferrari driver retired with 16 laps to go when he lost drive.
The big excitement in the race was created by Alonso, who dropped from fifth on the grid to seventh behind the two Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on the opening lap, but fought back to take the final podium place.
Alonso passed Russell before the first pit stops, then caught and passed Hamilton after their second stops, before closing on Sainz.
The moves on Hamilton and Sainz were of the highest quality.
Alonso and Hamilton battled for a couple of laps, with the Spaniard passing the Briton into Turn Four before a snap from the rear allowed the Mercedes back past.
Then Alonso came back at Hamilton and overtook down the inside of Turn 10, an extremely rare place for a move.
With Sainz, the two touched as Alonso tried to pass out of Turn Four. Sainz was then wise to the same move at Turn 10, but Alonso got better drive down the following straight and passed into the fast Turn 11.
That left Sainz holding off Hamilton for fourth. The seven-time champion initially looked as if he might also pass the Ferrari, but he was unable to close in, as both suffered with tyres and had to settle for fifth.
The second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll took sixth place, despite hitting Alonso at Turn Four on the first lap, costing the Spaniard a place to Russell, who finished seventh. (BBC)