Lewis Hamilton wins Bahrain GP as engine drama robs Charles Leclerc

Leclerc has to settle for third place after leading most of the race in Sakhir

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the Baharain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Powered by automated translation

Charles Leclerc attempted to put a brave face on the heartbreak of missing out on his maiden Formula One victory after engine problems denied him in Bahrain last night.

The Monegasque driver had been in control of the race in Sakhir until he asked his Ferrari team “what’s happening?” as he reported a loss of power in his engine.

He was passed by world champion Lewis Hamilton with nine laps to go and was fortunate to finish third as a late safety car period ensured that he could not be overtaken by other drivers despite his car’s performance being significantly hampered.

“It happens and it is part of motorsport. Unfortunately today was not our day,” said the 21 year old, who at least had the consolation of his first F1 podium, coming a day after he had taken his inaugural pole position in the series.

“We have been lucky because the safety car came out at the end, but it is hard to take. I am sure we will come back stronger.”

Ferrari had dominated qualifying, but were left with Leclerc’s third place and a distant fifth for Sebastian Vettel to show for their pace.

Instead Mercedes-GP repeated their one-two finish in Australia, this time with the places reversed as Hamilton picked up his 74th career win ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.

But unlike in Melbourne the German marque were not the fastest package, and Hamilton was aware that only misfortune and mistakes had prevented Ferrari from winning the race.

“We were lucky today,” said the five-time world champion. “I gave it everything in the race.”

Referring to Leclerc, he added: “This guy has a lot of race wins coming in the future.”

Hamilton may have left Sakhir with the winners’ trophy but it was Leclerc who was the talk of the F1 paddock after a display that highlights he is a genuine championship contender.

Leclerc made a poor start from pole and dropped to third. But he quickly passed Bottas before going around the outside of Vettel at Turn 1 on Lap 9 to take the lead.

He then pulled away from the field and had built up a lead of more than 12 seconds before mechanical problems hit.

He began to lose more then five seconds a lap, compared to his previous performance, and as well as being passed by Hamilton he also lost a place to Bottas.

But the safety car was brought out with three laps to go after the Renault cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg both stopped at Turn 2, with the stewards judging them to be in an unsafe position.

With a full course caution, and no overtaking allowed, Leclerc and his struggled car were able to make it home without losing any further position.

The result was the first time that Mercedes has claimed one-two finishes in the first two races of the season.

But Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, was aware that the result flattered them despite the success.

“We are lacking straight line speed so we need to improve for China,” he said.

Bottas retained the championship lead by a point, and the Finn said: “The hard work at the factory is paying off.

“I had a difficult race as the balance of the car was everywhere and I made a few mistakes.”

Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull Racing ahead of a disappointed Vettel.

It was a poor day for the German. Not only was he out-paced by his younger teammate he then spun after going wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton mid-race as they tussled for second.

Of the incident, Vettel said: “The wind probably didn’t help, maybe the fact Hamilton was ahead I don’t know.

“I lost the car very suddenly once I spun and it was too late and we had too much damage with the tyres to cause the front wing to fail.”

Vettel added of his overall display: “It’s a disappointing day, starting at the front and not finishing there is not what we wanted.”

McLaren’s 18-year-old British driver Lando Norris picked up his first F1 championship points with eight for finishing sixth.

2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen was seventh for Alfa Romeo ahead of the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly.

Toro Rosso driver Alexander Albon also scored his first points as he finished ninth, with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez completing the top 10.

The third round of the 21-race season is the Chinese Grand Prix on April 14.