Racing can be the cruellest of sports. This was no more apparent than for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was denied his maiden Formula 1 victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix when his Ferrari’s MGU-H failed with just 11 laps of the race to run.
The Monégasque driver, making just his second appearance for the Scuderia, had driven almost faultlessly throughout the weekend. Quickest in FP1 and FP3, he used his SF90’s superior pace to springboard himself into pole position ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel to become the sport’s second-youngest ever pole-winner.
Despite losing the lead to Vettel at the start, he regrouped and closed onto the back of the four-time World Champion. The Ferrari engineers encouraged him to follow in Vettel’s wake, but Leclerc ignored the call and blasted by the German to take the lead on the sixth lap.
Vettel had been emphatically put to the sword by the young pretender and fell into third-placed Lewis Hamilton’s clutches. Hamilton, who started from third, made a poor start and spent the early part of his race getting by his Australian Grand Prix winning teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Once clear, the Mercedes driver drove doggedly and closed up to Vettel. The pair raced wheel-to-wheel, with Hamilton using DRS to attempt a move past the Ferrari driver at Turn 4. Vettel tried to hold his position, but once again let himself down with an unforced error by spinning at the exit of the right-hander.
It was yet another display of a weakness in his driving that had cost him the 2018 Drivers’ Championship title, and having ruined his tyres and broken his front wing in the process, he was forced to make an extra pit stop and finished fifth behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing Honda.
Leclerc continued to lead the race and looked on course to claim a superb victory. With little more than a dozen laps to go, his turbo energy recovery system packed it in and he began to slow.
Hamilton reeled the wounded Ferrari in and took the lead on Lap 48, with Bottas following suit into second place just before a late Safety Car interruption.
The full-course caution was triggered by the simultaneous retirements of both factory Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo (power loss) and Nico Hülkenberg (engine failure) and the Renault-powered McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr. (gearbox).
The Safety Car gave Leclerc enough of a buffer to ensure he would not be challenged by fourth-placed Verstappen and still be allowed to claim a bittersweet maiden Grand Prix podium.
Hamilton’s victory moved him to within one point of Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship standings, although the Briton was quick to admit that his win – the 74th of his Formula 1 career – was down to Leclerc’s misfortune.
“I was not expecting that result,” he said. “The Ferraris outpaced us all weekend. Big congratulations to Charles, he deserved the win today but you have to take it as it comes. I am proud of the job we did given the lack of pace we had.
Of Leclerc, the five-time World Champion gave high praise: “I expected him to be great and do a great job. Who would have known he would be so quick so early on but he is driving a Ferrari. He is doing a great job, fair play to him.”
In sharp contrast to the explosion of emotion seen by a contemporary like Verstappen, Leclerc was calm and philosophical in defeat.
“Today was not our day. It’s sad because obviously, I was so close of realising a dream that you have since childhood, which is your first win in Formula 1,” he said.
“Hopefully this day will come one day in the future. I’ll work for that, the team will work for this, but they should be proud about what they’ve done this weekend and we’ll come back stronger.”
Behind the top-five, rookie driver Lando Norris finished an excellent sixth in the sole McLaren ahead of Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo. Pierre Gasly was eighth in the second Red Bull Honda, with Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon earning his first points’ finish in ninth. Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez was tenth.
|FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (57 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||57||1:34:21.295||25|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||57||+ 2.980||18|
|3.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||57||+ 6.131||16|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||57||+ 6.408||12|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||57||+ 36.068||10|
|6.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||57||+ 45.754||8|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||57||+ 47.470||6|
|8.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||57||+ 58.094||4|
|9.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||57||+ 1:02.697||2|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||57||+ 1:03.696||1|
|11.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||57||+ 1:04.599|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||56||1 lap behind|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||56||1 lap behind|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||56||1 lap behind|
|15.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||56||1 lap behind|
|16.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||55||2 laps behind|
|17.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||53||Engine|
|18.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||53||Power Loss|
|19.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||53||Gearbox|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||16||Damage|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Valtteri Bottas is awarded an additional 1 championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.
Images via Mercedes-AMG and Scuderia Ferrari