The FIA Formula 1 World Championship season dramatically began in Bahrain today. It became clear early in the weekend that the race’s main protagonists would be the reigning world champion Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Leclerc won the pole over Verstappen in qualifying with a fantastic run through the final corner.
The start saw Leclerc hold on to the lead from pole, keeping Verstappen’s Red Bull behind him. Lewis Hamilton started fifth but was able to get around Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez. Though, by the tenth lap, Pérez caught the Mercedes driver and took his starting position back.
On lap 17, Leclerc and Verstappen went to war after the Ferrari pitted. The mandated lower tire blanket temperatures have made out laps slower and more treacherous. The Red Bull driver had already pitted a few laps prior and got his tires heated up. The pair fought wheel-to-wheel and exchanged positions in the DRS zones. Verstappen would lunge the inside at over 200 mph into turn 1, and then Leclerc would return the favor into turn 4.
Though on lap 19, Verstappen locked up during his overtake attempt into the first corner. He went wide and opened the door for Leclerc to pull a small gap. When they returned to the front straight, the Red Bull driver was out of DRS range and pulling out of the slipstream to cool his car.
I’d recount every wheel-to-wheel battle throughout the midfield if I had more time. The new regulations aimed to make it possible for cars to follow each other more closely, and it clearly worked. There was at least one on-track battle happening for most of the race.
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The safety car was deployed on lap 46 of 57 after Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri burst into flames. This meant that the race ended in a seven-lap sprint once the safety car was brought in. Sainz attacked Verstappen right away at the restart, allowing Leclerc to pull away.
Earlier in the race, Red Bull radioed Verstappen to inform him that his car had an issue but wouldn’t specify what precisely the problem was. On lap 54, the issue reached critical mass, Verstappen lost power. He pulled into the pitlane and retired. Then, Perez also radioed that he was losing power. On the first corner of the final lap, Perez suffered a mechanical failure and lost control of his car, allowing Lewis Hamilton to secure an unlikely podium finish. It was later determined that both Red Bull cars suffered fuel pump failures.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished the Bahrain Grand Prix first and second. While Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished third and fourth, Mercedes are behind the two leading teams by a wide margin. Also, the six other Mercedes-powered cars (McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams) were the last six cars running.
Formula One will return next week in Saudi Arabia.