Lewis Hamilton cashes in on Ferrari failure, Leclerc frustration to win Bahrain Grand Prix
SAKHIR, Bahrain: Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton profited from Ferrari’s latest failure and won a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
The race looked likely to finish a Ferrari 1-2 for Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel. But Vettel cracked under the pressure of Hamilton’s attack with less than 20 laps left and span out of contention.
In a dramatic twist, race leader Leclerc’s engine started losing power with less than 10 laps left, allowing Hamilton to shred a 10-second deficit and secure a 1-2 for Mercedes as Valtteri Bottas passed Leclerc with three laps to go.
A despondent Leclerc thought he was going to become the third-youngest winner of an F1 race, but instead just held on to third place on another bitterly disappointing day for Ferrari.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen placed fourth with Vettel in fifth.
Leclerc was lucky to finish third — only doing so because the safety car came out near the end after the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg went off track.
Under safety car rules drivers must hold position. Verstappen could not attack and missed out on a second straight podium, after third place at the season-opening Australian GP two weeks ago behind Hamilton and Bottas.
Leclerc picked up a bonus point for posting the fastest lap. But Ferrari will know third and fifth spots were simply not good enough, after fourth and fifth in Australia.
Heading into the Chinese GP in two weeks’ time, Ferrari has to find a way to stop throwing away points.
Hamilton’s 74th career win earned him a hug from former England and Manchester United star David Beckham. But the five-time F1 champion acknowledged this one came with a touch of good fortune.
That’s why Hamilton was quick to commiserate with Leclerc, climbing out of his car and sprinting over to him.
“That was extremely unfortunate for Charles, he drove a great race,” Hamilton said. “He had done enough to win. We were definitely lucky today, but you have to take things as they come.”
Ferrari had placed 1-2 in all three practice sessions and all three sections of qualifying. But in the past two seasons, the proud Italian manufacturer has made countless errors, and again the team’s reliability issues seem a big issue.
“It was not our day,” Leclerc said, containing his frustration admirably. “Of course I’m extremely disappointed.”
With strong winds blowing around the 5.4-kilometer (3.3-mile) circuit, track temperatures were below 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) at 6:10 p.m. local time for the start of the floodlit race.
After becoming the second-youngest driver in F1 history to take pole position on Saturday, the 21-year-old Leclerc was overtaken by Vettel at the start but reclaimed his lead soon after with an audacious move on the outside.
Vettel almost overtook him straight back.
It was wheel-to-wheel racing from teammates, just what fans want to see. To the relief of the Ferrari garage they avoided crashing into each other and instead kept Hamilton and Bottas at a distance.
It looked even more like being Ferrari’s day when Hamilton made an unusual error, taking a turn too wide on Lap 20 and slipping more than 6 seconds behind Leclerc.
The British driver’s clumsy error, and Ferrari’s superior speed, meant Vettel was soon on Hamilton’s tail and he overtook him on Lap 23 to put Ferrari 1-2 and coasting.
To make matters worse, Hamilton was worried about his rear tires, saying over radio “I’m in really big trouble.”
As it turned out, he needn’t have been so concerned, with another Ferrari flop not too far away.
It happened on Lap 39 of 57.
After Bottas came in for his second tire change, it left Vettel and Hamilton to fight for second place. Vettel initially fended him off well but then lost control and span his car, prompting apparent looks of disbelief in the Ferrari garage.
Question marks were raised last season and in 2017 about Vettel’s repeated mistakes under pressure, particularly when he crashed while leading the German GP last year. This time, he badly miscalculated Hamilton’s second attack. Even so, there was no contact from Hamilton and five-time F1 champion Vettel lost control of the car all by himself.
It was not Vettel’s day. Soon after that, his front wing came off after he touched cars with Williams driver George Russell and Vettel returned to the pits.
Then it got worse as panic crept into Leclerc’s voice.
“Something strange with the engine,” Leclerc said as his lead rapidly dwindled. “What’s happening?“
He soon knew.
Hamilton surged past him for his first Bahrain win since 2015 and third overall.
Bottas leads the title race, ahead of Hamilton 44-43, because of his fastest lap in Melbourne.