Ferrari falter in Bahrain Grand Prix

2019-04-03 06:01

AS Formula 1 celebrated its 999th race in Bahrain, through all of it, what has remained most true is the undeniable fact that it is the most unpredictable sport in the world.

The 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix dished up a cracking race, filled to the brim with drama, overtakes, and astonishing turnarounds. For the first time in his fledgling F1 career Charles Leclerc lined up in pole position.

As the 99th pole sitter in the history of F1, the Monegasque driver did everything right.

He outpaced not only the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, but also showed his four-time world champion teammate, Sebastian Vettel, the way in qualifying. Still it was a big day for Ferrari. The front row lockout of the grid finally showed the pace that was indicated in preseason testing but so conspicuously missing in Melbourne.

Leclerc didn’t make the best of start from pole and quickly fell behind Vettel and Bottas, who had jumped his Merc teammate at the start. It was not too long though before Leclerc fought his way back past Bottas and into second.

Vettel seemed to clear off at the front but such was Leclerc’s pace that by lap five, he’d let the team know that he was planning to overtake. A lap later he drew alongside Vettel and a thrillingly inch perfect wheel-to-wheel battle ensued before Leclerc took the lead with a move around the outside of turn four. Leclerc opened a gap to Vettel relatively easily as the second Ferrari came under increasing pressure from Hamilton.

While the first round of pit stops saw Hamilton ahead, thanks to the strategic undercut of pitting a lap earlier, the Merc driver began to struggle on the soft tyre. After the second round of stops the Ferrari and Merc were running in close proximity and ultimately the two went wheel-to-wheel in a breathtaking battle for position. Hamilton, with a slight pace advantage, got the job done around turn four.

It would end far worse, for Vettel lost the rear of the Ferrari sending him into a spin. It was shades of 2018 all over again for the German driver who had flat-spotted his tyres so badly the vibrations caused the front-wing to detach itself.

For Leclerc it was easy going in the lead of the race until lap 46 when he reported that there was something strange with the engine. The Ferrari pitwall confirmed that the MGU-H (Motor Generating Unit-Hybrid) had failed.

It resulted in a loss of 160 horsepower and decimated any chance of converting pole position into his first race win. On lap 48 he was little more than a sitting duck as Hamilton overtook him for the lead. Credit to Hamilton who waved regretfully as he passed the young Ferrari driver.

A handful of laps later he was passed by the second Mercedes of Bottas and looked set to relinquish the final step on the podium to Max Verstappen with two laps to go. But almost unbelie-vably both Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo simultaneously retired within metres of each at turn 1 which prompted the appearance of the safety car.

As it were, Hamilton scored the 74th win of his career, ahead of teammate and championship leader Bottas. Some would term Hamilton’s win as lucky and they’d be right to a degree. Reliability has and always will be part of motorsport.

But because Hamilton kept enough pressure on Vettel and ultimately overtook him for second, he placed himself in the right position to scoop up the win when Leclerc hit problems.

The late safety car meant that Leclerc maintained third place. There would be very few around the world who wouldn’t have been gutted for the 21-year-old. The good news is that Leclerc has enormous potential and a second chance to secure that first win will come soon.

Verstappen ran a fairly anonymous race for Red Bull and finished fourth while Vettel recovered to fifth. Lando Norris underlined his talent with a fine sixth place finish in the McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen pulled the Alfa Romeo to a seventh place finish. Pierre Gasly recovered from a sub-par quali performance to finish eighth as Alexander Albon in the Toro Rosso and Sergio Perez in the Racing Point finished ninth and 10th respectively.

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