Lewis Hamilton says Charles Leclerc will come back stronger from the late engine failure which cruelly denied him a maiden win in Bahrain.
But with 11 laps remaining of a dramatic race – one which also saw Sebastian Vettel spin out of contention – a mechanical failure struck Leclerc’s car, costing him a crucial 30mph in straight-line speed.
The young Monegasque was a sitting duck as Hamilton sailed by to go on to claim his 74th career win and the first of his championship defence.
Valterri Bottas also made his way past Leclerc to seal an unlikely Mercedes one-two and ensure he remains ahead of Hamilton in the standings by just one point.
“I’m sure this is a devastating result for Charles as he had done the job to win the race,” said Hamilton.
Sometimes, it is just not your day. Today it was not ours but I'm so proud of my team. They gave me an amazing car all week-end long and we'll come back stronger, I'm sure 👊— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) 31 March 2019
📸: @motorsportpics1 pic.twitter.com/tlNAq7BHxt
“He has been incredibly rapid and was quickest in all sessions, and truly deserved the win. He’s got a beautiful, bright future ahead of him, so this will only make him stronger.
“I’ve been in a position like that where we’ve been in the lead many times when the car has stopped and I know how it feels.
“But it’s always good to look at the glass half full because today he still got some great points even though he had that problem. He was an outlier all weekend and faster than his team-mate.”
Vettel endured a troubling weekend in the Gulf Kingdom. Three tenths of a second slower than Leclerc in qualifying, the German was unable to match his inexperienced team-mate in the race, too.
The four-time world champion took the lead off the start line, but Leclerc fought his way back past on lap six. Then, on lap 38, while duelling for second position with Hamilton, Vettel lost control of his Ferrari and spun.
His front wing also dramatically fell off his car and by the time he had stopped for repairs, he emerged in ninth. Vettel recovered to finish fifth, but the German left Bahrain under pressure following what was his fourth spin from his last 10 appearances.
“I am happy for the team but it was a disappointing race,” said Vettel.
“Starting at the front and not finishing there is not what we wanted. I didn’t have the pace I wanted, and on top of that I made the mistake with the spin so it was not a good evening.”
Lewis Hamilton was handed a dramatic victory in Bahrain after a cruel engine problem denied Charles Leclerc a maiden win.
Leclerc was on course to become the third-youngest winner in Formula One history following a commanding drive.
But with just nine laps remaining, Hamilton took advantage of the Ferrari’s lack of speed to sail past the young Monegasque and take an unlikely win.
Valtteri Bottas sealed second place, and secured an improbable one-two for Mercedes.
Here, we look at the key talking points from Bahrain.
LECLERC LOSES POWER
It was heartbreaking to see the Monaco man denied a maiden victory, especially knowing there was nothing he could do when his engine faltered.
The 21-year-old was utterly dominant all weekend and deserved to be the winner in Bahrain, but motorsport is cruel and an issue with the hybrid power unit meant he was unable to maintain pace and subsequently finished third.
Still, a podium place is better than nothing, especially considering a safety car on the final lap stopped Max Verstappen from passing him.
In the race itself, Leclerc had a bad start from pole and was beaten to the first turn by teammate Sebastian Vettel. However, he kept pushing hard, stayed composed and overtook the German on the back straight of lap six. From there, he looked on course to seal a maiden win, but an engine problem saw him struggle for pace.
HAMILTON TAKES COMMAND
The Briton capitalised on Leclerc’s engine troubles to lead a Mercedes one-two and put the Silver Arrow back in control of the championship.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 34-year-old and his race really only came alive on lap 35 when he pitted for medium tyres. Four laps later, he showed superb race craft to overtake Vettel and clinch second place.
Once Leclerc’s car started to slow done on lap 48, Hamilton closed in and took charge for his 74th career win.
VETTEL FALTERS… AGAIN
Sitting in second, Hamilton passed him around the outside and his car spun in the battle. A few seconds later, he lost his front wing and was forced to pit for a third time.
Coming out in seventh, he was only able to make up two places and subsequently finished fifth, with his car struggling with severe damage.
It’s a shame to see the four-time world champion continuously make mistakes when he is under pressure, again posing the question about his temperament in the heat of battle.
The only way for the German to respond is to come out and win in Shanghai in two week’s times.
Leclerc undoubtedly clinched Driver of the Day for his stellar display, but Nico Hulkenberg was just as influential until he was forced to retire due to engine failure.
Starting from 17th, the German soared through the grid and was on course to finish fifth, but a mystery engine trouble saw both Hulkenberg and teammate Daniel Riccardo retire with two laps remaining.
It was a blow for the Renault team given both drivers were on the cusp of securing points. The retirement aside, Hulkenberg proved he can compete well against Ricciardo.
It will be one of the battles of the season.
While all eyes were on Hamilton and Leclerc, Lando Norris was quietly going about his business in scintillating fashion.
The 21-year-old looked confident and managed his McLaren well around the sweeping track of Sakhir to finish a stunning sixth.
It was a first place in the points for the Bristol man and adds hope to a team low on confidence after many years languishing around the low end of the midfield.
Following Valtteri Bottas’ surprise win in Melbourne, Formula One heads to Bahrain for round two of the championship.
Lewis Hamilton will be bidding to reduce the title deficit to his Mercedes team-mate, while Ferrari will hope to reverse their poor showing at Albert Park.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at five key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.
WOLFF PREDICTS FERRARI FIGHTBACK
Contrary to the evidence provided by pre-season testing, Ferrari ended the first race not just slower than both Mercedes cars, but behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, too, with Sebastian Vettel fourth, nearly a minute behind Bottas.
Ferrari left Melbourne in shock, but after an investigation at their Maranello HQ, will arrive in Bahrain – a race Vettel has won for the last two years and a track which traditionally suits their car – keen to turn the championship on its head.
Despite wrapping up a team one-two in Australia, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is wary of Ferrari bouncing back with vengeance. “We have seen the potential of Ferrari’s package in Barcelona so we expect them to come back strong in Bahrain,” he said. “The fight has only just begun.”
CAN BOTTAS PROVE MELBOURNE WAS NOT A ONE-OFF?
Bottas bathed in the plaudits after his impressive showing in Melbourne, beating team-mate Hamilton to the flag by 20 seconds. But the Finn, who failed to win a single race in 2018, must now show that his strong performance at Albert Park was more than a one-off.
It is all very good getting the better of the tour de force that is Hamilton at one race, but it is a different feat to manage it over an entire campaign. How Bottas performs in Bahrain will provide a further indicator as to whether he is in this fight for the long haul.
FUTURE F1 BLUEPRINT PRESENTED TO TEAMS
On Tuesday, F1 bosses met in London with the sport’s 10 teams and its governing body, the FIA, to present its future vision. The Concorde Agreement, the terms which binds all the major players to the sport, expires in less than two years, and F1 needs to get all of the teams onside before a new agreement is reached.
Following owners Liberty Media’s instruction to keep the discussions in-house, details of the meeting were sparse. But F1 is a sport which likes to talk, and a clearer feel of how the London summit unfolded is likely to be made known when the paddock opens for business in Bahrain on Thursday.
NOWHERE TO HIDE FOR MCLAREN AT SECOND HOME RACE
Lando Norris delivered a fine lap on his debut to qualify eighth in Melbourne, but his race strategy saw the British teenager finish outside of the points.
With team-mate Carlos Sainz failing to finish, it added up to a rather underwhelming opening weekend to the season for McLaren.
Britain’s most successful team is owned by the Bahraini royal family. Their hospitality suite will be thronging with dignitaries in Bahrain, meaning they will be under pressure to deliver.
SCHUMACHER HANDED FERRARI AUDITION
One of the sport’s biggest names will return to the track next week when Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-times world champion, Michael, will test for his father’s former team.
Schumacher Jnr, 20, who is also making his Formula Two (the feeder series to F1) debut this weekend in Bahrain, will drive for Ferrari and then Alfa Romeo at the Bahrain circuit next week. Barring a disaster, it will be another hurdle cleared on his now, seemingly inevitable path, to F1.