Charles Leclerc wins for Ferrari in Formula One season opener
After he won last year’s Formula One title on the last lap of the last race, Max Verstappen’s title defense began with a different sort of drama — his critics might say karma — as his Red Bull car retired only laps from the end of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
Ferrari clinched a 1-2 finish with Charles Leclerc winning the race, almost six seconds ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. Lewis Hamilton, who lost the title so painfully to Verstappen in 2021, enjoyed better luck this time with an unexpected third place.
Verstappen was second behind Leclerc with a handful of laps left in the 57-lap race under floodlights. Then, after the race had restarted with a safety car, Verstappen became increasingly panicky on race radio as he struggled with steering. Moments later he was in the team garage, soon followed by his teammate Sergio Perez, as Red Bull’s race dramatically collapsed.
“The faster I was going, I could barely steer [and] then suddenly I had to retire, everything just switched off,“ Verstappen said. “It looked like a fuel pump issue, there was no fuel coming to the engine. It’s very painful for the team [and] we need to look into everything.”
The race finished under a yellow flag as Leclerc sent Ferrari’s red garage wild with joy.
Hamilton had been lagging way behind in fifth when late drama on Lap 46 changed the whole race. Deja vu, perhaps, since late drama ended his 2021 title bid.
This time, Leclerc was leading comfortably over Verstappen when the back of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri car caught fire as he parked it on the side of the track. It was quickly put out and the Frenchman walked away unharmed.
From the safety car restart, Leclerc got away but Verstappen started complaining.
“What is going on with the battery?“ he asked.
His team told him it was fine, to which Verstappen barked back: “No, it is not.”
With the Red Bulls out, George Russell moved up into fourth to give Mercedes another bonus.
But Mercedes knows the car was slow until Gasly’s misfortune — Hamilton was more than 30 seconds behind Leclerc at one stage and finished almost 10 seconds back — so will not get carried away.
“We are grateful for these points,” Hamilton said. “It is not going to be a quick turnaround.”
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