MANAMA – Charles Leclerc embarked on Formula One’s new era in triumphant style, leading teammate Carlos Sainz in a one-two finish for resurgent Ferrari in Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Leclerc, who started from pole position, crossed the line 5.5 seconds ahead of Sainz.
World champion Max Verstappen, who went wheel-to-wheel with Leclerc several times in a battle for the lead, was on course to finish second, before being forced to retire three laps from the end. His teammate, Sergio Perez, suffered the same fate shortly after, as Red Bull left Bahrain with nothing.
Red Bull’s problems played into the hands of struggling Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton snatching third and new teammate George Russell finishing a career-best fourth.
“Again, I keep repeating myself, but the past two years have been incredibly difficult for the team,” said Leclerc, as Ferrari, the sport’s most successful outfit, ended a 45-race winless streak that dated back to Singapore 2019.
“It was a huge opportunity for the team — we couldn’t hope for better.”
Sunday’s win was the third of 24-year-old Leclerc’s career.
He earned it by fending off Verstappen after the first pit stop, with the pair swapping places over several laps, and later by timing his restart after a safety car period to perfection.
It was also the Italian team’s seventh triumph at the Sakhir desert track and its first season-opening 1-2 since 2010, when Fernando Alonso led Felipe Massa to victory in Bahrain.
The result put Leclerc, who also set the fastest lap and was voted driver of the day by fans, in the overall lead of the drivers’ standings.
Ferrari, which opened the 2017 and 2018 seasons with a win but have not won a championship since 2008, lead the constructors’ standings ahead of Mercedes.
“Firstly, a big congratulations to Ferrari, happy to see them doing well again,” said Hamilton, who was a distant fifth for much of the race.
“I think it was such a difficult race, we struggled throughout practice but we did the best we could,” the 37-year-old Briton added.
F1 returnee Kevin Magnussen put Haas back in the points with a solid fifth-place finish.
The result put the team, who in 2021 finished last and were the only outfit to not score a point, third in the overall standings.
Valtteri Bottas was sixth in his first race for Alfa Romeo, ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who served a time penalty for pushing the Haas of Mick Schumacher into a spin.
Yuki Tsunoda was eighth for AlphaTauri ahead of Spanish double world champion Fernando Alonso.
Guanyu Zhou, who became the first Chinese driver to race in Formula One, scored the final point in tenth on his debut for Alfa Romeo.
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Source: The Japan Times