Charles Leclerc took the first victory of the new era in Formula 1 after a dominant performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix, as Ferrari completed an epic one-two.
The Monegasque driver had edged out the Red Bull of Max Verstappen for pole position in yesterday’s qualifying session, but the difference in race pace moved much larger as Ferrari’s ominous form in testing came to fruition.
The race had some late drama after Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri pulled over on Lap 46 with a huge fire in the rear of the car, bringing out the safety car and prompting a flurry of pitstops.
Leclerc came in for a fresh set of soft tyres, with Verstappen and his teammate Carlos Sainz just behind on slightly older rubber, with the safety car coming back in and the race restarting on Lap 51.
Even prior to the safety car Verstappen had come on the radio to complain of issues with his power steering, and things would get even worse for the 2022 world champion after he was first overtaken by Sainz and then forced to retire from 3rd on Lap 55 with engine issues.
The Dutchman was furious on the radio, but there was nothing he could do as car after car flew past his struggling Red Bull, and the champion suffered an ignominious start to his title defence.
The other Red Bull of Sergio Perez also began to struggle towards the end, and under pressure from Sir Lewis Hamliton in the chasing Mercedes spun out on Turn 1 of the final lap, with the engine locking up and bringing agony to the Red Bull garage, with the team going from a solid performance to zero points in a matter of a few laps.
Late drama in Bahrain
The late drama meant that Ferrari managed a 1-2 finish for the first time in years, while Hamilton was fortunate to secure a podium after the seven-time world champion seemed to lack the pace to chase the leaders earlier in the race.
Leclerc had pulled out a 1 second gap by Lap 4, and despite a three lap interim between Laps 17 and 19 after the first pitstop when Verstappen managed to briefly snatch the lead twice using DRS into Turn 1, the Ferrari driver was able to quickly hit back and retake the lead by Turn 4 each time.
With the gap to the lead stretching further each lap Verstappen tried a lunge from well back into Turn 1 on Lap 20, but the move failed to come off after the Red Bull locked up the front left tyre, allowing Leclerc the breathing room he needed to get out of DRS range.
From there Ferrari managed their pitstops well and were able to keep the chasing Red Bull at bay, particularly after Verstappen began to complain of traction issues, helping Leclerc to his first race victory since 2020.
The 2021 constructors’ championship winners Mercedes had warned after pre-season testing that their car would struggle to keep up with the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull, and those predictions proved accurate as both Hamilton and new joiner George Russell struggled in qualifying.
Hamilton had a rapid start to the race, managing to get off the line quickly and around the outside of Perez at Turn 1 after the Red Bull struggled for traction on the exit, with Magnussen following through the gap in the Haas and scoring the US team’s first points since 2020 with a 5th place finish.
From there Hamilton pushed to find a way to keep up with the pace of the leaders, even pitting early to try out the hard tyre compound on Lap 12, but the seven-time world champion took advantage of Red Bull’s late struggles to take the final spot on the podium.
Russell, who replaced Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton’s teammate for this season, had by his own admission a disappointing qualifying performance yesterday, starting the race in 9th, but the Brit managed to climb up to 7th by the end of the first lap and came over the line in 4th.
Elsewhere McLaren had a nightmare start to the season, with the underwhelming qualifying performance of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris handing the Woking-based team a bad omen of what was to come.
Ricciardo was well down the order, finishing the race in 14th after starting from 18th on the grid, while Norris had a race to forget after he fell back down the order to finish in 15th.
The midfield battles in the first race of the 2022 season saw plenty of action, with Haas walking away best of the rest after a dream return to F1 for Magnussen with his 5th place finish, while Bottas managed a solid result in 6th for Alfa Romeo.
‘El Plan’ failed to pan out quite as Alpine may have wanted in the Bahrain GP, with Esteban Ocon back in 7th, while Fernando Alonso finished in 9th behind the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda.
Gunayu Zhou scored points in the first race for a Chinese driver in F1 with Alfa Romeo, coming over the line in 10th after a series of solid overtakes, including a late move on the other Haas of Mick Schumacher who came in behind in 11th.
Lance Stroll was the better of the Aston Martin cars in 12th, ahead of the returning former Red Bull driver Alex Albon now in a Williams, while Nicholas Latifi in the other Williams finished in 16th ahead of late Sebastian Vettel replacement Nico Hulkenberg in the other Aston.