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Bahrain GP 2019

APRIL 1, 2019

Race Analysis - Deserted luck in the desert

Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Bahrain GP 2019
© RV Press

By Dan Knutson in Sakhir

Charles Leclerc had the victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix all but wrapped up. But fate intervened with a problem on his Ferrari engine that slowed him down and he finished third. Lewis Hamilton had all the luck in the desert sands that night and went on to win in his Mercedes. Here's how Hamilton's victory and Leclerc's disappointment unfolded.


Leclerc was fast all weekend and posted the best lap time in two of the three practice sessions.


Leclerc earned his first F1 pole position, and he became the second youngest driver ever to do so in F1. The record holder in that department is Sebastian Vettel, who is now a veteran with four world titles. He is also Leclerc's teammate at Ferrari and shared the front row with him.


The Silver Arrows Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were on the second row of the grid. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas) were on row three.


After making a poor start in the 57-lap race Leclerc dropped from first to third behind Vettel and Bottas on the opening lap. But by lap two Leclerc was in second place.


Hamilton slid from second to fourth.

"At the start I was hopeful to leapfrog at least one of the cars," Hamilton said, "and in my opportunistic mind I was thinking to jump both of them at the start. But I got a terrible start once again, which is a bit disappointing, as I've put a lot of work in to try and improve those. You fall down and you just keep going, and get back up and I'll keep trying."


Vettel led the first five laps.

"I had a good start," he said, "but already halfway through the first lap I realized that the car was extremely difficult to drive. I think Charles struggled less as he had no difficulties in passing me. It was quite tough out there."


Leclerc's overtaking move was one of decisive caution.

"It's always a tricky situation when you get to fight your teammate because the risks are very high," he said. "As in every team, they warn you before the race: Okay, you can try things on different people, but with your teammate, please be careful – which is something normal. But I had the opportunity on lap five and I didn't hesitate, I just went for it. I was happy it was successful the first time I tried, especially after the bad start."


Vettel would lead one more lap, number 14, during the first round of pit stops.

16 ON 15

Back in front on lap 15, Leclerc in car #16 led for the next 30 laps.


The Ferrari press release stated: "On lap 35, Sebastian made his second stop, once again dueling with the Englishman (Hamilton). The German ended up spinning and flat spotted his tyres which resulted in the front wing coming off due to the strong vibrations. He then had to pit again for a new one."


Leclerc posted the fastest race lap on lap 38 and earned a championship point.


On lap 45 Leclerc radioed that there was something wrong with his engine. He began to slow.


Hamilton closed in.


Hamilton took the lead on lap 48.

"Ultimately you want to pass someone because you're quicker than them and through a fight," he said. "I went past Charles down the back straight and I raised my hand to him because there's nothing I could do, obviously I didn't have any problems. It definitely feels weird and, honestly, you can't believe your luck in those scenarios, but what can you do? You can't deny yourself it. You just have to keep doing what you're doing and pushing ahead. As I was saying, I've been in positions like that: we've been in the lead many a time when the car has stopped and I know how it feels."


What happened to the Ferrari engine?

"I have no answer for you," Ferrari boss Matteo Binotto told reporters in the Sakhir paddock after the race. "We are checking now the engine, so we do not have a clear explanation yet of what happened. It is an engine problem; we had mis-combustion on one cylinder but it is yet to be understood. We do not know the source of the problem and the engine will be back in Maranello for careful checks."


Ferrari told Leclerc to keep going. Bottas took second place from him with four laps to go.


Verstappen, fourth and Vettel, fifth, would play no role in the podium finishers.


But the Renault drivers Nico Hulkenberg, who was running sixth, and Daniel Ricciardo, in tenth, cemented Leclerc's third place. On lap 54 both Renault engines bizarrely expired in the same corner. The drivers parked and that brought out the safety car. Verstappen had been homing in on third place, but now he like all the other drivers had to hold station.


So although Leclerc's luck had deserted him and he did not win, he did get third place and his first F1 podium.

"It's still a podium and it's my first podium in Formula 1 so in a way I feel I should enjoy it," he said. "The way I felt like there was a lot more to take this weekend. Overall, of course, it's not the ideal race we wanted but we shall be happy about our third place despite problems."


Bottas and Hamilton each have a win this season. Bottas leads the championship by one point due to setting the fastest race lap in the Australian Grand Prix.