The Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix was an absolutely scintillating spectacle with numerous overtakes and high stakes drama in the closing laps. Ferrari were the favorites to get a 1-2 finish, but it was Mercedes that capitalized on Sebastian Vettel’s error and Charles Leclerc’s misfortune. The three DRS zones provided the drivers with the additional speed to turn overtaking opportunities into a reality. The aftermath from Bahrain leaves Mercedes with a thirty-nine point lead over Ferrari in the Constructor’s Championship.
Charles Leclerc Suffers Late Race Calamity
Charles Leclerc achieved his first Formula 1 pole in only his second race with Ferrari. He was, however, beaten off of the starting line by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel. He immediately lost second position to Valtteri Bottas coming out of turn four and was under pressure from Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
Leclerc recovered from his poor start with a masterful overtake on Vettel on the entrance to turn one on the 6th lap. The Monegasque driver had been the fastest all race weekend. For a driver of such a young age, he exhibited the composure and focus of a seasoned veteran. Leclerc stretched out his lead over the rest of the field and looked set to comfortably secure his first Formula 1 win.
Unfortunately, a win for Charles Leclerc was not meant to be. In the dying laps of the race, Leclerc’s Ferrari suffered an engine problem which drastically restricted the car’s power and turbo. It was concluded that the specific issue was simply a cylinder that dropped. Hamilton and Bottas rapidly chased down the Monegasque, which all but confirmed that Leclerc would lose not only a win but also a podium finish.
The only saving grace for Charles was that a late Safety Car, resulting from the loss of both Renault drivers, left Leclerc with his first career podium finish. It would have certainly not been the way he would have liked to receive his first podium, but the commiserations given to him by his competitors highlighted the respect the field had for the quality of drive for Leclerc.
Charles Leclerc was extremely professional in his post race interview saying,
“… it is part of Motorsport. Sometimes it’s just not your day and today it was not ours… It is a shame.. [Ferrari] gave me a great car… We will come back stronger.”
The pace that Ferrari had shown in Bahrain following a disastrous display in Melbourne will all but guarantee that Leclerc will be fighting for wins throughout the season. Ferrari allowed their drivers to fight for the lead in the opening laps, and Charles eventually got the better of Vettel. Team Principal, Matteo Binotto, will have many difficult decisions regarding the driver order over the course of the season.
Sebastian Vettel Struggles Yet Again in Battles
Sebastian Vettel yet again made a costly mistake in a battle for position on track. The poor errors that continually reared their ugly head in 2018, which effectively prevented Vettel from winning the Driver’s Championship, were present in the second race of the season.
The German Champion would have been in line for at least a podium finish if not for his spin on lap 38 coming out of turn four. He was bested by Lewis Hamilton from the outside going into the entrance of the corner. Making matters worse due to the damage on the left rear tire, his front wing began oscillating to the point of breaking off and going underneath Vettel’s car.
His race was essential over after this point leaving him to accept a fifth place finish. It would not have been the day that Vettel was expecting. Whether the spin was a combination of the strong winds that were present throughout the race weekend and the application of too much acceleration, the mistake does not bode well for Vettel’s mentality.
Ferrari will be extremely disappointed with Vettel’s mistake. It has been an occurrence far too often for someone of his caliber. If he hopes to challenge for the title and out race his teammate, Vettel will need to put these issues behind him. At 31 years old, Sebastian is by no means past his prime and should be able to compete at the highest level.
Late Race Humiliation for Renault
Renault was poised to get its first double points finish of the season. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenburg had even made contact in the entrance to turn 1 on Lap 39. Nothing significant came of it for Hulkenburg but Ricciardo suffered some minor front wing damage in the process.
Renault had been highlighted during Netflix’s Drive to Survive series. Team principal, Cyril Abiteboul, had been involved in the contentious relationship with Red Bull Racing, who was being supplied with Renault engines. Red Bull left Renault to team up with Honda while Cyril had been confident of the Renault engine’s capabilities.
Cyril was not shy about his feelings regarding the double retirement for Renault,
“After a very intense winter, it has been a very bad start to our racing season.. these issues are unacceptable… we must react and shift our focus on reliability.”
Nico Hulkenburg became the first victim of an engine failure but was expeditiously followed by Daniel Ricciardo. The stewards were unable to retrieve Ricciardo’s car in time to allow the Safety Car to come in prior to the culmination of the race. Both drivers would have been extremely bitter considering their main rivals, Haas Automation, had a torrid race.
Although the result was poor, nothing should be taken away from the masterful drive from Hulkenburg. The German driver was forced to start 17th on the grid following a poor qualifying session. His ability to drive the car up to 6th and out perform his teammate demonstrated promise moving ahead of the 1000th Formula 1 race, which will take place in Shanghai. Regardless, if Renault are unable to rectify the recurring issues with the cars, then the on track performance will continue to give way to early retirements.
Other Notes from the Race
The Bahrain Grand Prix lived up to the billing. Lando Norris scored an impressive 6th place finish for McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen recorded another points finish for Alfa Romeo. Norris actually overtook the Finnnish veteran as well as Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly.
Haas endured another disappointing weekend overall. Although Magnussen finished in the points at Australia, Grosjean was forced to retire early due to a similar issue that plagued both drivers at the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. At Bahrain, Grosjean retired early again due to floor damage from contact on the first lap.
Magnussen suffered from a lack of pace that had otherwise been present during the practice and qualifying sessions. The hope was that Kevin Magnussen could have put the pressure on Max Verstappen for fifth, but instead the Dutch driver continually dropped in the running order and was mired outside the top ten come the end of the Grand Prix. Guenther Steiner told the media,
“We need to investigate why this happened especially after a strong qualifying.”
Haas will need to get back on track when the team arrives in China. Steiner has mentioned the desire to finally get the better of Renault to finish fourth in the Constructor’s Championship, and weekends such as Bahrain will prevent that goal from being achieved.
Formula 1 will now move on to China at the Shanghai International Circuit in two weeks. The teams will certainly relish the opportunity to either build on a strong performance in Bahrain or remedy underlying issues preventing satisfactory performances. One thing is for sure, Charles Leclerc will drive with an immense hunger to see that he retrieves his first career Formula 1 victory.
*Photo Credit-Unsplash: chuttersnap