The British Lewis Hamilton, five-time Formula One world champion, led this Sunday a new double for Mercedes in Bahrain, where he won ahead of his teammate, the Finn Valtteri Bottas, and the young Monegasque Charles Leclerc, who was driving towards a sure victory before that his Ferrari lost power in the absence of eight laps, although it narrowly saved third place.
Hamilton signed his seventy-fourth victory in the premier class on a night that was dramatic for Ferrari, which, with a faster car and having taken the front row, was aiming for the first two places, but had to settle for the third of the new star of F1 and the fifth of the German Sebastian Vettel, who made a mistake when he was second and finished behind the Dutch Max Verstappen (Red Bull), fourth this Sunday at Sakhir.
A circuit in which luck was also elusive for Spaniard Carlos Sainz (McLaren), who, after starting seventh, met Verstappen on lap four when he fought for fifth place. The Madrilenian had to enter the pits and ended up at the bottom of the peloton, from which he suffered all the time, before abandoning at the end of a test in which his partner, the English rookie Lando Norris, finished sixth and ended with the car track safety.
Leclerc lived a tragic night in which, however, he signed his first podium – thanks to the ‘safety’ -, a day after having placed Monaco on a ‘pole’ in F1 for the first time and becoming, at 21 years old and five months, in the youngest poleman in the history of Ferrari, the most awarded team in the premier class.
A team that has not won the World Cup since the Finn Kimi Raikkonen did it for the last time in 2007 – seventh this Sunday, with his Alfa Romeo (formerly Sauber) – with which the young Monegasque star ‘exchanged’ cars after the last season.
The driver from the principality of the Côte d’Azur, which organizes the most ‘glamorous’ test of the World Championship every year in its streets, was this Sunday the second youngest in history to start first in an F1 race. Only Vettel, who did it at 21 years and 72 days in 2008, a day before he finished surprising the world and winning with a Toro Rosso in Monza (Italy), improved that mark.
And ‘Seb’, in theory his head of ranks, came out next to him, in the very windy night of Bahrain. Right in front of the two Mercedes.
Leclerc did not lose his temper when Vettel passed him before the first corner and a couple of ‘S’s’ later did the same Bottas, to whom as soon as the first of the 57 laps had been completed, the Monegasque and Hamilton had already ‘returned’ overtaking. which the Finn had passed at the start.
Sainz soon overtook Danish Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and launched himself for Verstappen, in a battle that ended badly for the Spaniard, who, when touching his former teammate, had to stop to change the front wing. Going from what would have been the fifth place to close the squad; in an action that was investigated and that came to nothing, but that mortgaged the rest of the Madrid’s career.
‘Carletes’ would end up throwing in the towel when the safety car entered the track, due to the withdrawal – almost at the same time, in two different parts of the track – of the two Renault of the German Nico Hülkenberg and the Australian Daniel Ricciardo. Avoiding Verstappen’s podium, but serving a point on a plate to Mexican Sergio Pérez (Racing Point), who ‘scratched’ him by finishing tenth.
Vettel did not manage to open a gap at the beginning, Leclerc was clearly faster and, with three DRS zones (one of the novelties of the course, looking for more overtaking possibilities), the new Ferrari star asked again for permission, as in Australia. Although this time he got it and passed the German in the sixth lap.
Max stopped first, at 12. He switched from soft to medium. Like Leclerc, at 14; in which Hamilton repeated soft compound, to undercut Vettel, who entered the garage a lap later and lost a second place that would recover eight laps later.
Leclerc flew and passed the equator of the test, after 28 laps, he commanded with eight seconds over Seb and ten seconds over Lewis; with Bottas rolling fourth, at 21; and Verstappen in fifth place, at 26.
Hamilton went to midfield at 36, looking for a new undercut. But Ferrari reacted in time, stopping Vettel in that turn, one lap before the new ‘man of fashion’ in F1. But in the ‘umpteenth’ chapter of the battle between English and German, the latter spun when he was passed by the previous one, gave up second place, lost the front wing; and, with it, any option to the podium.
Vettel, who dropped to ninth in that set, finished fifth, on a dramatic day for Ferrari and especially for Leclerc. That, even so, he admitted luck within the misfortune and settled for a podium that would have been for Max had the safety car not entered the track, behind which the test ended.
Hamilton took the victory that came on the rebound. But he acknowledged, just after stating that his team had done a great job, that the victory would have been deserved by Leclerc; to which he predicted a promising future and a horizon full of successes. No one doubts that, in the Bahraini night, a new star has been born. EFE