6 things you need to know from an utterly heartbreaking Bahrain Grand Prix
If the F1 season opener two weeks ago in Melbourne was a slightly underwhelming race, the Bahrain Grand Prix more than made up for it with a thrilling display under the lights in the desert.
It had just about everything: drama, overtakes, upsets, spins, and utter heartbreak. Here’s how it finished, and everything you need to know:
1. Oh, Charles!
This was Charles Leclerc’s weekend. This was the Grand Prix where he truly arrived as a top level F1 driver after he dominated in the practice sessions and then took a highly impressive first ever pole position on Saturday.
He had a tricky start off the line and was down to third by the end of lap one. But after that he powered back to the front, overtaking both Valtteri Bottas and his team-mate Sebastian Vettel on track (more of that please, Ferrari!) to retake the lead.
Thereafter it looked like his race. He was well ahead and neither Vettel nor the Mercedes cars had any answer to his pace.
Then, with just over ten laps to go, we heard a frantic call from him on the radio. “There’s something strange with the engine!” he cried as a million hearts dropped all over the world.
A turbo failure saw him lose time hand over fist and inevitably he slipped back first behind Lewis Hamilton and then Bottas.
He eventually finished third but he would have lost out even on his first podium were it not for a late safety car.
It was a heartbreaking moment for the young Monegasque after he had done everything right all weekend, only to be undone by a technical issue just ten laps from glory.
He was philosophical about it after the race, and must take comfort from the fact that he will have his chance again.
2. Hamilton mops up – and puts Bottas back in his place
Lewis Hamilton now has 75 wins under his belt, and some will say that he’ll never get an easier one than he did today, but once again, the reigning champ put himself in the position to be able to mop up when the leader had problems.
He didn’t quite have the car to win on pace today, but the Brit proved why you always have to be ready to take your chances when they come your way.
And perhaps just as importantly for him, he had Bottas well beaten today, after the Finn’s dominant win last time out in Melbourne.
3. ...And he was classy in victory
Hats off as well to Hamilton for his reaction to this win. Leclerc’s misfortune was the first thing he mentioned over the radio after the traditional “get in there, Lewis” from race engineer Bono (really, Bono? Every time?), and once he was out of the car he immediately ran up to the heartbroken Ferrari youngster to console him.
And in the cool-down room he had more words of wisdom. "You got a long, long career ahead of you, dude. I know it sucks right now,” he told him.
Classy from the champ.
4. Vettel spins right round. Again.
Top line driver though he undoubtedly is, it now seems impossible to ignore that Sebastian Vettel is not strong when it comes to wheel to wheel racing with other drivers.
In Monza last season he spun while battling with Hamilton in a crucial race, and today history repeated itself – again when he was fighting with Lewis. He was trying to fight back for second place with the Mercedes when he lost it and spun the car.
He ruined his tyres and lost his front wing a few corners later, forcing him into another pitstop – and creating this incredible picture.
He eventually finished fifth, but it was not a great look for the four-time world champ while his young team-mate was up at the front controlling the race.
Leclerc is clearly here to challenge, and Vettel has his work cut out to stay top dog at Maranello. It feels reminiscent of the Hamilton/Alonso dynamic at McLaren in 2007 – though let’s hope it doesn’t get *quite* as nasty as that did…
5. Renault implode – on the same lap
It had been an up and down race for Renault as Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo battled between themselves (and even touched at one point), but they were on course for a solid double points finish until just three laps from the end when unbelievably both cars simply cut out, at the same corner and on the same lap, to boot.
No doubt there is a huge post-mortem going on in the team right now, but it was a massive failure for a factory team looking to cement themselves as the fourth best outfit this year.
6. McLaren best of the rest
Maybe Fernando Alonso needed to leave. Maybe everyone at McLaren needed to wipe the slate clean and move on from that crushingly disappointing era.
Today Carlos Sainz had to retire the car, but Lando Norris brought his home sixth to finish best of the rest and win the ‘F1-B’ category.
The young Brit seems to be a positive presence and is not weighed down by the failures of the past few years. And it’s certainly refreshing to see the Maccas having respectable pace again at last.