Lewis Hamilton consoles Charles Leclerc

Heartbreak for Leclerc as engine trouble gifts Bahrain Grand Prix to Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton lucked into victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix as pole sitter Charles Leclerc dropped out of the lead with engine recovery problems only eight laps from the finish.

It was a bitter blow for Leclerc, who had driven a superb race and looked set for a comfortable victory until misfortune intervened. In a double blow for Ferrari, teammate Sebastian Vettel spun out of contention whilst dicing for second with Hamilton.

It meant that Australian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas was also able to catch the ailing Leclerc before the finish, but the young Monegasque was able to finish on the podium just ahead of Max Verstappen thanks to a late safety car finish brought about by both Renaults grinding to a halt.

“Well guys, that was extremely unfortunate for Charles, he drove such a great race. We’ve got work to do to try and keep these guys on our tails,” said Hamilton after receiving the chequered flag.

“Today was a really hard job,” continued Hamilton. “This weekend the Ferraris have been incredible. I just had to see Charles because he did such a great job and I’m sure it was a devastating result for him because he had done the job to win the race so we were definitely lucky today. But you have to take it as it comes and ultimately I still gave it everything in the race and pushed as hard as I could and obviously the fight that I had with Vettel was great fun for me.

“There is a massive headwind into Turn 4 so I gave it everything and braked later than usual and dived around the outside. This is a great result for the team considering how hard the race was and this guy (Leclerc) has lots more wins coming in the future so big congratulations.”

For Leclerc’s part, there was no hiding the disappointment in losing a race he had in the palm of his hand. But, to his enormous credit, he was able to put a brave face on it considering what must have been a rollercoaster of emotions swirling around his head.

“It happens. It’s part of motorsport,” said Leclerc afterward. “Unfortunately, today it was not our day, but I am confident the team has done an amazing job to recover the lack of pace in Australia and what to say? Yes, of course I’m extremely disappointed but it happens, and we made the best out of it. We have been lucky in an unlucky situation because we had the safety car in the end otherwise we would have finished even more rearward and I don’t think with the fuel we would have been okay so a very hard one to take but thanks to the team for an amazing car all weekend long and I’m pretty sure we will come back stronger.”

Leclerc lost his lead off the line to both Vettel and the fast-starting Bottas but soon fought back to sweep past both by lap 6 and stretched his lead at the front, a trouble-free two stop strategy and consistent race pace putting him in the clear for a seemingly comfortable win until his late misfortune.

The battle for the other podium positions seemed to be going down to the wire. Hamilton and Vettel traded places for second after the Englishman got the jump on his rival following the first series of pit stops. Vettel then sailed past Hamilton as the Mercedes’ softer tyres fell away but a mistake from the latter under pressure from Hamilton into Turn 4 cost him dear with 20 laps to go, the German spinning and damaging his left rear tyre before losing his front wing.

It meant that Vettel could only finish fifth ahead of the brilliant Lando Norris, Kimi Raikkonen and Pierre Gasly. Alexander Albon and Sergio Perez rounded off the points scoring finishers in an incident-packed race that saw wheel-to-wheel action aplenty.

Hamilton’s victory means that he narrows the gap to a solitary point to teammate Bottas, who has one more courtesy of his fastest lap in Melbourne. Verstappen is third in the standings, a point ahead of the luckless Leclerc with Vettel fifth.

So how did Ferrari manage to find so much pace after Melbourne and what does Mercedes now have to do to redress the balance in time for Shanghai?

Resident Motorsport Tech expert Craig Scarborough uncovers why the famous Italian marque has made a jump in pace (albeit not reliability) over its rivals and also looks at changes made by Renault, McLaren, Toro Rosso, and SportPesa Racing Point.

Click here for more.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.