Charles Leclerc wins Bahrain Grand Prix as Max Verstappen fails to finish

Verstappen suffered a dramatic late technical issue while Sergio Perez also failed to finish as Ferrari returned to the top of the podium in a thrilling season-opener in Bahrain

Jamie Braidwood
Sunday 20 March 2022 18:15
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<p>Charles Leclerc celebrates Ferrari’s first race win since 2019 </p>

Charles Leclerc celebrates Ferrari’s first race win since 2019

Charles Leclerc won the Bahrain Grand Prix and Carlos Sainz completed a sensational one-two for Ferrari as defending champion Max Verstappen failed to finish the season-opening race of the Formula One season.

Verstappen suffered a technical issue with just three laps of the race remaining and Red Bull’s problems were compounded as Sergio Perez also failed to finish the final lap, leaving Lewis Hamilton to unexpectedly complete the podium.

Ferrari had not won a race in Formula One since the 2019 season but the Italian team looked to have made the biggest jump in terms of performance after displaying impressive pace in pre-season, and Leclerc converted from pole position to confirm that the Scuderia are set to be contenders once again this campaign.

“So happy,” Leclerc said. “The last two years have been incredible difficult for the team. We’ve started in the best way possible way. Thank you to the guys who have supported us. It’s great to be back at the top.”

“Ferrari is back, and it’s properly back with a one-two,” Sainz added. “The hard work is paying off and we are there.”

After an off-season which brought a significant overhaul to F1’s rules and regulations, designed to increase overtaking opportunities and make the racing more competitive, Leclerc and Verstappen’s thrilling duel earlier in the race offered a glimpse that the changes had been successful.

Leclerc led from the opening lap, in which held off the charging Verstappen down the inside of Turn 1, and began to pull away from the Red Bull car. But the Monegasque driver came under pressure following the first set of pit stops, as he returned to the track to see Verstappen bearing down on him in his mirrors.

It led to four laps of thrilling, wheel-to-wheel action, as Verstappen surged into the lead only for Leclerc to retake P1 four corners later. In the end, it did Verstappen and Red Bull more harm than good and the Dutchman had to drop away as he wore down his soft tyres.

Leclerc was set for a comfortable victory but the race took a turn late on after Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri caught on fire and led to a safety car with less than 10 laps remaining.

Just 98 days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it brought back memories of the late drama at last season’s title decider. Leclerc comfortably held off Verstappen at the restart but the 24-year-old, who was complaining about problems with heavy steering, soon came under pressure from Sainz.

And with three laps to go, as Sainz made the pass to take P2, Verstappen appeared to lose power and was soon dropping like a stone. It led to the defending champion retiring into the pits and things went from bad to worse as Perez, who was coming under pressure from Hamilton, locked up heading into the start of the final lap.

Mercedes came into the weekend insisting they had yet to develop a car to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari and although their overall performance proved that to be true, they still finished with Hamilton on the podium and George Russell fourth on his debut with the team.

Kevin Magnussen secured a sensational fifth place for Haas on his return to the American team, who failed to score a single point last season, while McLaren suffered a nightmare weekend as Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished 14th and 15th respectively.

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