MANAMA: Five times world champion Lewis Hamilton took a lucky Bahrain Grand Prix win for Mercedes on Sunday after engine trouble in the dying stages denied Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc a first Formula One victory.
The luckless Leclerc had looked like becoming Ferrari’s youngest ever race winner, at 21, after starting on pole position and leading comfortably. Instead, the Monegasque ended up third.
Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas, lapping far faster than the stricken Ferrari, reeled him in and breezed past to secure the team’s second one-two finish in as many races and against the odds.
“That was extremely unfortunate for Charles,” said Hamilton after starting in third place and behind the Ferraris.
“He drove such a great race. We’ve got work to do to keep these guys off our tails,” added the Briton, who embraced Leclerc after they stepped out of their cars and offered commiserations.
The race finished with the field following the safety car, deployed as marshals removed Daniel Ricciardo’s stranded Renault.
“I was not expecting that result,” added Hamilton, who had complained earlier of feeling like a sitting duck with his fading tyres.
Hamilton’s win was the 74th of his career but first this season. He is now 17 wins short of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91.
The Briton stayed second in the championship but is now just one point shy of overall leader Bottas, who won and scored the extra point for fastest lap in the season-opener in Australia two weeks ago.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said it was always a balance between performance and reliability.
“Charles was very unfortunate today,” he agreed. “He was the quickest guy and should have won the race but then things swing in the other direction.”
Third place was still a first Formula One podium for Leclerc, and he also took an extra point for setting the fastest lap of the race, but that was scant consolation considering how much more he could have had.
“It’s a very hard one to take,” said the youngster, in only his second race for Ferrari. “It’s a shame to only finish third, but it’s part of racing and we’ll come back stronger.”
Leclerc’s problems capped an already difficult day for Ferrari, with team mate Sebastian Vettel having a nightmare of his own.
The German, who led initially but finished fifth, spun while defending second place from Hamilton and then lost his front wing in a spectacular shower of sparks.
“I really struggled at the beginning of the race,” said a downcast Vettel. “Overall, there was not the pace I wanted to have today. Then obviously on top I had the mistake with the spin, so not a good evening”.
“I lost the car very suddenly and once I spun it was too late. (It was) unfortunate that we had so much damage with the tyres that it caused the front wing to fail.”
Dutch 21-year-old Max Verstappen finished fourth for Red Bull ahead of Vettel.
British rookie Lando Norris put in a fine drive for McLaren to finish sixth, and score his first points in Formula One, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“Just the whole race today was a lot more fun than Australia,” said Norris.
“I could do a bit of overtaking… I could enjoy the experience of Formula One much more here. We just had better pace than we thought we were going to have.”
Frenchman Pierre Gasly brought his Red Bull home in eighth ahead of Toro Rosso’s Thai driver Alexander Albon and Mexican Sergio Perez, who rounded out the top 10 for Racing Point.
Canadian Lance Stroll made contact with the Haas of Romain Grosjean at the start, pitting for a new front wing, while McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Verstappen came together early. Grosjean and Sainz both retired.