Lewis Hamilton claimed the 74th win of his career when the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc gave up on him and cost him certain victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was cruel luck on Leclerc who was composure itself for most of the evening. His cry came over the radio as he leaked a nine-second lead in a lap or two. ‘What’s happening?’ he asked, detecting some problem at the back of his red machine.
His engine was giving up the ghost, down on power at least, the battery failing, and Hamilton passed him comfortably with nine laps remaining.
Great Britain’s Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday after starting the race third on the grid
Charles Leclerc was the fastest driver over the entire weekend but an engine issue with 10 laps to go cost him the race win
Hamilton pointed to Mercedes fans as he toasted a shock victory but admitted after that Mercedes benefited from good luck
The 21-year-old could barely hide his disappointment at the end as he stood on the podium for the first time in his F1 career
‘Oh my God,’ said Leclerc, who had started on pole.
Hamilton’s win came unexpectedly on a night that was awful for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – he spun and finished fifth.
Valtteri Bottas, who won the opening race in Melbourne for Mercedes a fortnight ago, had an unimpressive showing but finally finished second when he came from nowhere to pass the stricken Leclerc. The Monegasque would also have been passed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen but for the race ending under a safety car that had come out to clear away the Renaults that had stopped.
Leclerc was third and Verstappen fourth.
Leclerc (front right) led out from pole position with Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel (front centre), second on the grid
Having lost the lead from the start, Leclerc did brilliantly to recover and looked to be coasting to his first win in Formula One
But the issues for Ferrari started with Vettel when he spun out while fighting for second place and his podium hopes ended
Damage to tyres put too much pressure on the front wing and the German lost it at the side of the track in a disaster moment
Lando Norris, 19, won his first points in his second race – a great performance by a McLaren team improving well. His team-mate Carlos Sainz was also doing well before he was harmed in a coming together with Verstappen.
The opening lap was full of entertainment. Leclerc was slowly away, Vettel passing him into the first corner. Bottas, having accounted for Leclerc overtook Hamilton, whose start was less than lightning fast for the second time in the two opening races of the season.
Then Leclerc clambers past Bottas and Hamilton. He is on Vettel’s tail. ‘I’m quicker,’ said the youngster.
OK, kid, but now make a move stick on your illustrious team-mate.
He was breathing down Vettel’s neck at the end of the fifth lap. On the start straight, using DRS, Leclerc poked his nose in front and zooms beyond the German at the first corner. Vettel tries to fight back but no chance. Was it a symbolic moment in the Ferrari dynamic between the old leader and the newcomer in his second race for the team?
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FINAL RACE STANDINGS
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1hr 34mins 21.295secs
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:34:24.275
3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:34:27.426
4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:34:27.703
5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:34:57.363
6 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:35:07.049
7 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:35:08.765
8 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Red Bull 1:35:19.389
9 Alexander Albon (Tha) Toro Rosso 1:35:23.992
10 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:35:24.991,
11 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:35:25.894
12 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso at 1 lap
13 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas at 1 lap
14 Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point at 1 lap
15 George Russell (Gbr) Williams at 1 lap
16 Robert Kubica (Pol) Williams at 2 laps
17 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault at 4 laps
18 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault at 4 laps
19 Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren at 4 laps
Not Classified: 20 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 16 laps completed
Fastest Lap: Charles Leclerc 1min 33.411secs on lap 38
Mercedes’ strategy worked well for the large part as Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas closed the gap on their Ferrari rivals
The big disappointment aside from Ferrari came at Renault as both drivers suffered technical failures and had to retire
Ferrari brought Leclerc in to pit first – giving him as race leader, rather than Vettel as their de facto No 1 ,the advantage – and he maintained his hold over proceedings for the rest of the evening.
Hamilton was also in first of the Mercedes. Out fast and flying, he was ahead by the time Vettel emerged from his own stop the following lap and into second.
But Hamilton had been redshod with soft tyres, unlike the rest who were on mediums. They should have made him quicker but it didn’t quite work out that way, certainly not for long.
He was soon complaining that his rears were nearly done. It seemed that way as Vettel zipped past him to reclaim second.
‘I’m a sitting duck out here guys,’ Hamilton told his team.
He hung on in third – with Bottas way back in fourth – until he came out from his second stop. He was now right on Vettel’s case. Having tried just before to overtake the Ferrari, Hamilton managed to do so on lap 38. It was a clean move. And Vettel spun, leaving tyre marks on the floor. He was facing the wrong way, his face no doubt as red as his overalls.
His front wing then fell off as he hobbled on his vibrating tyres back to the pits. He plunged to ninth place. Leclerc was serenely out in front. No problems there until his engine went. And then it all changed.
The chequered flag was waved by David Beckham as he was one of the special celebrity guests at the Sakhir Circuit track
Hamilton got a soaking from the champagne on the podium but will be celebrating an unexpected race win as he eyes a title