Hamilton picks up Bahrain win after heartbreak for Leclerc

1st place for Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W10.
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton led an unexpected 1-2 victory for Mercedes in the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, after Ferrari suffered a double disaster in the night race.

Polesitter Charles Leclerc had bounced back from a poor start to regain the lead early in the running. He went on to pull out a seemingly invincible advantage over the rest of the field, only for his Ferrari engine to suffer turbo issues in the final ten laps.

That misfortune handed the lead to Hamilton, with Leclerc struggling but ultimately failing to hold on to second place from Valtteri Bottas before the race ended under a safety car following an abrupt Renault double DNF.

Leclerc's team mate Sebastian Vettel had already suffered an earlier spin while scrapping for second place with Hamilton, and ended up crossing the line in fifth place behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF90 and Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 lead at the start of the race. 31.03.2019.

With the floodlights blazing down on a wind-blasted grid for the start of the race, all eyes were on one car, and on one driver in particular - Charles Leclerc. Could the 21-year-old succeed in converting his first pole position into an even more famous maiden victory in his just second outing for Ferrari? As the race lights came on one by one and then went out in unison, it was time to discover the answer to precisely that burning question.

It turned out on this occasion at least that experience beat youthful enthusiasm, with Sebastian Vettel getting the better launch and beating Leclerc into turn 1 to take the early lead. Valtteri Bottas was able to follow Vettel through to take second place, while despite his best efforts Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes remained stuck behind Leclerc in fourth.

After his initial struggles, Leclerc soon found some improved grip. He was able to capitalise on it when the strong head wind unsettled Bottas, who locked up into turn 1 at the start of lap 2 allowing Leclerc to reclaim second place. The Finn lost his rhythm as a result, soon additionally falling prey to Hamilton after a steely wheel-to-wheel battle that suggested there were no team orders in operation for the Silver Arrows this weekend.

Throughout the opening drama, Max Verstappen had maintained fifth place for Red Bull but was under heavy attack from a feisty Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard tried a move on lap 4 only to collide with his rival in turn 4, The McLaren came off worst for the contact and limped home with a broken front wing for an emergency service on pit lane and a new set of mediums, dropping to the back as a result. Verstappen now had a six second advantage over his old team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was up to sixth for Renault and closely followed by Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 passes team mate Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF90.

Just when it looked as though the race was Vettel's to dictate came confirmation that Leclerc was now fully up to speed and now setting fastest laps. "I'm quicker, guys," the Monegasque told the Ferrari pit wall, and moments later he proved it in no uncertain terms with a DRS-assisted pass around the outside of his team mate into turn 1 on lap 6. It looked like he'd out-braked himself in the process, but the youngster found a way to hold on and make the corner without handing the advantage back to Vettel. A lap later he had already pulled out a lead of over a second, putting him out of DRS range of the four-time world champion.

While Sainz had already made an unscheduled pit stop - as had Racing Point's Lance Stroll and Haas' Romain Grosjean after a coming together on the starting grid, which ultimately saw the French driver retire a few laps later - the first of the planned pit stops came on lap 9 when Sergio Perez came in, followed by Raikkonen next time. That sparked a response from the rest of the field, beginning with Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon a few moments later.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB15 and Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W10.

Suffering from a slow puncture, Verstappen was the first of the front runners to pit on lap 12. When Bottas responded next time by, he ended up losing track position to the Dutchman. However the Finn was not in the mood to be thwarted, and after a couple of laps of sustained pressure he was successfully able to recover the lost place.

With Leclerc pitting from the lead on lap 14, Mercedes then attempted to use the undercut to their own advantage by simultaneously bringing in Hamilton since Vettel was already committed to running another lap. A switch to soft compound tyres - effectively confirming a second pit stop was coming later in the evening - helped the Briton pull off the move, Hamilton duly picking up second place behind Leclerc and ahead of Vettel, Bottas and Verstappen.

However his soft tyre advantage proved short-lived, and by lap 22 Hamilton was finding his rear mirrors full of a hungry Vettel eager to retake second place on the more robust mediums. As Vettel sailed past, Hamilton was soon on the team radio confirming that he was a "sitting duck" and that he had no rear grip left - although that still didn't stop him pulling out all the stops to keep the pressure on his rival for the next couple of laps until Vettel was finally out of DRS range.

By this point Leclerc had pulled out an eight second lead over the field, and Vettel seemed unable to find a way to bridge that yawning gap. There was a ten second gap between each of Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen followed by a bigger margin back to Renault's Nico Hulkenberg. McLaren's Carlos Norris had distinguished himself with an impressive pass on Raikkonen for seventh place, while Gasly was up to ninth ahead of Perez. A long first stint for Ricciardo had ended with the Australian dropping to 11th when he did finally pit.

Annoyed by lapped traffic, Verstappen pitted for the second time on lap 33. When he came out he found himself briefly fighting Raikkonen for position, finding his way past even before the Finn likewise pitted again, as did Hulkenberg. Hamilton was similarly relieved to ditch his worn set of softs for a new selection of medium rubber, allowing Ferrari at the front to respond in kind second later. It put Vettel and Hamilton back out on the same piece of tarmac, and the German had to pull out all the stops to keep his advantage.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF90 makes a pit stop to replace a broken front wing. 31.03.2019.

Even after the initial spat between the two, the battle was far from yet over: Hamilton kept his foot down and still had the advantage of DRS. He threw everything into a pass on lap 38, and when Vettel applied the power to respond the back end of the Ferrari went into a slow spin that left him pointing in the wrong direction with horribly cooked tyres. To add insult to injury, the vibration from the flatspotted tyres shook the front wing apart and it fell off under the car off, costing him even more time and dropping him to ninth place. Thereafter Vettel went into recovery mode with a quick pass on Norris for eighth, followed by another similarly easy move on Ricciardo, who was already bruised by an embarrassing but ultimately harmless clash with his new Renault team mate Hulkenberg a few laps earlier.

There seemed no question that Leclerc was barrelling toward a first F1 career victory, but on lap 47 he reported that there was something strange with the engine. Minutes later the dreaded diagnosis confirmed a MGU-H issue with the Ferrari's turbocharger, and the effect on Leclerc's pace was huge and immediate. He was a sitting duck by the time Hamilton blasted his way past, the reigning champion sportingly acknowledging his sympathy with Leclerc's plight as he did so.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W10 locks up under braking.

Leclerc was able to nurse the car to the finish, by which time Bottas had also caught and passed him. Verstappen had looked certain to follow suit before the chequered flag, but instead a late safety car was deployed following a bizarre synchronised double-Renault failure with both Ricciardo and Hulkenberg dramatically retiring on lap 55 with electrical and engine failures respectively. It meant that Leclerc was able to cross the line in third place and pick up his first-ever F1 podium position in 23 Grand Prix starts. A success of sorts, and yet so much less than he had hoped for or deserved. An extra point for fastest lap was hardly any greater compensation.

With Verstappen finishing in fourth, Vettel's recovery had topped out in fifth place. He was followed by Norris, Raikkonen, Gasly, Albon and Perez, with Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) just missing out on the points in 11th followed by Kvyat, Magnussen, Stroll, and the two Williams of George Russell and Robert Kubica.

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