Leclerc leads Ferrari one-two after Red Bull failures

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Leclerc leads Ferrari one-two after Red Bull failures

Formula 1

Leclerc leads Ferrari one-two after Red Bull failures

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Charles Leclerc claimed a commanding victory at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix after preseason favorites Red Bull Racing had both cars retire from the race with engine problems.

Carlos Sainz followed the Monegasque home to complete Ferrari’s first 1-2 finish in more than two years, while Lewis Hamilton was a late beneficiary from Red Bull’s misfortune to claim an unlikely podium finish.

Poleman Leclerc started the race strongly, sweeping across the track at launch to cover the apex ahead of Max Verstappen, who started alongside him on the front row.

Red Bull was fractionally down on pace relative to Ferrari – contrary to pre-race expectations – but the race was set to be run to two or three stops, and the team was happy to let the lead deficit grow to almost four seconds before calling Verstappen in for his first stop.

A ferocious out-lap reduced the gap to practically nothing when Leclerc rejoined after his own stop on the following tour, and suddenly Verstappen was all over the back of the Ferrari.

On lap 17 Verstappen lunged from a long way back into the first turn, snatching the place. But Leclerc struck back immediately, slipstreaming his way up to Turn 4 and sweeping back around the outside.

In a great validation of the new regulations designed to make following easier, the pair sparred in almost identical fashion on the following lap, Verstappen’s tires none the worse for him having sat in Leclerc’s wake for a lap.

Again Leclerc took the lead back at turn four, and when Verstappen tried the same on lap 18 he locked up, neutralizing his attack and forcing him to consolidate second place.

Red Bull Racing tried to break Ferrari again with another stop on lap 30, but this time a quicker stop for Leclerc kept him safely ahead, and the Monegasque re-established his lead with east.

Verstappen was getting frustrated by the time his team decided to try a third stop, but his race was set to unravel. His car developed power steering problems, and during a lap-46 safety car called for Pierre Gasly’s combusting AlphaTauri, his engine began to falter.

The race restarted with seven laps to go, but Verstappen was powerless to progress or defend. He limped back to the pits to retire.

Carlos Sainz swept into second and Sergio Perez into third, but the Mexican too was reporting engine issues.

With two laps to go he was told to get his elbows out in defense against the suddenly looming Hamilton, but on the final tour his motor seized, spinning him around as he exited Turn1, retiring him from the race on the spot and gifting the Briton a spot on the podium.

Leclerc was free to take the checkered flag unchallenged, complete with a fastest lap, to snap a personal losing streak dating back to the 2019 Italian Grand Prix.

“I’m so happy,” he said. “The last two years have been incredibly difficult for the team.

“The guys have done such an incredible job building this amazing car.

“It’s starting the best way possible – pole, victory, fastest lap, one-two today with Carlos – and we couldn’t have hoped for better.”

Sainz, admitted he was off Leclerc’s pace all weekend but credited Ferrari’s work to put him in a podium position.

“Ferrari is properly back – 1-2, where the team should be,” he said. “The hard work is paying off and we are there.

“I didn’t have the pace today, but I managed to hold on there and bring a one-two to the team.”

Hamilton, who on Saturday had said fifth on the grid was a strong result for Ferrari, was pleased to take home an unexpectedly large haul of points.

“It was such a difficult race,” he said. “We struggled throughout the race. This is really the best result we could’ve got. We did the best we could, and we’re grateful for these points.”

George Russell followed Hamilton home in fourth, the Mercedes drivers having been in close proximity for much of the race in no man’s land between the leaders and the midfield.

Kevin Magnussen finished an excellent fifth for Haas, in one result scoring more points than the entire team collectively in the last two seasons.

Gasly was on track of sixth before his engine failed and car caught fire later in the race – the first of three Red Bull-powered retirements of the race.

Valtteri Bottas inherited the position, finishing where he qualified despite an arduous recovery from 19th after dropping to 19th on the first lap.

Esteban Ocon beat AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Alpine teammate Fernando Alonso to seventh, and Alfa Romeo rookie Zhou Guanyu scored the final point in his debut race.

Mick Schumacher missed out on points as the only driver to get to the end of the race on only two stops, finishing 11th.

The final six finishers, from 12th to 17th, were all powered by Mercedes engines and led by Lance Stroll and Alex Albon.

McLaren had a stinker of a day, spending much of the race stuck in the bottom four and finishing 14th and 15 with Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.

Nicholas Latifi and Nico Hulkenberg completed the order in 16th and 17th.

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