Charles wins the first race with final lap drama

Charles Leclerc wins from pole in an action filled final few laps of Bahrain. Red Bull had engine problems with Verstappen having to retire and Perez retiring in the last 2 laps of the race.

First race of the season and we had Leclerc on pole to defend against the reining world champion in P2. Most predicted a messy start with neither driver known for yielding. As they lined up on the grid we waited to see if Formula 1 could deliver on their promises of exciting racing.

Lights out and it’s a clean getaway for all the drivers. Verstappen tucked in behind Leclerc as they got very similar starts. Hamilton had a quick launch in the first phase, but Sainz was later on the brakes and kept P3. After a short battle with Perez, Hamilton moved up to P4.

Kevin Magnussen had a very quick start and made it up to P5, he was fighting Hamilton into turn 1 at the start of lap 2. However, just a few laps later he went deep into turn 1 with a lock up which opened up the door for Perez who was able to close the gap. A well fought battle to turn 4, where Perez made it through. Just 1 lap later he went deep again and left the door open for George Russell, meaning he was back down to P7.

The race start. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 10 and so far the new regulations were delivering with action up and down the grid. Perez had closed the gap to Hamilton, getting DRS down the back straight. Perez was just carrying more speed and swooped around the outside getting back into P4.

3 laps later Hamilton is the first to pit for new hard tyres. It was a very quick stop, but the tyres only had the blanket temperatures meaning they were too cold going into turn 1. Hamilton had no grip and went deep into turn 1 letting Zhou through. Once the tyres had warmed up though he was back past the following lap.

The undercut looks to be powerful here when Leclerc pitted just 1 lap after Verstappen with a 3 second advantage but came out only 0.3s ahead. Verstappen did stay behind but he was biding he time for the next lap.

Verstappen kept the gap within 1 second and got DRS down the main straight. Into turn 1 and Verstappen takes the inside line coming out in front of Leclerc. But Leclerc had good traction out of the corner keeping tight to Verstappen and crucially getting DRS on the way to turn 4. The Ferrari swoops around the outside to re-take the lead.

The battle didn’t end there when Verstappen tried again the following lap, but the story repeated itself. This time Leclerc took the inside line into turn 4 to take the lead. So, attempt number 3, Verstappen had DRS into turn 1 but he locked up causing him to go very deep and leaving the door wide open for Leclerc. The Ferrari then had the advantage, and the duel came to an end on lap 19.

3rd time unlucky for Max Verstappen. Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

McLaren meanwhile were having a terrible weekend. At the start of the race both dropped down to the back being the only drivers which started on the mediums. At lap 28 they were running P18 and P20. Norris then pitted for hard tyres, looking to go to the end.

Lap 34 and Verstappen has had enough of his soft tyres which had begun to where off after his battle with Leclerc. He pitted for mediums but was told to take it slightly easier on the out lap but still hoped the undercut would work. Ferrari reacted and pitted Leclerc for mediums. This time Verstappen was too far back which resulted in a frustrated message back to the team saying he would never take the outlap easy again.

10 laps later both Red Bulls are in the pits causing confusion amongst fans. However, Sainz came in and Hamilton follows for soft tyres. Verstappen constantly on the radio though with what appears to be an issue with the steering after the pitstop. He did stay out hoping he could cope with it for the rest of the race.

Just 11 laps from the end Gasly’s car overheats bringing out the safety car while they recover the car which was in flames. He got out the car safely, but it looks like it was an electrical issue. With that, in came Leclerc and almost all the rest of the grid for new softs apart from Mick Schumacher. The pack was bunched together, and the all the lapped cars could unlap themselves.

The safety car in and Leclerc bolts while Verstappen has to deal with his steering problems while Sainz pulls alongside into turn 1. Verstappen comes out ahead and the gaps begin to open up by turn 4. Mick Schumacher on the older tyres suffers and drops back from P10 to P13 in just 3 laps.

Lap 54, Verstappen has battery issues and Sainz passes him at turn 4. Only 1 corner later and Verstappen has to retire with terminal problems. Hamilton at this point was all over the back of Perez who was also reporting problems.

The final lap, Hamilton kept his car within DRS down the main straight. Perez was comfortably ahead turning into turn 1 but the engine had other ideas and cut out mid corner, causing him to spin and was out of the race.

After all that last lap drama Charles Leclerc came out on top, with Sainz P2 and Hamilton P3. Russell finished just behind his teammate which is more than they could have hoped for today. A special shoutout to Kevin Magnussen who finished P5 in the Haas.

The jury is still out on the new regulations, but reliability is key. Both Red Bulls and Gasly’s Alpha Tauri looked to have engine issues which they will need to get sorted to compete for the championship this year.

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