F1’s latest rivalry revs up once again

When Formula One’s new regulations were revealed for the 2022 season, it was with the hope that it would lead to closer, more exciting racing. Two races in, they’ve certainly delivered.

In Bahrain, it was the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc who came out on top as the Scuderia secured a 1-2, after late race breakdowns for both Red Bulls left them pointless. There were no such issues for the reigning champions in Jeddah though, as Max Verstappen kickstarted his championship defence with a hard-fought, and well-thought, victory.

Once again, the top two toyed with each other when it came to using DRS on multiple occasions. Verstappen made the first move into the final corner, but as we saw a week ago, Leclerc was able to instantly fight back on the next straight. Thus began the cat and mouse games that might define this generation of Formula One. Just one lap later, neither driver wanted to cross the all important detection line into Turn 27 first, with the Monegasque driver catching Verstappen napping, and briefly being able to build a one-second lead. When Verstappen got back within DRS range however, Leclerc was powerless to stop the Red Bull driver marching to his first victory, and first points of the season.

The final few laps at Jeddah 2022. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Many expected Verstappen and Leclerc to be stars of the future from the moment they set foot in an F1 car, and it looks like this season will be the first time we get to see them fight consistently against each other at the front. Admittedly, the ‘fights’ have so far been fairly straightforward DRS overtakes. Albert Park, home of the next race in two weeks time, is usually a much tougher place to pass, so might see Max and Charles get closer than they have done so far this season, perhaps even repeating their antics from Spielberg and Silverstone in 2019.

Those previous battles three years ago might be why we’re seeing a tamer Verstappen than we saw last year. He knows that Leclerc isn’t afraid to get his elbows out, whereas Lewis was more likely to try and avoid contact at any cost. It would not be surprising if this year’s top two send carbon fibre flying on more than one occasion throughout the remaining twenty-one races.

The battle between Max and Charles which entertained us all at Silverstone 2019. Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

So far, it is one each between Max and Charles, but it could have been so different. Sergio Perez was unlucky with a pit-stop the lap before Nicolas Latifi found the barrier and brought out the safety car, turning a possible victory for the Mexican into a lonely race to fourth. His misfortune promoted Carlos Sainz onto the podium for the third consecutive race, but this was another weekend where the Spaniard looked off the pace compared to his teammate. The battle between the ‘number twos’ could be crucial in determining the destination of both champions this year, especially on any weekend when one team has a clear pace advantage.

The midfield entertained as always, with both Alpines adding many grey hairs to team principals Otmar Szaufner’s head in the opening laps. Kevin Magnussen also pulled off some good moves, but the early safety car meant that anyone that was starting on the hard tyres would be on the back foot when it came to strategy.

This was also the case for Lewis Hamilton, on arguably his most difficult weekend (pace-wise) in the hybrid era. One point will be scant consolation for the seven-time world champion, with George Russell coming home in fifth. Barring any issues for Red Bull or Ferrari, a porpoising fix, or performance found in a ‘reliability’ engine upgrade, it looks like fifth will be the best the Brackley team can manage over the next few races.

The leading Mercedes of George Russell at Jeddah. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Sunday’s race passed without any controversy, which definitely couldn’t be said about last years. Once again though, the track proved to be brutally punishing, with Mick Schumacher and Cem Bolukbasi both missing their races after heavy accidents at Turn 12. These crashes, and the missile strike at the nearby Aramco refinery during Friday practice, will quite rightly raise questions about the wisdom of holding a race in Saudi Arabia.

No matter who you support, perhaps the best news from this weekend is that it is over, and everyone is able to leave safely.

 

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.

Charles Leclerc take first Pole of 2022

Charles Leclerc takes pole with Verstappen in P2 and Sainz in P3. Verstappen looked quick all weekend, but Ferrari appear to have so far lived up to the pre-season hype.

The first qualifying session of the year and anticipation was high to see how the cars would perform at full power. Who has excelled with the new regulations and who is struggling?

In Q1 it looked like Aston Martin had lost out the most. Both drivers not able to get out of the session, finishing P19 and P17. But Hulkenberg did out qualify Stroll having only known about being in the car since Thursday night.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR22, Qualifying

It seemed a familiar story for Latifi at Williams, qualifying P20 whilst his teammate Albon made it into Q2. McLaren were the other team to struggle the most, specifically Daniel Ricciardo was suffering from not having completed testing and could only manage P18. Tsunoda was the other driver out in Q1, meaning Haas had both cars into Q2 for the first time since Brazil 2019. A massive step for them.

Q2 began and time to remember that the rules had changed, meaning drivers no longer had to use the tyres they qualified fastest in Q2 on to start the race tomorrow. With all cars using the soft tyres and McLaren still had issues. Lando Norris pushed the car but couldn’t get any faster than P13.

The remaining Williams of Albon came out in the gap between runs in Q2 but couldn’t get out of the bottom 5 despite improving.

The Alpines were having a relatively quiet qualifying. Alonso qualified for Q3 with Ocon only just missing out when Gasly pushed his car into the top 10. Zhou then looked to improve but his final lap time deleted for track limits so qualified P15.

Haas shocked the grid for a second time when Magnussen put in a time good enough for P4 halfway through the session. Mick Schumacher was also having a solid session, hanging around P11 for a long time before finishing P12. K Mag did begin to have hydraulic issues meaning he couldn’t come back out for the second runs of qualifying. Luckily he had done enough to make it into Q3.

First runs down in Q3 and Verstappen manged P3 just half a second slower than Carlos on provisional pole with Leclerc in P2. It was Ferrari from Red Bull from Mercedes going into the final runs.

K Mag made it out for the final runs with Haas seemingly fixing his problem, as well with Bottas, Gasly and Alonso along for the ride.

Mercedes was first to cross the line, but neither could improve and as the rest of the cars came round one by one they split the teammates. Bottas only 4 tenths off of Hamilton, and then K Mag who had to stop almost immediately after crossing the line and Alonso in P8. Russel finished P9 and will be starting alongside Gasly who qualified P10.

The Ferraris lived up to the hype, but roles were reversed as Leclerc improved to take pole from Sainz who couldn’t improve. Only Verstappen was left to take away pole but as he rounded the final corner he was just 1 tenth off and qualified P2.

Second place qualifier Max Verstappen. Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Leclerc starts on pole but Red Bull looked to have the faster car in the long runs during FP2 yesterday so it could be an all-race battle. However, we will get to find out if these new regulations can deliver on their aims.

Feature image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

F1 Race Preview: Into the Desert

The 2022 season is finally here with a race at Bahrain to kick us off for the third year in a row. The anticipation is high with the new regulations, new tyres and optimism that the cars will be able to race much closer than last year.

Having been pushed back a year because of covid we finally get to see Formula 1’s big changes to produce more exciting racing. However, testing is over and the teams and drivers, hopefully, understand their cars a little better after all the changes and upgrades between Barcelona and Bahrain.

Mercedes will be looking to defend their constructors title with their new, slimmed down car very different to anything else on the grid. In Barcelona they didn’t blow everyone away despite putting in the fastest laps, but they seem to have improved in Bahrain. During testing Lewis Hamilton did say they might not be competing for wins, but we have heard that before?

Ferrari look to be very reliable and so far meeting the expectations of those that thought they were going to have a quick car this year. They looked to be one of the fastest teams in both testing sessions and have been very consistent and reliable throughout both tests.

Red Bull are there or thereabouts. They have had issues, but reigning world Champion Verstappen finished with the fastest lap of testing. Looking towards the year he will be looking to drag everything out of that car to defend his title.

McLaren look to be the other team which may be in the title fight after testing. They had a solid car in Barcelona, but reliability issues and a sick driver means they haven’t had the running they would like to go into the first race. Daniel Ricciardo should be back for FP1, provided he has a negative covid test.

Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press

Looking further back Aston Martin and Alpine are still very much looking towards the midfield with a hope for some podiums. Alfa Romeo and Williams look to be close to each other as will. They have been very close on times throughout testing so will be in a battle with each other all season.

Haas have been the surprise of testing. They were granted an extra hour at the end of day 2 and 3 in Bahrain to make up for their lack of running in the morning of day 1 because of flight delays. However, with the return of Kevin Magnussen, he went fastest at the end of day 2. Not to be left out Mick Schumacher was P2 by the end of day 3.

Testing times can never been taken as the definitive order, however it has been great to see how these cars might work in race conditions. We won’t completely know until Sunday afternoon if the new philosophy has worked but we are all excited to get racing again 92 days later.

The race on Sunday is 3pm GMT.

Formula 1 2022 Preview: The year of the Unknown

Formula 1 is back for a season of the unknown. New aerodynamic regulations, new tyres, a new defending world champion and new race directors in the form of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, assisted by Herbie Blash.

Having just about recovered from the 2021 season finale, the car launches are almost over with 9 of the 10 teams released prior to testing in Barcelona on the 23rd to 25th of February. Alfa Romeo are the only ones to wait until after the first testing period to release their car. Unfortunately, this testing will not be broadcast but the official testing from Bahrain in 3 weeks’ time will give us a taste of the 2022 cars.

New Regulations

2022 will see the biggest change in aerodynamic regulations in decades, forcing many teams to re-think how they design the cars. Originally set to come in for 2021 but delayed by COVID-19, many of the teams have been developing the car since late 2020 or the start of 2021.

Mercedes-AMG F1 W13 E Performance Launch at Silverstone. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

The new design is claimed to reduce the loss of downforce in turbulent air from 47% to 18% at 10 metres (or one car length). This should mean that drivers can race closer together without needing to be at least 1.5 seconds faster than the car in front.

Having been developed in house at Formula 1 with motorsport teams and the FIA, one of the key points is there is an emphasis on creating downforce through ground affect (minus the skirts). Harping back to the upside down aeroplanes of the 70s and 80s, full ground affect was outlawed in 1982 but the current cars will use underfloor downforce tunnels which will be less sensitive to wakes and disturbed air.

This combined with a new, sleek front wing, and winglets making a comeback, the racing could make for the most exciting season yet.

New Tyres

2022 tyre range. Image courtesy of Pirelli

It is well known that Pirelli are bringing in new, 18 inch tyres to Formula 1 to work with the new regulations. These have been tested in Formula 2 for the last 2 years. 2022 Formula 1 rookie Guanyu Zhou is the only driver on the grid to have 2 years’ experience with these tyres in race conditions, whilst Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin used them in 2020.

The new compounds and lower profile tyres are supposed to reduce overheating and last for longer without losing grip. This means that a driver can push harder and race closer to the car in front.

There is a worry that a longer lasting tyre will mean most races are one stop strategies however, with harder racing on track this hopefully won’t be a problem. But like everything else this year, we will have to wait and see.

The World Champion

F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen at the FIA Prize Giving Ceremony (Photo from Red Bull Content Pool)

We go into this year with a new reigning world champion in Max Verstappen. After a hard fought championship with Lewis Hamilton, he came out on top in the dramatic finale in Abu Dhabi. He is the one to beat this year.

However, it is heavily rumoured that Red Bull threw everything at the 2021 season, therefore stalling the development of their 2022 car. Meanwhile their closest rivals at Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren have all been working on the car throughout 2021.

There is absolutely on doubt that he has the talent to pull every inch of performance out of a car but if Red Bull are having to catch up to their rivals all year he may need to pull out a few more champion drives than he would want.

The question now is will Red Bull be able to provide Max Verstappen with the car he needs to defend his title, or will Mercedes have to fight themselves? Will Ferrari and McLaren really benefit from the change on regulations and bring a title fight of their own?

The Red Bull Racing RB18 (Photo from Red Bull Content Pool)

Race Directors

It is impossible to talk about last season without mentioning the former race director Michael Masi. After a whole season with some questionable decisions and a finale which has caused much controversy, the FIA launched an investigation into the structure and rules of Formula 1.

There have been some structural changes as a result, meaning Masi was removed as race director with a new team taking on the role. Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas have plenty of motorsport experience and will be alternating the role of race director. They will be assisted by Herbie Blash who previously acted as deputy to Charlie Whiting. These three will be starting at pre-season testing in Barcelona.

They will all be helped out by a new VAR style official which will be direct to the FIA. This is to help the race director with decisions during the race. This will be combined with removing the direct line for teams to the race director. Removing the pressure which was obvious during the final laps of Abu Dhabi.

Another point to come out of the investigation is the statement that the FIA will be reassessing the lapping/unlapping procedure under safety cars. This was the main cause of controversy which came out of the race in Abu Dhabi after only 5 cars unlapped themselves, bringing the gap between Verstappen and Hamilton down to nothing.

The end of that final lap. (Photo from Red Bull Content Pool)

This year should be very exciting with Verstappen defending his title, Russell and Hamilton fighting it out at Mercedes and Ferrari and McLaren hopefully fighting at the top. The first race is in Bahrain on the 20th of March at 3pm GMT. This is where we will finally see what everyone has been talking about.

Leclerc’s Bahrain pain and why Mercedes are worried

The racing gods decided that the Bahrain Grand Prix was not the day for Charles Leclerc’s fairytale victory, much to the pain and frustration of Leclerc himself, the Ferrari team and F1 fans alike. Despite this, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will still be decidedly unsettled when looking at the young Monegasque.

Leclerc looked brilliant all throughout the desert weekend, taking pole on Saturday with an absolutely sublime performance and, even after a terrible start that saw him drop down to third on the first lap, was dominating the race and looked to be on course for an emotional and emphatic victory – his first for Ferrari.

Then, with less than 20 laps to go, it all fell apart – a hybrid issue made his Prancing Horse painfully slow down the straights, and the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas soared by. The silver lining, at the very least, was the safety car that kept Leclerc on the podium following synchronised engine failures for the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg.

Hamilton, who has certainly felt his fair share of the pain having victories cruelly snatched from his grasp, was sympathetic with his Ferrari counterpart, affirming that Leclerc deserved the win after such a brilliant performance all weekend. His team radio was telling: “We need to work hard to keep these guys on our tails,” said the world champion, clearly concerned about the pace Ferrari showed.

Ferrari Media

Interestingly, the tale of Bahrain was of stark contrast to Australia, when Mercedes won comfortably and Ferrari looked average. However, this weekend was different, and Ferrari showed the kind of pace that they displayed so impressively in testing in Spain, and the kind of pace that has pushed Mercedes hard for the title the last two years – this year, on the other hand, might be different.

Hamilton has been up against an error-prone and easily irritable Sebastian Vettel, who has shown cracks under the pressure of the title fights, a surprising difference to the assertive dominance that took him to four consecutive titles with Red Bull. It may be early on in the season, but already there seems to be a calmness and a measured temperament about Vettel’s younger team mate Leclerc that Vettel himself could have done with at certain times last year and in 2017.

These remarkably mature and level-headed qualities, coupled with fantastic ability and pace, mean that Leclerc is keen to impose himself as so much more than what was thought to be his role for this year. It was predicted that Vettel would outshine Leclerc, and that Leclerc would play second fiddle to the German – Ferrari themselves admitted this would probably be the case – but not only is Leclerc establishing himself as being on terms with Vettel, but he is looking like a pretender to the championship title won by Hamilton in four of the last ten years.

As a result, Hamilton and Bottas will be worriedly looking over their shoulder at not just one Ferrari this time, but both of them. With Bottas seemingly performing better this year (maybe because of the beard), this promises to be an exciting title race. What’s more, with Leclerc’s astonishing ability and his even more startling potential in the future, it adds up to a nervous ride for Vettel, Bottas and Hamilton. Mercedes may have won in the desert, but Leclerc and Ferrari are turning up in the heat in the 2019 championship as we head to China for F1’s 1000th race.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

How to deal with an F1 heartbreak, Leclerc style

Charles Leclerc’s Bahrain hotel room ought to have been marked a no-go zone. It’s a testament to the Monegasque, humble and self-examining in his conduct, that it would be the first place he gives himself chance to vent. He navigated each interview with professionalism betraying his years, out of the car, onto the podium and back down the steps on his way to an apologetic Scuderia.

Never has it been as easy to forget, that this is a day on which a driver achieved their first podium in Formula 1, for the most historic racing team of all time. This should have been cause for celebration. Instead, Leclerc would be forgiven for wanting to slump in the corner of said room and attempt to retcon his most recent memory with force.

Having taken his first pole position, Leclerc was adamant both to his team and the breathtaken media that the job wasn’t over – “I am trying to stay as cool as possible, because there are no points for pole position”. He knew Sunday, his true date with destiny, awaited him. With a red tuxedo immaculate and a metaphorical tie millimetre-aligned, Leclerc spent 47 laps wooing to the utmost only to be stood up at the table in the night’s dying moments.

Ferrari Media

The term ‘bitter blow’ doesn’t do it justice. Leclerc was faultless, a messy first lap aside, on a day where the infectious seeds of inconsistency were sprouting up all across the grid. Mercedes had collapsed pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel relapsed into troubles of the recent past. Pierre Gasly was again cast in the sea of the midfield, and Red Bull were in no position to put up a fight. The only one who had both the machine, and the disposition to utilise it, was him.

But, as we know in F1, the Gods can strike at any time. Again, Leclerc was humble in his approach to the media after the race – “It happens, it’s part of motorsport”. The fabric of not only his successes, but his career and person, is a stoicism that affords clarity, and a rigid confidence in the ripples of outside influence evening themselves out over seasons and careers.

To make it big in racing, all drivers have to learn this the hard way. The biggest surprise is how Leclerc exudes this sense he was born with it. His ability to think long-term is an offshoot of his acceptance that outside variables can’t be changed, and as we’ve seen many a time through his interviews he likes to instead look inwards at every opportunity, and obsessively hold himself to account wherever he can. It’s beyond admirable.

Ferrari Media

It’s a sign of being in control, even when every single thing outside of your mind and body wants to break you down. That losing yourself is improbable, bordering on impossible, because there’s a foundation of introspection that can’t be shaken. Leclerc’s painfully emotional F2 win in Baku is proof of this; his father had passed away mere days ago, the pressure of his ‘next big thing’ tag was weighing down on him, and the race was as chaotic as they come. His focus that day was as though those issues were denied access into the confines of his cockpit.

He’d go on to suffer a troublesome first three races with Sauber, visibly struggling to tame an unpredictable car. Instead of looking to deflect, or simply carry on as normal, Leclerc opted instead to ask himself difficult questions, more so than with his team. He certainly helped Sauber develop the C37 into a midfield mainstay, but the hardest treatment was placed by himself, on himself. No one was willing to do it with a rookie who hadn’t even been driving poorly, but let it be known Leclerc holds himself to world-class standards.

And he does this because each and every time, it’s allowed him to blossom. Even when most other drivers want an arm around the shoulder from their team, and an easy time of it in the press pen, Leclerc doesn’t allow himself the satisfaction of such comforts until he’s improved in a way no one would even have noticed but himself. The mental solidity that takes, when locked in the furnace of Formula One, is unfathomable.

So if anyone can handle the pain of having the most glorious win of any driver’s career – a maiden victory with Scuderia Ferrari – kissed away into the wind, it is Leclerc. As much as we’d all understand if he locked himself away with a whisky bottle until the pain numbed, it is not, never has been and never will be his way of dealing with issues. Leclerc always bounces back, and every ounce of adversity only serves to make him stronger.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari media]

Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes ‘very, very lucky’ at Bahrain Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes were ‘very, very lucky’ to claim a 1-2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc’s power unit issue putting a stop to what was otherwise a very dominant performance by the Monegasque.

Hamilton had started the race in P3 but fought his way past Sebastian Vettel on lap 38 to claim P2. Then, with under fifteen laps to go, the other Ferrari of  Leclerc developed a power issue that cost him roughly 30mph in speed on the straights; in just two laps Hamilton had wiped out Leclerc’s nine-second lead and passed him with ease to take the 74th Grand Prix victory of his career.

“It was very tricky out there today,” Hamilton said, “and I had to give it everything I had. We were very, very lucky to get this 1-2, Ferrari outperformed us all weekend.

“Ultimately you want to have a real fight and want to pass someone because you’re quicker, so it feels a bit weird and you can’t quite believe your luck in these scenarios.”

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton praised Leclerc for his performance nonetheless and offered some words of consolation to him in the post-race cool down room. He is under no illusion about Mercedes’ pace relative to Ferrari, and is bracing himself for some tough races to come.

“I have been in similar situations [to Leclerc] and I know how it feels, but Charles did a great job all weekend long and has a beautiful, bright future ahead of him,” he added.

“We’ve only had two races; one where we were rapid and far ahead, one where Ferrari had the upper hand. It’s hard to say how the next races are going to pan out, but I anticipate that it will be a tough fight and that it will be a back and forth between the two teams.

“We need to keep working hard to see where we went wrong this weekend and to see where we can improve the car. But as we saw today, reliability also plays an important role, so we need to keep working on all areas.

“We’ll take the points we got today and move forward to China.”

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Bahrain Grand Prix: Ferrari reliability problem ‘unacceptable’

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto has labelled the reliability issue that cost Charles Leclerc a victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix as ‘unacceptable’ and something that the team are investigating to prevent from happening again.

Leclerc had dominated the Bahrain race weekend, finishing top of the timing sheets in FP1 and FP3 and claiming his first ever pole position in F1 on Saturday by almost three tenths.

He slipped back to third at the start but recovered to retake the lead by lap five and dominated thereafter. That was, until he developed a power unit problem with just fifteen laps to go, one which cost him several seconds per lap. The two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas caught and passed him, but Leclerc was saved from losing any more positions by the safety car brought out to recover both Renaults. He came home third, his first podium in F1 but one tinged with disappointment.

Speaking of the power unit issue, Mattia Binotto said, “It was a shame for Charles. He was in the lead for much of the race and showed that he was particularly comfortable here in Bahrain, also setting the race fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

“He deserved to win and it was only the reliability problem, which we must now investigate, which prevented him from doing so. That is something unacceptable from us and it shows how important it is to get every last detail right in order to win.”

Leclerc added, “It’s part of motorsport, we know that. Sometimes it’s not your day to win and today wasn’t ours. In the final part of the race we had an issue with the power unit and I had to slow down.

“It’s a shame because the race seemed to me to be under control. The team is disappointed and I am disappointed but there are a lot of positives to take home from this weekend.

“These things happen in motorsport: we took the best out of it anyway. It’s my first podium even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I wanted. It’s life, it happens, we’ll come back stronger”.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

2019 Bahrain GP Review: Drama in the Dust

The second race of the 2019 season took place under the bright lights of the Bahrain International circuit. Charles Leclerc started from pole position, making him the 99th driver to take pole in the 999th F1 Grand Prix, with Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen started behind him.

The lights went out and both Vettel and Bottas got better starts than Leclerc, demoting the Monagasque to third with Hamilton in fourth after the first lap.

Chaos broke out behind the leaders, with sparks flying around the cars of Stroll and Grosjean. The Frenchman would eventually retire from the race. At the back the Williams drivers had a heated fight, which was more for their honor than the points.

Leclerc managed to pick up the speed after his horrible start and regained second place from Bottas. This overtake cost the Finn momentum, meaning that his teammate Hamilton could overtake him as well.

Verstappen in P5 came under pressure from Sainz in the McLaren, a potential haul of points McLaren could definitely use. What they couldn’t use, however, was a touch with Verstappen which meant Sainz received major damage on his front right tyre. The incident was investigated by the stewards, but no action was taken.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Up front, Ferrari told that both drivers were free to fight, and they took advantage of it. Leclerc closed the gap to Vettel quite easily, telling his team “I’m quicker guys!” On lap six he managed to overtake the German using DRS, retaking the lead.

Gasly had to regain his respect after a disappointing qualifying, but struggled in a huge midfield fight with Norris, Magnussen, Albon and Kvyat. To make matters worse, his pit stop went horribly and cost him further precious seconds.

On lap thirteen Kvyat spun due to a slight touch with Giovinazzi at turn eleven, losing places as a result. To add insult to injury, the Russian Toro Rosso driver later got a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane. That same lap, Bottas and Hulkenberg came into the pits.

Race leader Leclerc made his pitstop on lap fourteen, opting for the mediums whilst Hamilton went for the soft tyres.

Vettel lost his second place to Hamilton on fresher tyres, but the Brit’s strategy would mean he needed to make another pitstop to fulfill the rules of using two different compounds during a race.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Some small mistakes from Hamilton meant that Vettel closed the gap, even though the German was on the harder tyre. Hamilton complained about oversteer and had to make another stop. On lap 23 Vettel overtook him, leading to some stressful board-radios from Hamilton.

In the midfield a fun fight between Norris and Räikkönen for P7 took place, keeping each other under pressure.

On lap 33, car number 33 came in for his second pitstop. Verstappen couldn’t be happy as his pitstop went awful, not the first pitstop that’d gone wrong at Red Bull today. Hamilton made his second pitstop two laps later, going for the mediums. He came back on track in front of Verstappen.

Vettel then tried to cover the Mercedes, making his second pitstop, going to the mediums for a second time. He came back just in front of his rival. Immediately after that Leclerc made his second pitstop, and emerged with his lead intact.

Last year’s championship rivals came very close to crashing, with Vettel edging Hamilton out by only a small margin. The German smelled blood and overtook Bottas, who then came into the pits with only a small margin to Verstappen.

Ferrari Media

Up front, a fight for second place between Hamilton and Vettel spelled drama: Hamilton overtook Vettel and the German spun round on his own, costing him a lot of time. He then lost his front wing, as the car was shaking a lot on the straight after turn ten. He had to make another pitstop, dropping down to ninth.

On lap forty-six Leclerc caused a scare when he reported to his team that something was wrong with the engine. His pace dropped away very quickly, with Hamilton closing the gap from nine seconds to just five in three laps. With ten laps to go the Ferrari was really struggling, just managing to put 1:40s on the board compared to the 1:36s of Hamilton.

Hamilton therefore easily managed to overtake him. Leclerc turned his attention to managing the gap to Bottas in P3. He still held the fastest lap, earning him an extra point, but that couldn’t make it up for the disappointment of losing out on his first win due to an engine problem. He was losing around 40 kph on the straights. Bottas closed the gap to him by five seconds a lap and later overtook him for P2.

Further drama sparked with just three laps to go, as both the Renault cars cut out in the first sector. This brought out the safety car, saving Leclerc from losing third place to Verstappen. When it rains it pours: Sainz also retired from the race with just three laps to go.

The race ended behind the safety car, meaning Hamilton won the race ahead of Bottas and a very disappointed Leclerc, who still took the extra point for fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

Some great sportsmanship was shown by Hamilton, sounding sorry for Leclerc and also trying to cheer him up after the race. Verstappen, Vettel, Norris, Räikkönen, Gasly, Albon and Perez completed the top ten.

It was certainly a very dramatic race, and the season is just two races old. Next up is China – will Leclerc get his revenge there or will Mercedes take another win?

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

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