Image credit: © Daimler AG
Wesley Branton | March 31, 2019 @ 4:52 pm
Just two weeks after the Australian Grand Prix gave fans a peek at what lies ahead in 2019, the teams were back in action at the Bahrain International Circuit for the FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2019. The pressure was high, as drivers and teams continued to fight for the early advantage in the season.
The race started under the floodlights with heavy winds of around 25km/h, making things difficult for the drivers. Sebastian Vettel had a better start off the grid, getting by his pole-sitting teammate before the first corner. Valtteri Bottas had a good opening lap as well, overtaking his teammate and Leclerc. Leclerc retook P2 from Bottas the following lap.
This forced Bottas into a mistake, leaving him vulnerable to Lewis Hamilton. The duo was wheel to wheel down the hill in the opening sector, with Hamilton winning out. But this brief scuffle gave Ferrari the chance to build a solid gap in the lead.
Further back, Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen were involved in a battle for P4 on the fourth lap of the race. It ended with minor contact between the two drivers as Verstappen bounced off of the inside kerb and into the McLaren. Verstappen escaped unscathed, but Sainz suffered some damage to the front-right of his car, being forced to limp back to the pit lane for repairs. The incident prompted some attention from the stewards, but they ultimately dismissed the issue without penalties.
With DRS assistance, Leclerc was able to put his teammate under pressure down the main straight. He out-braked his teammate into the first corner, overtaking him around the outside. Vettel tried to fight back in the newly added DRS zone that followed but wasn’t able to attempt an overtake, nearly running into the back of Leclerc.
The pit window opened and Verstappen was the first of the lead cars to take the opportunity to dive into the pits, reportedly because of a slow puncture. This triggered a round of pit stops. Bottas pitted the following lap, coming out in front of Verstappen but losing the position shortly after exiting the pits.
Leclerc and Hamilton pitted next, on lap 14. This left Vettel with the short end of the stick in terms of Ferrari strategy. He pitted the following lap, losing out to Hamilton’s undercut. This would only last about ten laps, as Hamilton – having been the only lead car to take soft tyres – began to lose grip. Vettel overtook him on lap 23, moving on to chase down his leading teammate.
On lap 34, the second round of pit stops began. Verstappen was the first of the leaders to claim a second pit stop, but an issue on the front-left tyre made it a slow pit stop. Hamilton followed into the pits the next lap, taking some fresh medium compound tyres. Ferrari called in Vettel to cover off Hamilton and did so successfully, despite Hamilton’s staggering pace on the new tyres.
Leclerc was also brought into the pits on lap 37, maintaining the lead of the race over Bottas, who had yet to pit. Mercedes left out Bottas, presumably to try and hold up Vettel.
Later that lap, Hamilton and Vettel were wheel-to-wheel outside of turn four, as Hamilton tried to overtake the German around the outside. Hamilton ran off the circuit slightly, allowing Vettel to stay ahead. The duo quickly caught up to the slower Bottas at the end of the lap. It wasn’t hard for Vettel to get by and Bottas dove into the pit lane for new tyres.
Leaving Bottas out backfired for Mercedes, as it gave Vettel DRS down the main straight, essentially rendering Hamilton’s DRS useless. But, with some help from the second DRS zone, Hamilton was able to launch a move around the outside of Vettel again in turn four. Vettel tried to hold it around the inside but spun 180 degrees, ruining his race. To make matters worse, his flat-spotted rear tyres literally shook the front wing off of his car, with it ripping off in spectacular style. He limped back to the pits for new tyres and a new wing, but his chances of getting anything higher than P5 were low.
But, with ten laps remaining in the race, deeper issues appeared at Ferrari. Leclerc began to report engine issues, as his pace began to drop off severely. Similar issues were evident on the team’s other car, with a “use high gear” warning visible on the steering wheel from the onboard camera. Ferrari confirmed over team radio that it was a turbocharger failure.
Leclerc was a sitting duck in the closing stages of the race, quickly falling prey to Hamilton. His ten-second lead vanished in the blink of an eye and Hamilton cruised to the lead of the race, taking away the young driver’s chance of taking his maiden victory and leaving fans heartbroken.
With Leclerc now in P3, a bizarre double failure for Renault brought out the safety car with just a few laps remaining. Nico Hulkenberg parked at the side of the track, in turn, one, after what appears to have been a brake failure. Daniel Ricciardo retired in the same spot on the same lap with an apparent electrical failure. The safety car was deployed.
With too few laps remaining in the race, it ended under the safety car. Hamilton took the top step of the podium with Bottas alongside him. Leclerc was lucky to take a podium finish but unlucky not to get the victory in a race that was his to win. He does get the bonus point for fastest lap.
Above results table does not include any post-race penalties