After winning the Formula One title last year on the last lap of the last race, the defense of the title of Max Verstappen It started with a different kind of drama — his critics would say karma — when his Red Bull car retired just a few laps later. the end of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
Ferrari achieved a 1-2 finish with Charles Leclerc winning the racenearly six seconds ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. Lewis Hamiltonwho lost the title so painfully to Verstappen in 2021, enjoyed better luck this time around with an unexpected third place finish.
Verstappen was second behind Leclerc with a handful of laps remaining in the 57-lap race under the spotlight. Then, after the race restarted with a safety car, Verstappen became increasingly panicked on the race radio as he struggled with the steering. Moments later he was in the team garage, soon followed by teammate Sergio Pérez, when the Red Bull race collapsed dramatically.
“The faster I was going, I could barely drive (and) all of a sudden I had to pull out, everything went black”Verstappen said. “It seemed like a problem with the fuel pump, there was no fuel getting to the engine. It’s very painful for the team (and) we have to investigate everything.”
The race ended under a yellow flag as Leclerc sent the red Ferrari garage wild with joy.
This time, Leclerc was leading comfortably from Verstappen when the rear of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri car caught fire as he parked it on the side of the track. He quickly went out and the Frenchman was unharmed.
From the safety car restart, Leclerc ran away, but Verstappen started complaining.
“What’s going on with the battery?” she asked.
His team told him he was fine, to which Verstappen replied: “No, he’s not.”
With the Red Bulls out, George Russell moved up to fourth to give Mercedes another bonus.
But Mercedes knows the car was slow until Gasly’s misfortune:Hamilton was more than 30 seconds behind Leclerc in one stage and finished almost 10 seconds behind, so he won’t let himself get carried away.
“We are grateful for these points,” said Hamilton. “It’s not going to be a quick turnaround.”
Perhaps it was an appropriately tongue-in-cheek way to start the season.
Verstappen won the F1 title following a restart under a safety car, just as Hamilton was cruising to what would have been a record eighth title.
The controversial restart cost race director Michael Masi his job, led to endless analysis and led the FIA governing body from December 12 to the eve of this race to conclude “human error” on the part of the race. of Masi.
Red Bull celebrated that December night in Abu Dhabi, then Mercedes lost both appeals and Red Bull got off to a dynamic start as Verstappen led pre-season testing. He lined up second behind Leclerc for Sunday’s race with Pérez starting from fourth and the team hoping for a good amount of points.
“The biggest problem is that we got zero points with a competitive car,” Verstappen said.
Sweet revenge for Mercedes, perhaps as team principal Toto Wolff smiled from the side and probably not just because of Hamilton’s unexpected podium finish.
But also unbridled joy for Ferrari.
“This is exactly how we should start the season,” Leclerc yelled over the radio. “My goodness.”
It was the team’s first win and its first 1-2 since former driver Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore GP from Leclerc in 2019, and Leclerc’s first since winning the Italian GP at Monza two weeks earlier.
An elegant one, too.
«Pola position, victory, fastest lap, 1-2 with Carlos, we could not have expected better», said Leclerc, who secured the tenth pole of his career on Saturday.
As Leclerc celebrates his third career win, the Scuderia’s Tifosi fans have something to brag about, while his old karting rival Verstappen will be furious at his bad luck.
Hamilton knows a little about what that feels like.
The same goes for Kevin Magnussen, who was sacked by Haas at the end of 2020 when a restructuring with a Russian sponsor and a Russian driver took place. But when Nikita Mazepin was sacked, Haas rehired Magnussen and the determined Dane took the car to fifth place.
Haas didn’t score points last year.
The dramatic finish shouldn’t take anything away from Leclerc’s excellent driving on laps 17-19.
Verstappen overtook him three times with his trademark aggressive driving, twice by diving inside Leclerc at Turn 1, only for the Monaco driver to add steel to his silk and zip past him to regain the lead.
“I was trying to be as smart as possible, I braked early at turn one and it worked twice,” Leclerc said. “It was nice, on the edge, a tough race.”
The 24-year-old drivers were bitter rivals back in their karting days. As Verstappen’s rise continued, a terrible 2020 campaign left Ferrari’s Tifosi fans in tears and the team in tatters. Last year was steady with a handful of podiums but no wins.
Ferrari’s last F1 title was Kimi Raikkonen’s in 2007.
The team’s hopes will now be raised that this Ferrari is quick enough to compete, especially with Red Bull racking up so many early points.
“Ferrari is back with a 1-2, where the team should be,” said Sainz Jr. “The hard work is paying off and we are there.”
Sainz Jr. joined Ferrari from McLaren, which had five podium finishes last year, including a win for Daniel Ricciardo.
But while Sainz Jr. celebrated on the podium, Ricciardo was a lowly 14th and Lando Norris was 15th with both McLaren drivers joining Red Bull in the zero-points club.