Charles Leclerc of Ferrari won a dramatic Formula One season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday after reigning champion Max Verstappen limped out with an electrical issue two laps before the end.
Carlos Sainz made it a Ferrari one-two while Sergio Perez completed a disastrous day for Verstappen’s Red Bull by spinning out of the race on the last lap with a mechanical problem, handing third place to Lewis Hamilton.
For Leclerc, who kept his cool when he and Verstappen exchanged the lead five times in two laps in a furious start to the race, the victory was pure delight.
Once the race trophy was in his hands, Leclerc said: “I’m so happy. We knew this was a big opportunity for the team and the guys have done an incredible job building into amazing car.
There was also a remarkable outcome for Haas, the team which failed to score a single point last season and was forced to replace Russian driver Nikita Mazepin — and his tycoon father’s sponsorship of the team — as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.
Zhou Guanyu made history as he scored China’s first point in Formula One after steering his Alfa Romeo to tenth.
– Red Bull’s zero returns –
By lap 37 of 57, Verstappen was arguing with his own team over their instructions from the pit lane and Leclerc had extended his lead to 2.3 seconds and held onto it for a deserved victory.
When racing resumed, Sainz attacked Verstappen for second place but the Dutchman’s race ended in bitter disappointment as he appeared to lose all power on the 55th lap and had to limp into the pits without a point.
“It was not great today, we didn’t show what we could do for whatever reason but there is potential. We’ve already lost a lot of points in this weekend, that’s really not good.”
“It looks like a similar issue on both cars. We don’t know exactly what it is yet… but we’ve got to get into it and understand exactly what caused it,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports.
Red Bull’s late misfortune allowed seven-time champion Hamilton to help himself to third place.
“It was such a difficult race – we’ve struggled throughout practice and this was the best result we could hope for. We’re grateful for these points.”