And here’s our report from a dramatic season-opener. That’s all from me – thanks for reading!
And here’s Charles Leclerc: “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. A one-two today with Carlos – we couldn’t hope for better. It’s incredible to be back at the top.”
Lewis Hamilton speaks: “A big big congratulations to Ferrari, it’s so good to see them doing well again. It was such a difficult race – we’ve struggled throughout practice and this was the best result we could. We’re grateful for these points, the guys are working really hard back at the factory, there’s a long way to go.”
Mercedes, who came into this race pretty much hoping to avoid humiliation, end the night with 27 points to Red Bull’s zero – and just by keeping their cars on the road! But what a day for Ferrari, who have roundly lived up to the pre-season hype. Or in the words of their winning driver: “One, two baby. Whoo! Mama mia!”
Charles Leclerc wins the Bahrain GP as Hamilton pips third
So Leclerc wraps up the win that looked likely all race, but what late drama behind him! Both Red Bull’s cars gave up in the final moments to leave it open for a Ferrari one-two, and for Lewis Hamilton to help himself to third! Russell fourth, Magnussen fifth, Bottas sixth. To be a fly on the wall in the Red Bull garage after this race…
Lap 57/57: … but he spins going into turn one on the final lap! A mechanical failure by the looks of it. And he’s out too! Oh, Red Bull! Hamilton now likely to get a podium, Leclerc nailed on to win.
Lap 56/57: And is Perez’s car now losing power?! He seems to be in trouble and Hamilton look to pounce but Perez holds him off for now…
Verstappen is out of the race!
Lap 56/57: It’s a nightmare for Verstappen, who is overtaken by Perez, Hamilton, Russell … and in the end heads into the pits. His car looks to have lost power. What a miserable finish for him. Can Hamilton get on the podium?
Lap 55/57: Verstappen’s biggest concern now is whether he’ll keep hold of second. Sainz eats up the ground behind him, puts his foot down and overtakes him for a Ferrari one-two!
Lap 54/57: With DRS enabled, Hamilton is closing in on Sainz in fourth, less than a second between them. Leclerc’s lead is now a tidy 3secs.
Lap 52/57: Verstappen looks to be coping with his steering problem, clinging on the P2 and fending off a concerted attack from Sainz to do so. Alonso also gets past Schumacher and eyes Tsunoda in 10th. Magnussen stays in seventh, with Hamilton and Russell likewise retaining fifth and sixth.
Lap 51/57: Green flag. No DRS for two laps now. Leclerc zips away and Sainz hunts down Verstappen into turn one. He’s held off, but Tusonda gets past Schumacher while Leclerc clocks up the fastest lap, extending his lead to 1.4secs.
Lap 51/57: The safety car is coming in. “It’s more and more difficult to steer with speed,” Verstappen tells his team. The response: “The situation is stable, it’s not getting worse. If it becomes undriveable, you know the situation.”
Lap 49/57: “The safety car must go quicker,” says Leclerc “It gives me a big disadvantage by going slow like this.” We’re about to get racing again – and lapped cars can now un-lap themselves, after the Abu Dhabi fiasco.
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
6) George Russell, Mercedes
7) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
8) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
9) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
10) Mick Schumacher, Haas
Lap 48/57: The Red Bull team give Verstappen a message: “Max, steering update, we are staying out, we don’t believe it is a reliability concern.”
Lap 47/57: Red Bull’s team half-expect Verstappen to head back into the pits with his steering problem, but he goes round again. Leclerc has swapped to the soft compound tyre, while Russell also pitted under the safety car – which is still out.
Lap 46/57: Leclerc uses the opportunity to pit under safety car conditions. He’ll retain the lead as he comes back out, albeit not at the 5secs it was.
Lap 46/57: We have a virtual safety car because Gasly’s car has overheated.
Lap 45/57: Ferrari call Sainz into the pits but leave Leclerc out. Meanwhile Verstappen looks like he’s having mechanical difficulties – something’s up with his steering wheel – while Hamilton heads into the pits too, and zips out into sixth.
Lap 44/57: Verstappen makes a late pit stop! And so does his teammate Perez. A late gambit from Red Bull. Meanwhile Kevin Magnussen, who a month ago was readying himself for a career change, is enjoying himself in seventh.
Lap 41/57: Norris, the only man going for a one-stop, is stuck back in P15, while the late-arriving Hulkenberg is right at the back. Leclerc now leads by 4secs and looks in total control.
Lap 39/57: Alonso waves Ocon past, the Frenchman wanting to use his fresh tyres to hound down Gasly in eighth. Albon comes close to hitting Sainz on his way out of the pits. “That guy nearly crashed into me!” yelps Sainz.
Lap 36/57: Gasly passes Magnussen for ninth before the Dane returns the favour, and with the wind in his sails scoots past Zhou and into seventh.
Lap 35/57: “You are free to push now, Max, free to push,” Verstappen is told by the team he has just berated. Hamilton is warned for exceeding track limits. The top 10:
- Verstappen +1.8
- Sainz +16.9
- Perez +19.3
- Hamilton +29.4
- Magnussen +44.4
- Russell +54.1
- Bottas +57.6
- Zhou +60.6
- Gasly +61.3
Lap 34/57: Verstappen gets grouchy on the radio: “This is now two times I have taken it easy on the out lap and I could have easily been in front. I’m never, ever doing it again!” But he is at least back into second after Sainz and Perez both hit the pits. Leclerc leads once again, by just shy of 2secs.
Lap 33/57: He does, and emerges in front of the Red Bull car – but only just. Hamilton sweeps past Magnussen to enter the top six.
Lap 32/57: Verstappen pits from second to change to mediums, and Leclerc looks all set to do the very same.
Lap 30/57: They’re fanning out at the front: Leclerc 4.1secs ahead of Verstappen, who is 6.7secs ahead of Sainz.
Lap 29/57: “They’re almost dead again, the tyres,” says Max Verstappen on the radio. “I’m not surprised after how he pushed them!” comes the reply.
Lap 28/57: Hamilton comes in for another stop, swapping hard tyres for mediums, and emerges behind Gasly in eighth. He’s told on the radio that those are his types for the remainder of the race.
Lap 26/57: Back in P12, Bottas goes for Tsunoda, who holds him off smartly. We should think about three stops,” says Sainz on the radio. Norris, in contrast, looks like he’s going for a one-stopper.
Lap 24/57: Norris is the only driver yet to pit. Verstappen has been told to cool his brakes, and has fallen away from Leclerc a bit with the gap now at 3secs. Hamilton is 24secs off the lead in fifth, Russell in sixth.
- Verstappen +1.9
- Sainz +9.8
- Perez +12.8
- Hamilton +20.8
- Russell +27.1
- Magnussen +32.5
- Gasly +38.5
- Alonso +42.5
- Ocon +46.5
@Mysteron_voice: “Ah yes, the classic Ferrari *burgundy* ... these new super shiny cars might take a couple of races to get used to…”
And similar sentiments from Thomas Stratford: “Just me or is this year’s car more of a plumy purple than the traditional red of Ferrari? Maybe it’s the tint under the lights, reminds me slightly of that year Arsenal changed their home kit for the final season at Highbury.”
Edwin Imoesi is excited, and rightly so. “I think this is just going to be an amazing season,” he writes. “And if Mercedes can fix their car, it’s going to be a three way title fight.”
Lap 19/57: And there’s the hattrick! Well, sort of: this time Verstappen locks up after his customary overtake at turn one, so Leclerc doesn’t have to wait long to reclaim the lead. But this is a helluva battle. Leclerc leads by a second, Verstappen might have flat spotted his tyre.
Lap 18/57: And we get the same again! Verstappen sweeps past Leclerc going into turn one before the Monégasque puts his foot down to reel the in Red Bull, cutting across him at turn four.
Lap 17/57: Verstappen, his car sparking like mad, picks off Leclerc at turn one! but Leclerc reacts straight away, coming right back to reclaim top spot with DRS in the run-up to turn four.
Lap 16/57: Leclerc pits and comes back to a rattling duel with Verstappen, who is now in P2 and just four tenths off the leader. Hamilton’s tyres have warmed up and he has picked off Zhou for P7.
Lap 15/57: Verstappen heads into the pits and speeds straight out after an exemplary stop. Sainz and Ocon follow him in. Russell has snuck up to P3, just behind Perez, while Leclerc is 13secs out in front.
Lap 14/57: Hamilton reclaims P11 from Zhou and trains his sights on Bottas. Alonso and Schumacher both swap to mediums.
Lap 12/57: McLaren aren’t having a great day so far, with Lando Norris 18th and Daniel Ricciardo 20th, while Aston Martin’s Stroll and Hulkenberg and 15th and 17th respectively. Meanwhile Hamilton goes in for hard compounds but comes out struggling and watches Bottas and Zhou zip past him. Leclerc leads Verstappen by 3.4secs.
Lap 11/57: Alonso, back in P10, is asked on the radio how his tyres are. “Bad” he snaps.
Lap 10/57: Back in P20 is Ricciardo, who had to veer wide early on to avoid an incident ahead of him. Meanwhile Perez spots his chance and picks off Hamilton for fourth using DRS.
Lap 6/57: Ocon gets a five-second penalty for the collision with Schumacher. Leclerc and Verstappen have opened up a three-second lead on the chasing pack, the former having fended off the latter’s early attacks.
Lap 5/57: Magnussen makes the same mistake again, going too deep into turn one and watching George Russell zip past him into P6. Hamilton is closing in on Sainz in third.
Lap 3/57: Magnussen locks up going into turn one and Perez doesn’t hesitate to swoop, ploughing past him into P5. Ocon nudged Schumacher into a spin
Lap 2/57: The front two pull away a tad from Sainz in third. Hamilton holds off the advances of Magnussen.
Lap 1/57: Leclerc holds his ground through the first couple of turns with Verstappen snapping at his heels. Perez loses two places – one of them to Hamilton, who starts brightly and aggressively, the other to a keen Magnussen. Russell is up two places, likewise Gasly, while Ocon and Schumacher have collided Bottas has dropped eight places to 14th!
The cars are lined up, and we’re nearly under way …
The divers peel off for the formation lap. Everyone has chosen soft tyres bar Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, who have both gone for mediums.
“It doesn’t matter how the FIA phrase it in their report,” says Steve Carbert writes over email, “they got it hopelessly wrong in Abu Dhabi and the result should be corrected to reflect the positions when the safety car came out. Much damage has been done to the image of Formula One and I for one have lost a lot of enthusiasm for the sport.”
Here’s a fairly downcast Toto Wolff: “We believe the car has potential but the regulations are so different so we’re learning step by step. Today is just another test for us. We’ve had long runs – some were good, some were bad. We are not where we want to be, we are not fighting for victories.”
Tyres. They’re bigger this season, at 18 inches, and every racer now gets a free choice of starting tyres: which is to say, the top 10 no longer have to start on their tyres from Q2 in qualifying.
Here’s George Russell: “Morale is good to be honest – ultimately we are a step behind Ferrari and Red Bull. We know we’ve got an issue but we know what the problem is and that gives us hope we can solve it. We have to go out there today, damage limitation, pick up the pieces, try and get a result out of it and go from there.”
Martin Brundle is stalking around the grid collaring anyone he can for an awkward impromptu interview. Christian Horner offers some chirpy platitudes, Zhou Ghanyu offers some even chirpier platitudes, mockney legend Guy Ritchie says he’s backing McLaren and Jools Holland likewise. Bruce Willis shows a sixth sense for irritating media types and discreetly turns his back.
Valtteri Bottas, racing for Alfa Romeo this season, impressed in qualifying – finishing ahead of his Mercedes replacement George Russell. One to keep an eye on today.
Covid has also had an impact on this race: Nico Hulkenberg has been called to action by Aston Martin as a last-minute replacement after Sebastien Vettel tested positive, while Daniel Ricciardo qualified in 18th, having missed all three days of testing last week because of a positive test.
Lewis Hamilton speaks: “I feel great and I’m honestly just grateful to be back racing, doing what I love. We probably don’t have the performance to keep up with the guys ahead but I’ll be giving it everything we have to maximise. I just want to make it to the end of the race.”
But Christian Horner is having none of that. “Let’s not write off Lewis starting just behind us as well,” he said. “He’s going to be pumped up coming into this race as well. So the first lap is going to be crucial.
… and from yesterday’s dramatic qualifying session:
Plus reports on the FAI inquiry into the Abu Dhabi controversy …
… and a nice explainer about how a hit Netflix series has given the entire sport a turbo boost:
No shortage of pre-race reading from us. Here’s the scene-setter for the season that lies ahead for Lewis Hamilton:
The starting grid in full:
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
6) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
7) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
8) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
9) George Russell, Mercedes
10) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
11) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
12) Mick Schumacher, Haas
13) Lando Norris, McLaren
14) Alex Albon, Williams
15) Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo
16) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
17) Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin
18) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
19) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
20) Nicholas Latifi, Williams
Is a Formula One driver only as good as his car? That’s the question that will have lately been plaguing Lewis Hamilton as he enters the new season looking to banish the memories of Abu Dhabi, safety cars and that bitter last-lap defeat. Hamilton is not only eyeing sweet vengeance but also a record eighth championship – yet his car, if the early signs are anything to go by, could seriously hamper his chances.
Hamilton was in the unfamiliar position yesterday of playing catch-up to his competitors, coming fifth in qualifying in Bahrain – and his teammate George Russell ninth – after his Mercedes struggled with “porpoising”, a bouncing induced by a break in downforce on straights, which left him six tenths off pole. “It’s a bit of a nightmare to drive,” he griped afterwards, dispelling any suspicions of Mercedes sandbagging in practice.
Less aerodynamically beleaguered was reigning champ Max Verstappen, who zipped round the course with characteristic brio in Red Bull’s sleek car – yet still came out in second behind the fearsome Charles Leclerc, whose Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz also roared into third. The blink of an eye – or 0.129secs – separated the top three. With Ferrari having spent much of last year working on their 2022 car targeting at the new regulations, the team’s long game might be about to pay off. Could it mean a three-way title tussle? And if not, will Mercedes even be in the picture?
Those are the wider questions, some clues to which will hopefully be found in the more immediate excitement of today’s curtain-raiser, which inaugurates a raft of new rules – introduced with the aim of enabling the cars to race closer together for longer. But after yesterday’s showings the smart money will surely be on Leclerc, who likes this circuit: he took pole here and was conformably leading in 2019 only to fall away because of an engine problem.
And for a bit of cheer, turn your thoughts to the man starting in seventh. Kevin Magnussen was, a mere month ago, making peace with the idea that his F1 career was over. He had been dropped by Haas in 2020 and had even begun a career in endurance racing, but was recalled after Nikita Mazepin was sacked by the team this month. “It’s so strange all of this,” grinned Magnussen yesterday. “I had a whole year to 15 months of trying to get used to the fact F1 wasn’t going to be part of my life any more. I kind of got to a good place with that.”
Well, welcome back Kevin, and welcome back F1. Stay tuned!