Charles Leclerc began Formula 1’s new era with victory as Ferrari took a 1-2 in Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, with both Red Bulls dramatically retiring in the closing stages.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu had already made history by becoming the first Chinese driver to take part in a Grand Prix, and now joins a select band of 66 drivers to have scored points in their debut race.
The Shanghai native took the final point in tenth place on his Grand Prix debut, in which he notably overtook Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton for position as the Briton struggled on cold tyres after his first pit stop.
Starting from pole position, Leclerc withstood immense pressure from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after their first pit stops, with the two swapping positions on consecutive laps, but Leclerc was just able to keep the Dutchman at bay.
A late Safety Car bunched the pack up, but Verstappen was unable to challenge after struggling with a steering issue, and pulled into the pits to retire two laps from the end, elevating Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz into second place.
On the last lap, Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez also retired after his engine appeared to have seized, promoting Hamilton into third.
Leclerc’s win was his first since the 2019 Italian Grand Prix and Ferrari’s first since that year’s Singapore race, and showed that the F1-75’s impressive pre-season pace was no flash in the pan.
“I’m so happy,” said Leclerc, who also took the bonus point for fastest lap. “The last two years have been extremely difficult for the team.”
“A 1-2 today with Carlos, we couldn’t hope for better. It’s incredible to be back at the top.”
Sainz’s second place equalled his best-ever finish, and underlined that Ferrari appears to be genuine title contenders for the first time since 2018.
“Ferrari is back and it’s properly back,” said Sainz. “We had 1-2 and it’s where the team should be.”
“The hard work is paying off and we are there.”
For his part, Hamilton appeared content with third place on a weekend where Mercedes were clearly inferior to Ferrari and Red Bull.
“So happy to see [Ferrari] doing well again,” Hamilton said. “They’re such a historic, epic team so it’s great to see Charles and Carlos up there.”
“This is really the best result we could have got. Of course it was unfortunate for [Verstappen and Perez] but we did the best we could and we’re grateful for these points.”
2022 sees the introduction of a new set of technical regulations aimed at making it easier for drivers to follow closely behind each other.
As a result, the cars look and behave vastly differently from those of recent years, and there were a few surprising names among the scorers at Sakhir.
Behind the top three, Hamilton’s teammate George Russell finished fourth on his first outing for Mercedes.
In fifth place was F1 returnee Kevin Magnussen, scoring Haas’ first points finish since 2020 and the American team’s best result in four years.
Another landmark drive came from Valtteri Bottas in sixth place on his first drive for Alfa Romeo, representing the Italian-Swiss team’s best finish since Brazil 2019.
Esteban Ocon finished seventh for Alpine, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in eighth and Ocon’s teammate Fernando Alonso in ninth.
But it was a miserable race for McLaren, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo languishing in 14th and 15th after having struggled with brake issues around the Bahrain International Circuit.
In addition to the two Red Bulls, the race’s only other retiree was Pierre Gasly, whose AlphaTauri stopped on lap 45 with flames coming from its rear, prompting the introduction of the Safety Car.
F1 remains in the Middle East for the second race of the 2022 season, moving across the peninsula for next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on the streets of Jeddah.- Advertisement -