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Hamilton wins dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix

NEWS STORY
31/03/2019

While absolutely refusing to go in for the hyperbole beloved of broadcasters and the like, today's race has the makings of a real cracker.

On the other hand it could prove to be a total disaster.

Understandably, Sebastian Vettel did not look best pleased following yesterday's qualifying session. A mistake early in the session not only ruined a set of tyres, it also clearly broke his rhythm, and the German never fully recovered.

Though he sits alongside Charles Leclerc today, the German, a keen historian when it comes to F1, knows the score with Ferrari. Just as Michael Schumacher was forced out to make room for Kimi Raikkonen, so the Finn was subsequently forced out for Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard eventually moving on in order that a certain German could take his place.

At Maranello it is always a case of, 'the King is dead, long live the King'.

Aware that Leclerc is the young pretender to the Maranello throne, Seb will be on red alert, and we all know how it usually goes when that red alert turns into red mist.

For the sake of all that is good, Vettel must realise that the race cannot possibly be won on the opening lap today, it can only be lost.

On the other side of the grid, we know that Leclerc is learning and thereby prone to mistakes. He is under intense pressure today, but, like Seb, he must appreciate that failing to convert pole into a win is nowhere near as bad as colliding with your teammate, or indeed anyone else.

Ferrari has said that its drivers are free to race, however it has also said the priority will be given to Vettel in the opening phase of the season. What happens today, and how the team reacts, could well decide how the season plays out for the red team.

As if that wasn't enough for the Maranello pair, behind sit the Silver Arrows, who, in many ways, face a situation similar to their Ferrari rivals.

Despite the smiles, Lewis Hamilton was clearly irked by Valtteri Bottas' performance in Melbourne, and throughout the Bahrain weekend, thus far, he has clearly been trying to reassert himself. However, the pace of the Ferraris, the handling of the W10 and Bottas' desire to build on the season opener ensure Toto Wolff will be ket on his twitchy toes this afternoon.

Pity too Max Verstappen, who, in addition to hold on to the back end of the Ferraris and Mercedes, will be under fierce attack from Kevin Magnussen. Indeed, despite his grid penalty, Romain Grosjean should be up there assuming he has no problems at the start, as Haas continues its move up the grid.

The midfield is where the real fun is going to be this afternoon, for while the first lap may provide the initial excitement in terms of the bigger teams, the battle to establish the midfield pecking order could last for much of the race.

A strong qualifying performance sees both McLarens in the top ten, thereby offering the Woking outfit the chance of a double pint finish. However, veteran Kimi Raikkonen is in there, as is Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian free to choose his starting tyres and also keen to establish himself at Renault following a miserable home race.

The Toro Rossos, like the Bulls, have not looked strong this weekend, and appear destined to spend the afternoon battling the Racing Points and those drivers for other teams who are beginning to lose touch with their teammate.

Gasly and Hulkenberg start out of position, and both should be fun to watch on a track that allows overtaking at the best of times, and this year features an extra DRS zone.

The quickest strategy today is to start on the medium tyre for 20 laps, then finish the race on the hard tyre. However, as nobody in the top ten will be starting on the medium, the second-quickest strategy is to start on the softs for 15 laps, then hards to the end.

There are a few two-stop strategies that could also work, the most favourable is to start on the softs for 15 laps, then mediums for 21 laps, then another set of mediums to the end.

The pitlane opens, and as the drivers head out the most noticeable thing is the wind, which is exceedingly strong and gusty. While it is blowing down the pit straight, between turns 3 and 4 it will come at the drivers from the side, and again between turns 13 and 14.

As ever, once parked on the grid the drivers head off. Shortly after, as the band strikes up the national anthem, Vettel and a couple of others are seen running to be in place in time for the race.

As the drivers return to the their cars, the air temperature is 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 29.5 degrees.

As the field prepares for the warm-up lap, all are on the red-banded soft tyres.

The grid forms.

They're away. Vettel gets the better start and as thet head down the straight to T1 Leclerc falls in behind his terammate. Into T1 and Vettel has the inside while Leclerc has the outside, the Mercedes are side-by-side, while Magnussen is boxed in and loses a couple of positions.

As Vettel pulls away, Bottas is all over Leclerc, with Hamilton in hot pursuit.

Bottas passes Leclerc in T4, the youngster clearly struggling for grip, while Hamilton also seeks a way past, the two briefly touching.

As the Ferrari and Mercedes battle, Verstappen almost gets through on the inside, a cheeky move from the Red Bull driver.

Further back, Stroll appears to have a problem, sparks from the Racing Point filling the air. The Canadian, who is running behind his teammate, has a Renault on one side and a Haas on the other, with no room for error. Unfortunately, there is an error, with Stroll and the Haas (Grosjean) touching and causing the Frenchman to run wide. Albon gets a grandstand view of the incident.

At the end of the opening lap, Vettel leads Bottas by 1.561s, with Leclerc third, ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen, Sainz, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Perez.

Leclerc and Bottas are both struggling for grip, but the Ferrari driver gets past the Mercedes in T2, with Hamilton attacking and then passing his Mercedes teammate.

Grosjean and Stroll both pit at the end of the first lap.

Leclerc now appears to be happier with his tyres, and while 1.3s down on his teammate, is 2.5s ahead of Hamilton.

Ricciardo really pushing Raikkonen as they battle for 9th, while just ahead there is a fierce battle between Sainz and Magnussen. The Spaniard gets past the Dane and takes on Verstappen, they touch, and the McLaren goes wide after suffering front wing damage.

Sainz pits at the end of lap 4, rejoining in 20th.

Courtesy of DRS, Leclerc, who tells his team he is quicker, sweeps past his Ferrari teammate at T1, the pair continue to scrap and on the pit-wall Mattia Binotto tries not to look worried. That said, replay suggests Vettel didn't appear to defend his position too vigorously.

In no time at all, Leclerc is 1.1s clear of Vettel, who is 1.4s ahead of Hamilton. Bottas is 4.3s adrift of his teammate and under pressure from Verstappen.

At the back of the field, Sainz posts a fastest lap (35.842).

Asked if there is damage to his front wing, Raikkonen replies: "I don't know, you'll have to tell me." Love him.

An error sees Leclerc run wide, thereby allowing Vettel close the gap.

Magnussen is under pressure from Norris and Gasly, the McLaren managing to squeeze by the Haas. The Dane had previously lost a place to Ricciardo following a mistake in T10.

At the end of lap 9, Perez makes the first 'ordinary' pit stop of the afternoon, Raikkonen, Gasly and Albon follow suit.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Sakhir, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Kkiirmki, 01/04/2019 22:47

"@ Editor

It’s a thought shared by a lot of people, that they got rid of the wrong driver. Kimi may not be the same driver he was over a decade ago, but he was very solid last season (and this season too, so far). Ferrari are too busy trying to placate the (seemingly fragile) ego of Vettel, seen in the first GP of the season when Leclerc was told to hold his position, that they’re not concentrating 100% on the job at hand. I just hope Ferrari don’t rue the two extra points Leclerc would (should) have received in Australia at the end of the season. If Ferrari don’t dominate in China, with a Vettel victory, I can see this being a long season for the both of them. "

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2. Posted by mickl, 31/03/2019 23:06

"@ editor

Considering Kimi came 7th in a vastly inferior car to Vettel's 5th I would agree with you. They should have had Kimi mentor Leclerc for this season. You never know, if Seb does a 'Red Bull' and leaves after being shown up by a new team mate I wouldn't put it past Ferrari to bring Kimi back one more time."

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3. Posted by Barslug, 31/03/2019 19:47

"Once again, Ferrari has managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory! You can tell that Hamilton was happy for the win but truly heartbroken for Leclerc. That kid has a bright future. "

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4. Posted by Editor, 31/03/2019 19:25

"@ Kkiirmki

Can't help feeling that Ferrari would have been best served keeping Raikkonen alongside Leclerc.

Love Seb, but don't feel his heart's in it any longer. He's lost the hunger."

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5. Posted by Kkiirmki, 31/03/2019 19:22

"An absolutely tragic result for Leclerc; heartbreaking stuff. He'd easily been the best driver over the weekend and really deserved to win this race. He kept his head after losing the lead to fight his way back to the front and was easily controlling the race. Ferrari (Vettel too) really need to up their game if they want to have a shot at the titles this year. Hamilton's more than capable of winning a GP without being gifted one through poor reliability. If anything, Vettel should have been the recipient of Leclerc's bad fortune.

I have a bed feeling that this won't be the last of Ferrari's mechanical issues this year. They may have had the fastest car (just) at the last test, but at this stage, Mercedes still looks like the car to beat.

"

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