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Leclerc leads Ferrari 1-2 in Bahrain as Red Bull implodes


Spare a thought for Charles, Max, Carlos, Sergio, Lewis and the boys today, for there is one hell of a lot riding on their shoulders.

Not the top step on the podium or even their title prospects, but rather the need to give Formula One back some self-respect.

While some appear to be glossing over what happened almost 100 days ago in nearby Abu Dhabi, many of us still cannot forget.

One of the first pieces our editor, Chris Balfe ever wrote for the old Atlas F1 site, was about the infamous 1997 European Grand Prix at Jerez. It was entitled 'The Day the Music Died'.

Skip forward almost a quarter of a decade and that term seems wholly appropriate for the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

We know from personal experience that some fans have left the sport following the events of that night, and yesterday's ludicrous report will have done little to bring them back.

However, if Charles, Max and the boys can continue as they've begun this season, if we can stop the lobbying, the back-biting and the desire to turn our sport into a high octane version of WWF, there's a chance that they may one day return.

The ingredients are definitely there, for other than Mercedes finally looking a little shaky, we have a resurgent Ferrari and the likes of Haas and Alfa Romeo looking a genuine threat for points having spent the last couple of seasons almost embarrassing themselves.

Over the next 90-odd minutes we should begin to learn the impact of the rules overhaul, not to mention where the teams stands in terms of reliability and race pace.

We're not going to analyse what we think the result might be, rather we're going to sit back and hope that Charles, Max and the boys - not forgetting Toto and Christian - can give the sport back some of its credibility, and remind us why we fell in love with it in the first place.

Let's begin the new season, with its new rules, a new face - representing a new nation in terms of F1 - the return of some old names and a much hoped for shake up and start with a new slate.

With its abrasive asphalt and demanding layout, the race looks likely to be a two-stopper, as has been the case in previous years. A one-stopper isn't completely out of the question, but it will be slower. All three compounds can be used for a two-stopper or alternatively two set of softs and one of medium, which is reckoned to be the fastest option.

The big decision for the teams will be which tyre compound to start on, with the whole field now given a free choice of starting tyres, making the strategy even more open than before.

As there is a quite a big performance gap in terms of lap time between the compounds, those starting on the soft tyre will have quite a big pace advantage initially compared to those on mediums, while anyone wanting to start on the hard will face a considerable speed deficit.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out.

With just over thirty minutes before the start, all 20 cars are on the grid.

Air temperature is 25 degrees C, while the track temperature is 31 degrees, but that will drop as the sun begins to set... which it is doing right now. Risk of rain is 0%.

As they set off on the formation lap the air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 30 degrees.

All start on softs bar Norris and Ricciardo who are on mediums. Of the leading ten, only Leclerc and Magnussen are on fresh softs.

They head off on the formation lap, all getting away cleanly.

The grid forms - Sainz doing a number of late burn outs in order to generate more heat into his tyres.

They're away!

Leclerc leads Verstappen off the line, as Sainz holds off Perez and Hamilton who enter Turn 1 side-by-side. Hamilton gets ahead of Perez in Turn 3, the Mexican running wide and thereby allowing Magnussen alongside.

In Turn 4, Magnussen is alongside Hamilton as Russell is all over Perez, with Gasly and Alonso keeping a watching eye.

After just a handful of corners, as the leaders pull away there is a group of 10 cars further back battling for position - among them is Bottas who had a dreadful start.

Indeed, replay shows the Finn failing to get off the line and losing position to a couple of cars, whilst almost collecting a charging Alonso.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz, Hamilton, Magnussen, Perez, Russell, Gasly, Alonso and Ocon.

The stewards have noted an incident involving Ocon and Schumacher.

Perez is all over the back of Magnussen, despite the Dane's best efforts he is unable to hold off the Red Bull, his plight not helped by a lock-up in Turn 1.

After 3 laps Leclerc leads by 0.945s.

"Engine braking is doing funny things in the corners," reports Verstappen who is 1.7s ahead of Sainz.

Russell has a look at Magnussen and again the Dane gets it wrong at Turn 1, "thank you very much", Russell might say as he passes the Haas for sixth.

The gaggle of ten cars is led by Tsunoda who is 3.5s down on tenth-placed Ocon.

Bottas and Schumacher are battling for 13th as Ocon is given a 5s time penatly for causing a collision.

Just noticed that Norris has slipped to 18th, just ahead of his McLaren teammate.

Norris is advised that some of the soft runners ahead are already struggling.

Bottas, followed by his Alfa teammate, is all over Albon as they battle for 12th. The Finn nails the Thai driver in Turn 4, but the Williams driver subsequently retakes the position. However, with superior grunt, Bottas won't take no for an answer.

Out front, after 8 laps, Leclerc leads by 2.8s.

Running wide in Turn 1, Hulkenberg loses 16th place to his Aston Martin teammate.

Courtesy of DRS, Perez is able to pass Hamilton, the Briton tries to retake the place but the Mexican is able to hold him off.

"I have zero traction," complains Verstappen.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 11, the Briton switching to hards. He rejoins in 10th as Alonso also pits.

His tyres not up to temperature, Hamilton has no grip and a mistake in Turn 1 allows Zhou through. The Mercedes driver did well not to lose the rear end.

"No grip on this tyre," reports the seven-time world champion.

Alonso switched to mediums during his stop.

"I don't have much life left on the tyres," warns Sainz.

Hamilton nails Zhou going into Turn 1 at the start of lap 14.

"We're too hot to pit so we need to do more cooling even if it costs a position," Hulkenberg is told.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 14. As does Sainz.

They rejoin in 4th and 5th respectively as Magnussen, Gasly, Ocon and Bottas also stop.

Leclerc now leads Perez by 13.2s.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Bahrain, here.


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1. Posted by Spindoctor, 21/03/2022 8:37

"While it's disappointing (classic British understatement) for RBR, Ferrari & Leclerc were faster & more controlled on the day and would have won anyway. Leclerc demonstrated all the traits of a genuinely great driver with coolness and clear-headed resolve. The Ferrari looks the best-balanced car on the grid and seems to have "adequate" grunt. What appears to have been Ferrari's decision to sacrifice a little top speed in favour of better grip & traction seems to have paid off.

Leclerc is now formally ensconced in the ante-room of greatness. RBR & Max didn't come out of things too well. Max's response to being asked to look after the tyres on his out-laps was petulant & his effing & blinding over the radio is no-longer entertaining.... He's clearly determined to steal Hamilton's crown for alleged "whingeing" as well as his Title. If RBR can fix their apparent PU problems, things will get hot at the front.

Although the commentary team (on Ch4 at least) were ecstatic about how brilliantly the new Regs are working with lots of luvverly overtaking, it didn't really seem to have changed that much (only the names were changed...). Tyres played a significant role in the race - I rarely agree with DC, but his comment that we want a Racing series, not an exercise in Tyre Management was spot on. The decision to "spice up" the spectacle by reducing tyre-warmer temps nearly caught Lewis out. Apart from making it more dangerous (hence "exciting") when cars emerge into traffic from the Pits it seems rather silly...

Notwithstanding my complaints, the Season does look like being really interesting for us (few?) remaining genuine fans.
* Ferrari are strong,
* Leclerc is realising his potential,
* Verstappen will have to deal with another hungry young gun
* Mercedes will move heaven & earth to develop a faster car (potential is there)
* Russel & Hamilton both extracted the max from a relatively weak car.
* The Gods of Racing are still out there......

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