SAKHIR, Bahrain – Amid a blustery night at Sakhir Int’l Circuit, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton stole the victory in Sunday’s Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, breaking Charles Leclerc’s heart in the process.
Hamilton took command from Leclerc with 10 laps to go, after a turbo issue caused a loss of power for Leclerc’s Ferrari engine.
The mechanical woes relegated the 21-year-old Monegasque from 10 seconds in front of the field to a crushing defeat, while Hamilton cruised home to his 74th career F-1 victory by more than 20 seconds over the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who passed Leclerc for second with four laps remaining.
A double-incident with three laps left that saw the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg stall in turn one led to a race-ending safety car period, preserving third for Leclerc at the finish.
Sunday’s race was the eighth grand prix to finish under yellow and the first since the Chinese Grand Prix in 2015.
While Hamilton was pleased with a victory, he knew Sunday wasn’t necessarily his race to win and performed a muted victory celebration in parc ferme as a result.
“First off, I have to say that was extremely unfortunate for Charles; he drove a fantastic race,” Hamilton noted. “Today was a really hard job, all weekend, really. The Ferraris did an outstanding job and I hated what happened at the end. Charles had done the job to win the race, for sure.
“We were extremely lucky today, but you have to take it as it comes, and I pushed as hard as I could to make it all pay off in the end. This is a great result for the team, considering how tough today was.”
With Sunday’s triumph, Hamilton collected his third-career win in Bahrain and first since 2015.
Leclerc started on pole, but didn’t lead for the first time until lap six, after a bad start dropped him behind both teammate Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in the opening corner.
Undeterred, Leclerc settled into third for a tour of the 15-turn, 3.363-mile circuit before repassing Bottas for second on the second lap of the 57-lap race. He then chased down Vettel from nearly three seconds back before diving around his teammate entering turn one on the sixth lap.
From there, Leclerc held command until his first pit stop at the end of lap 13, where Ricciardo briefly assumed the top spot on a one-stop strategy, but once Leclerc got back in front two laps later it was his race to lose.
Despite a second stop on lap 37, Leclerc didn’t give up the lead and was well on his way to victory before reporting power issues inside of 15 to go, when his margin over Hamilton began diminishing rapidly.
Once Hamilton and Bottas got past him, it was all Leclerc could do to hang on with a failing car before the timeliest of yellow flags allowed him to maintain a position on the podium, his first F-1 top three.
That didn’t make the pain of losing any easier to take for the young superstar, however.
“I don’t know what to say. What a shame. What an amazing race we had,” said Leclerc, who became the 50th driver to lead an F-1 grand prix for Ferrari. “It’s part of motorsport, though. Unfortunately, today was not our day, but I’m confident our team has done an amazing job to recover the lack of pace we had in Australia.
“Of course I’m extremely disappointed, but it happens in these seasons and I think we made the best out of a very unlucky situation.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was closing on Leclerc before the race-ending caution, finished fourth ahead of Vettel, who rallied back from a lap-38 spin while racing Hamilton for second to cross in fifth.
McLaren’s Lando Norris, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon and Racing Point’s Sergio Perez completed the points-scoring drivers in the top 10.
Leclerc collected the bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race, moving up to fourth in points, while Bottas maintains a one-point edge in the driver’s championship over Hamilton leaving Bahrain.
Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Lando Norris, Kimi Raikkonen, Pierre Gasly, Alexander Albon, Sergio Perez, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Kevin Magnussen, Lance Stroll, George Russell, Robert Kubica, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr., Romain Grosjean.