Bahrain Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc wins as both Red Bulls retire

Charles Leclerc won a close fight with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen before pulling off a classy win as Ferrari took a one-two in the dramatic season opener of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Leclerc and Verstappen had an exciting dice game within a couple of laps of their first pit stops, switching places five times in two laps before Leclerc took the lead.

The closing laps were filled with drama, with a safety car spell and then reliability issues forcing Verstappen to retire, advancing Carlos Sainz to second place.

And then second Red Bull Sergio Pérez suffered an engine failure in the first turn of the last lap, leaving Lewis Hamilton in last place on the podium for Mercedes.

Hamilton seemed poised for fifth place as Mercedes’ speed problems became more apparent during the race, but Red Bull’s nightmare gave the seven-time champion an unexpected boost.

The irony that Hamilton drew from Red Bull’s first race failure after he lost the world title in last season’s controversial climax will be missed by few.

Leclerc’s victory was unexpected and underlined his quality as one of the luminaries of the new generation.

And if Ferrari can remain competitive throughout this long 23-race season, it will be a serious contender for the title.

What happened to Red Bull?

Verstappen should have taken second but he suffered as Red Bull’s day collapsed in the final three laps.

The Dutchman tried his best, battling Leclerc vigorously after their first pit stops, but ultimately lost the fight and looked to take a disappointing second place before his race fell through.

He had already begun to complain about the heavy steering, and then for a lap in the final sprint after the safety car he asked what was happening to the battery. He slowed down and entered the pits with three laps to go.

Sainz took second place, and Perez remained in third place, losing to Hamilton.

The Mexican also had problems but managed to keep Hamilton at bay as he spun at the start of the final lap when the engine suddenly stalled and Red Bull went from second and fourth to zero in a matter of moments.

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Battle of Leclerc-Verstappen

Snatching pole from Verstappen on the very last lap of qualifying, Leclerc held off the Dutchman’s attack at turn one and cemented his lead into the first stint.

Monegasque was 3.7 seconds ahead by the time Verstappen made his first pit stop, but when Leclerc next stopped, Red Bull was right on Ferrari’s tail.

The decisive period of the race has come.

Verstappen chased Leclerc throughout the lap before diving into the lead at the first corner at the start of lap 17.

Leclerc re-passed Verstappen on the outside in turn four, crossing Verstappen as he took the lead but remained under threat.

Verstappen went through the first turn again the next time, and once again Leclerc took the lead again in turn four, this time diving inside.

The next time, Verstappen attempted to enter turn one again for the third time, but locked up his front wheel and slid forward, allowing Leclerc to regain the lead.

From that moment on, the Ferrari driver again took advantage of his advantage, breaking away from him by almost five seconds.

More to follow

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