Lewis Hamilton was celebrating a dramatic win on Sunday night after Formula One’s emerging star, Charles Leclerc, was robbed of victory following a cruel engine failure here in Bahrain.
Leclerc, in just his second race for Ferrari, was on course to become the sport’s third-youngest winner following the drive of his young career.
But with just 11 of the 57-lap race to run, a devastating mechanical problem saw the 21-year-old lose significant straight-line speed. “What is happening,” the 21-year-old yelled over the radio in horror.
Just two laps later, Hamilton had wiped out the Monegasque’s nine-second lead, before cruising past him to claim the 74th win of his career, and the first of his championship defence.
Despite losing 30mph in power, Leclerc nursed his poorly machine to third, aided when the race finished behind a safety car with Daniel Ricciardo’s parked Renault dangerously positioned. It was the final act of a dramatic race.
“It is sad because I was so close to realising a childhood dream which is to win in Formula One,” said Leclerc.
“Hopefully it will come one day in the future.”
Leclerc later tweeted: “Sometimes, it is just not your day. Today it was not ours but I’m so proud of my team. They gave me an amazing car all week-end long and we’ll come back stronger, I’m sure.”
On the evidence presented this weekend, he will not have to wait long for that first race win. On Saturday, Leclerc delivered a statement of intent by blowing away team-mate Vettel to clinch his maiden pole.
He started poorly, dropping to third, before re-passing Valtteri Bottas – also a fortunate recipient of Leclerc’s late demise to finish second – and Sebastian Vettel, too.
By lap six, he was back in the lead. Leclerc was signed by Ferrari after an encouraging debut season with Sauber, but Vettel’s number one status within the team was expected to go unchallenged.
This weekend however, has felt like a changing of the guard. Vettel, the man who Ferrari have backed to end a championship drought which stretches back to 2008, was thrashed in qualifying, the race, too, and then catastrophically spun when duelling with Hamilton. He finished fifth.
On lap 38, and with Leclerc in control of the race, Vettel and Hamilton duelled for second. Hamilton stamped on the brakes later than Vettel and made the move stick around the outside of the right-handed fourth bend.
Suddenly, Vettel then lost control of his car, and to make matters worse, his front wing dramatically broke free of his Ferrari. The crest-fallen German fell to ninth after a visit to the pits for repairs.
Remarkably, Vettel, paid £36million-a-year by Ferrari – second only to Hamilton – has now spun in four of his last 10 appearances.
Hamilton may have expected Vettel to be his closest challenger for a sixth world title. The Briton could now be forgiven for thinking Leclerc will fill those shoes.
“For Charles, it is always good to look at the glass half-full,” said Hamilton, now one point adrift of team-mate Bottas in the championship standings. He was an outlier all weekend, and he was faster than his team-mate.”
With Ferrari reversing their poor form in Melbourne, to be speedier than Mercedes in Bahrain, Hamilton started third, and then dropped to fourth.
Yet, despite struggling with his tyres, the Briton demonstrated his class to move past his team-mate Bottas, Vettel and latterly Leclerc.
He added: “You want to pass someone for the win because you are quicker than them and through a fight. I overtook Charles and raised my hand to him because there was nothing I could do.
“It feels weird, and you can’t believe your luck in those scenarios but what are you going to do?”
Max Verstappen, who escaped an early collision with Carlos Sainz, took the chequered flag in fifth for Red Bull.
British teenager Lando Norris secured McLaren’s best result in over a year with an impressive sixth and his first career points.