FORMULA ONE showed again it doesn’t need any help from Netflix when it comes to drama.
After the explosive fall out at the Abu Dhabi GP in December, this new season – and indeed new era of F1 – kicked off in thrilling fashion.
Hamilton will be left wondering how on earth he managed to finish on the podiumCredit: Reuters
Leclerc won the F1 season opener for FerrariCredit: EPA
Hamilton (L) somehow took the chequered flag in thirdCredit: Getty
In Bahrain there was the lot; plenty of overtaking, a dubious safety car, furious outbursts, a victory for the sport’s most famous team, AND a thrilling twist at the end.
Plus, all this without the need of a bungling race director!
If this is what this new dawn of F1 is like, with these new cars, then sign me up for the record-breaking 23-race calendar, as there is no need to edit the footage like the TV series Drive to Survive.
Charles Leclerc’s victory for Ferrari was the team’s first since the 2019 Singapore GP, while teammate Carlos Sainz was second.
It was the team’s 85th one-two in 75 years but the Italian team’s return to form after a promising winter test was only part of the story.
And his teammate, Sergio Perez, spun on the final lap, promoting Hamilton to the podium places ahead of his teammate, George Russell.
And Haas’s Kevin Magnussen scored a fifth place finish on his return to F1 in place of axed Russian Nikita Mazepin.
A tasty three-lap fight between Leclerc and Verstappen whetted the appetite as the two traded places in a thrilling duel that was kept clean.
This year’s new cars have been designed with overtaking in mind and it certainly looks like that’s been achieved.
But this race was turned on its head on lap 45 when Pierre Gasly conked out at the side of the track and his AlphaTauri burst into flames.
New FIA race director, Niels Wittich – who replaced the axed Michael Masi, who denied Hamilton a record-breaking eighth world title when he failed to follow safety car rules – didn’t make the same mistake as his predecessor.
He thumped the safety car button without hesitation as marshals recovered Gasly’s broken car with just seven laps remaining.
Just as in Abu Dhabi, there was a flurry of pitstops only this time it was Verstappen who would come out on the losing side.
Already upset by the handling of his Red Bull, he raged on the radio to his engineer, “I almost can’t steer….Just f***ing tell me what’s wrong and how to handle it.”
While the Dutchman was the benefactor in Abu Dhabi to pass Hamilton on the final lap to take the title, this time, with him complaining about battery issues with his car, he was passed by Sainz.
A faulty fuel pump then dumped him out of the race completely just three laps from the end, promoting Hamilton to fourth.
And then the final twist in the tale, as Perez cracked under pressure from Hamilton to earn the Brit the unlikeliest of podiums, behind the Ferrari duo.
Verstappen delivered a blunt assessment after the race and said: “There’s a lot of things to analyse.
“Problems can happen and you might retire but at this level it shouldn’t happen.
“We already lost a lot of points in one race weekend. With one retirement I know it is not over for the season, but I would prefer to have at least 18 points.
“It is disappointing. You always say to yourself, ‘we have to score points – it doesn’t matter if it’s first or second’.
“So to lose so many points for the team in a championship… sometimes it could be tight to the end, sometimes these are important points.”
It was Leclerc’s third win of his career but confirms Ferrari’s return to competitiveness as they look for their first title since 2008.
He added: “The last two years have been incredibly difficult for the team and we knew this was going to be a big opportunity for the team.
“The guys have done such an incredible job getting us and building this amazing car, so for now it’s starting in the best way possible: pole position victory, fastest lap, one-two today with Carlos.
“We could not hope for better. It hasn’t been easy but it’s incredible to be back at the top.”
Hamilton was surprised as anyone to end up on the podiumCredit: Splash
George Russell finished a very respectable fourth in his first race as a full-time Mercedes driverCredit: Splash
LeClerc and Verstappen were involved in a thrilling battleCredit: Getty
Ultimately LeClerc won the raceCredit: Splash