Stoic Leclerc the real winner

A heartbroken Charles Leclerc with his third-place trophy as winner Lewis Hamilton leads the cheers at the Sakhir circuit.
A heartbroken Charles Leclerc with his third-place trophy as winner Lewis Hamilton leads the cheers at the Sakhir circuit.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Power failure kills off young Ferrari driver's dream, Mercedes know they have work to do

MANAMA • Often harsh, often unforgiving: that racing can be a cruel mistress was brought home to Ferrari newcomer Charles Leclerc with a bludgeon blow at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton may have won the race for Mercedes but it was Leclerc who captivated in this fascinating drama. Only 21, with a first win in his grasp, he was denied at the last.

For Hamilton and his team, there was no doubt who should have won. "It's a bit subdued because we are all racers and the emotional winner today was (Ferrari's) Charles," team principal Toto Wolff told reporters.

Leclerc had been heading for his first race win after becoming the Italian team's youngest driver to start from pole position.

He was leading comfortably when a power unit problem in the closing laps dashed his hopes, leaving him unable to fend off Hamilton and the Briton's second-placed Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas.

A late safety-car deployment at least enabled Leclerc to hang on for third place, a fastest-lap bonus point and a first career podium.

"He was the quickest car, or the quickest guy, and he should have won the race. Then things swing in the other direction," added Wolff.

Hamilton's win was the 74th of his career while Bottas, who had led the five-time world champion home two weeks ago in Australia, now leads the standings by a single point on 44 owing to his fastest lap in Melbourne.

The two one-two finishes in two races came against all expectation, however, with Ferrari fastest in pre-season testing and in Bahrain.

Wolff indicated there needed to be a dose of realism.

"You have to take the one and two, celebrate, but take it with humility and a knowledge that there is work to be done," he said.

Hamilton, meanwhile, led the praise for Leclerc but also acknowledged that Mercedes face an uphill struggle to stay ahead of Ferrari.

"That was a really hard job today," he said. "This weekend, the Ferrari has been incredible and Charles did such a great job.

"I'm sure it's a devastating result for him. We were definitely lucky, but you have to take it as it comes.

"I still gave it everything in the race and I pushed as hard as I could and, of course, the fight that I had with (Sebastian) Vettel was great fun for me."

While Hamilton was able to take the fight to Vettel, whose race unravelled in a spin and a lost front wing that left the German Ferrari driver fifth behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen, Leclerc looked comfortable out front before his power failure.

Wolff added that the Ferrari cars would be favourites for victory again next week at the next race in China - traditionally a venue that has suited Mercedes - with their power down the long straights.

"The lap time benefit might even be more than in Bahrain," warned the Austrian. "We are lacking straight-line speed and that is something that in China is very important."

Leclerc's composure and skill on track and his extraordinary maturity in dealing with this harshest of slings and arrows confirmed this young man is a world champion in waiting.

Head bowed before he emerged from his car, by the time he climbed out he had, like all the greatest drivers, already moved on. For all that the moment seemed to require theatrical emotion, the Monegasque was a rock.

"Today was not our day. It's sad because obviously I was so close of realising a dream that you have since childhood, which is your first win in Formula One," he said.

"Hopefully this day will come one day in the future. I'll work for that, the team will work for this, but they should be proud about what they've done this weekend and we'll come back stronger."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2019, with the headline 'Stoic Leclerc the real winner'. Print Edition | Subscribe