Charles Leclerc’s dream of a first Formula One win evaporated with 11 laps left in Bahrain as his Ferrari suffered engine trouble, handing Lewis Hamilton an unexpected race win.
Leclerc had become the second youngest pole-sitter on Saturday and after overcoming a nervous start that briefly saw him drop to third, he was on course to claim victory in Sakhir.
However, he suffered engine problems in the closing stages of the race as his Ferrari struggled to create enough power to stay in front.
Leclerc then had to watch Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sail past him but he clung on to a first podium of his fledgling career – albeit thanks to a safety car.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth, with Sebastian Vettel having to settle for fifth after suffering damage as a result of a tussle with Hamilton.
Leclerc’s dramatic day began with team-mate Vettel getting to the first corner before him, before dropping to third when Bottas also surged through, but the youngster battled back and retook the lead with the help of the three DRS zones in Bahrain.
Vettel had dropped back after his first pit stop but by the midway stage he was safely into second place, seemingly handing Ferrari total control.
It was not to be, though, as Vettel’s untimely spin when battling Hamilton cost him his front wing and a podium place.
All did not seem lost for Ferrari with Leclerc ahead, but his heart-breaking problem completed a miserable day for the Italian team – the pit wall unable to resolve the issue.
Ferrari had hoped Leclerc could hold on for second but Bottas was able to usurp him and seal a second one-two of the season for Mercedes.
Victory sees the Silver Arrows open up a healthy lead in the constructors’ championship, and become the first team since McLaren in 1998 to start a campaign so dominantly.
LECLERC GRABS A BONUS
Leclerc swiftly put his sloppy start behind him and found the rhythm that had seen him top two practice sessions and all three parts of qualifying.
And while he did not secure a race win, the 21-year-old grabbed a bonus point for the fastest lap to add to his 15 for finishing third.
He stopped the clock after one minute 33.411 seconds on lap 39, a time no-one else was able to eclipse.
LEC: “It happens. Unfortunately it was not our day. Of course I’m extremely disappointed. A very hard one to take but thanks to the team… Congratulations to Lewis and Valtteri” #BahrainGP #F1pic.twitter.com/EjtED7As8L— Formula 1 (@F1) March 31, 2019
“I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS GUY”
Carlos Sainz showed good early pace and got up to sixth but a collision with his former team-mate Verstappen on lap four saw the Spaniard drop down the order with a puncture.
Verstappen defended resolutely to hold onto fifth, but it ended Sainz’s chances of a points finish for McLaren.
“I cannot believe this guy,” Sainz said over team radio, but Verstappen avoided any punishment from the stewards.
HEARTBREAK FOR HULKENBERG
After a disappointing qualifying that saw Nico Hulkenberg start Sunday’s race 17th, the German looked on for a sensational result as he charged into sixth place in the latter stages.
A failed engine cost him on lap 53 as he was forced to retire, and 30 seconds later team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had a similar issue to end a miserable day for Renault.
Lando Norris was the beneficiary as he claimed sixth for McLaren, his first F1 points.
IN THE POINTS
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +2.980secs
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +6.131s
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +6.408s
5. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +36.068s
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +45.754s
7. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) +47.470s
8. Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) +58.094s
9. Alex Albon (Toro Rosso) +62.697s
10. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) +63.696s
1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 44
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 43 (-1)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 27 (-17)
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 26 (-18)
5. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 22 (-22)
1. Mercedes 87
2. Ferrari 48 (-39)
3. Red Bull 31 (-56)
4. Alfa Romeo 10 (-77)
5. McLaren 8 (-79)
5. Haas 8 (-79)
Round three of the 2019 season sees the teams move onto Shanghai, where Mercedes have won five of the last seven races – although they were beaten by the Red Bull of Ricciardo last year.