Charles Leclerc wins the Bahrain Grand Prix
The 2022 season of Formula One begins with Charles Leclerc winning and teammate Carlos Sainz securing second
The 2022 season of Formula One has started with a bang. The 10 teams had gathered at the Bahrain International Circuit during the weekend of March 18–20 to start the face-off towards the World Championship.
On Saturday, March 19, Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari. The Monegasque driver was joined on the front row by defending World Champion Max Verstappen racing for Red Bull. The second row was occupied by Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz along with Sergio Perez, the other Red Bull driver, who sat in fourth. Shockingly, Mercedes led the rest of the pack and found themselves in fifth for Lewis Hamilton and ninth for newcomer George Russell. Valtteri Bottas, who had recently departed from Mercedes, sat next to his former teammate Hamilton in sixth with Alfa Romeo. McLaren, a team that used to be upper middle of the pack, was dragging along in the back with some of the lowest grid positions seen from them in years.
After a shocking and exciting Saturday qualifier, the lights went out at Bahrain Grand Prix. With a spectacular start, Leclerc immediately pulled away from his rival Verstappen. Within the first 15 laps, Verstappen attempted to steal the lead, but Leclerc defended aggressively and was able to maintain first place. Perez, who started in fourth, had a slow start. This allowed Hamilton to move into fourth and Kevin Magnussen, a recent replacement for Nikita Mazepin on the Haas team, to move up to fifth. Perez was able to fight back to his fourth place spot by first taking advantage of Magnussen's lock-up and then by chasing down Hamilton. McLaren continued to struggle in the back of the pack, not being able to break into the top ten at any point. Williams and the Alpine team also struggled to make any progress under the Bahrain lights.
As the race progressed, both of the top teams, Red Bull and Ferrari, continued to fight for the podium positions. Each team pitted both drivers three times even though the forecast had originally only called for two stops. Alternating from soft to medium and back to soft tires seemed to be the best plan for success. When Verstappen pitted for the third time, Ferrari was able to pit Leclerc. The decision was made easier when Pierre Gasly’s car caught on fire and brought out a safety car. During Lap 46, the Alpha Tauri driver suddenly pulled off the track and came to a standstill. Within seconds, the engine erupted in flames due to an overworked gearbox with lack of time to cool. The following safety car allowed the lapped cars to unlap themselves and many chose to pit at this time, including the race leader Leclerc.
Gasly’s sudden explosion was an omen of the disappointment that was to come. Verstappen had started complaining about lack of control and steering issues during the middle of the race. The defending World Champion was still in second after the restart of the race, but Sainz was right on his tail. After the safety car had left the track, Sainz and Hamilton were able to easily overcome the Dutch driver. At that moment, it was clear that Verstappen was crawling back to the pits due to engine failure. After Verstappen's retirement, only Perez remained as he fought to maintain third position. The Mexican driver also began experiencing engine issues, which quickly caused him to spin out and retire as his engine locked up. The previous favorites going into this race were now retreating to the garage with no points earned.
On a happier note, Ferrari was able to secure the win they had hoped for as they won for the first time since 2019. After almost 50 races and two years of hard work, Ferrari got another 1-2 finish, just as they did in their last win in the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. Leclerc was able to secure first place, win a point for fastest lap, and become driver of the day, an exciting and well earned prize for the young driver. Hamilton, who drives for Mercedes, was able to slip into third place earning himself a spot on the podium. This change in luck shows that the Mercedes team is not completely out of contention for the World Championship. With such turns in team performances seen from Mclaren to Haas, this season is anticipated to be a very exciting one. Round two will be the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix on March 27.