Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc stressed that he had to be smart when battling Max Verstappen for the lead of the Bahrain Grand Prix as he held off the Dutchman to ultimately win the season-opening race.
Leclerc led home a Ferrari 1-2 in Sunday’s race as Carlos Sainz took advantage of an issue for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to take home second, as Sergio Perez also retired with a dramatic late issue.
It was the Scuderia’s first win since the 2019 Italian Grand Prix, and the first time they have opened the season with a 1-2 finish in 12 years, when Fernando Alonso led Felipe Massa in Sakhir in 2010.
Incidentally, they also took advantage of a Red Bull issue as Sebastian Vettel’s exhaust broke, but meritocracy appeared to be behind this success, and Leclerc is elated that, seemingly, Ferrari are back.
“[I’m] so happy, I mean again I keep repeating myself but 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 and the guys have done such an incredible job giving us this amazing car so for now it’s starting in the best way possible,” he said after the race.
“Pole position, victory, fastest lap, 1-2 today with Carlos [and] we couldn’t hope for better so thank you to all of you guys that kept supporting us in the past few years, it hasn’t been easy but it’s incredible to be back at the top.”
Having taken pole from the reigning world champion yesterday, the Ferrari driver twice had to fend off his fellow 24-year-old, getting back ahead of Verstappen into Turn Four having lost position to him into Turn One.
The now three-time race winner positioned himself exquisitely to take the place back on both occasions, and he needed to be smart in the battle for the lead.
“I was trying to be as clever as possible, using the DRS as much as possible so I was trying to brake early in Turn One just to be behind him at the DRS detection and twice it worked out so I took back my first position and [I’m] incredibly happy that we made it work,” he affirmed.
Pierre Gasly’s fiery exit from the race brought a late Safety Car onto the track and, despite the adverse timing given he was leaving comfortably, he was not discouraged and produced a sublime restart.
“I didn’t want it [the Safety Car] now but then I did a great restart and that gave me a little bit of margin to then manage my race until the end,” he explained.
Ferrari’s victory was also their first 1-2 since Vettel led home Leclerc in Singapore over two years ago.