On the last lap of the first Formula 1 grand prix of the season, as he was driving to victory, Charles Leclerc told an engineer there was “something strange” going on with his engine. Perhaps he was making light of Red Bull’s engine failures in the race, but more directly it’s a reference to 2019 in Bahrain, when he was winning and there was something, indeed, wrong with his engine, slowing him to third. But there was nothing wrong with his engine this time. This time, it was just a joke between friends.
Leclerc and Ferrari were dominant in Bahrain by virtually every metric, with Leclerc qualifying in pole position, Leclerc getting the fastest lap in the race, Leclerc winning the race, and Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz finishing second. Ferrari’s only blemish this past weekend, if you can call it that, was Sainz finishing third in qualifying, behind Leclerc and last year’s champion Max Verstappen.
Ferrari, who finished a distant third last year in the constructors’ championship and who hasn’t won a constructors’ title since the days of Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen, is seemingly back.
“Ferrari is back,” Sainz said after the race, “and it is properly back with a 1-2.”
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s team principal Mattia Binotto was a little more circumspect.
“And if I look at the first stint of Max, on used tyres, he was keeping the pace of Charles. So I think we should not forget that those ones are the world champion, they are still the favourites, and I think what we can try to do is to do our best,” Binotto said. “Jeddah in a week’s time can be a completely different picture and I think we need to wait at least four or five races to see the true picture.”
Ferrari, surely, was the beneficiary of some good fortune on Sunday, with the Mercedes cars going decisively slower, and the Red Bull cars unable to complete the course, and the McLaren cars barely showing up at all. It’s also true that Sunday’s results were a bit all over the map, with Kevin Magnusson of Haas finishing fifth on a team that was the worst last year, and Valtteri Bottas finishing sixth for an Alfa Romeo team that was second-worst last year. Aston Martin, meanwhile, was expected to pick up plenty of points this year, but picked up exactly zero of them on Sunday for the constructors’ championship, its drivers finishing 12th and 17th. In many ways, once you get past the top four, the results in Bahrain were just weird.
So, perhaps Ferrari just hit at the right time, or perhaps this is the year that Ferrari has long been planning for and it is starting to reap the fruit of its labors. Certainly, though, it didn’t feel like a fluke, with Ferrari passing nearly every test it was presented with. It’s almost like Ferrari has done this before.