MANAMA (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton added another victory to his tally at Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix but neither the five times Formula One world champion nor his Mercedes team were under any illusions about who should have won.
“It’s a bit subdued because we are all racers and the emotional winner today was (Ferrari’s) Charles (Leclerc),” team boss Toto Wolff told reporters.
Hamilton agreed: “He deserved the win today. He’s done the job all weekend.”
Leclerc, Ferrari’s 21-year-old Monegasque newcomer, had been heading for his first grand prix 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 team mate Valtteri Bottas.
A late safety car deployment at least enabled Leclerc to hang on for third place 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,” said Wolff.
Hamilton took the chequered flag ahead of Bottas, who had led the champion home two weeks ago in Formula One’s season-opener in Australia and now leads the standings by a single point.
Hamilton’s win was the 74th of his career.
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 and not think that this was the performance ranking of the Sunday,” he said. “It wasn’t.”
Mercedes had been on the back foot all weekend in Bahrain, with Leclerc fastest in two of three practice sessions and four times champion team mate Sebastian Vettel leading the other.
The pair also locked out the front row in qualifying at Sakhir.
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 fifth at the finish, Leclerc looked comfortable out front.
Wolff said the red Ferrari cars would be favourites for victory again 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. “The power they have displayed is unmatched by anybody.
“We are lacking straight line speed and that is something that in China is very important, so we need to stick our heads together, (and ask) where did we get it wrong because the car and the engine are fast.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin