MANAMA (Reuters) - Charles Leclerc put a brave face on disappointment and vowed to come back stronger after engine problems late in the race denied the Ferrari driver a first Formula One victory in Bahrain on Sunday.
The 21-year-old Monegasque could count himself lucky to finish third, behind the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, after the safety car was deployed in the final laps and kept fast-approaching rivals behind.
That was a first grand prix podium for the 2017 Formula Two champion, who also earned an extra point for setting the fastest race lap.
“Of course I’m extremely disappointed, like the whole team, but it happens... I think we made the best out of it,” Leclerc told reporters.
Heartbreak is too strong a word for a young man whose career has been tinged by tragedy, with the death of his father Herve in 2017 after that of his godfather, friend and fellow racer Jules Bianchi in 2015.
He said Sunday was not even the cruellest race of his career, that being Monaco in Formula Two when he had to retire after dominating in front of his home crowd.
Leclerc has plenty of time on his side as the youngest Ferrari driver since 1961, the youngest to take a pole position for the Italian team and undoubtedly soon to become their youngest ever race winner.
But he is also a man in a hurry, and one not intimidated by being team mate to a four-times world champion in Sebastian Vettel.
The Monegasque passed Vettel for the lead, rather than playing a subservient role, and left no doubt that he was quicker.
“Today was not our day. It’s sad, because obviously I was so close of realising a dream that you have since childhood, which is your first win in Formula One — but hopefully this day will come one day in the future,” said Leclerc.
“I’ll work for that, and I’m pretty sure the team will work for this but they should be proud about what they’ve done this weekend, and we’ll come back stronger.”
Hamilton, a five-times world champion now with 74 grand prix wins, raised his hand to Leclerc in salute and sympathy as he went past for the lead and was quick to commiserate and offer praise later.
“I just had to see Charles because he did such a great job,” said the Briton. “I’m sure this is a devastating result for him as he had done the job to win the race.
“This guy has lots more wins coming in the future so congratulations to him.
“Today he still got some great points even though he had that problem... he was so much faster than his team mate all weekend, so he has so many positives to take from it and we have a lot of work to do to try and keep up with him.”
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar