By sportswriter Michael Butterworth
BEIJING, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Lewis Hamilton took a lucky win at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday after Charles Leclerc's leading Ferrari was slowed by engine trouble in the closing stages.
The Monegasque had led most of the Grand Prix after starting from pole position and looked set for a fairy-tale maiden win in only his second outing for Ferrari, but lost power late in the race after his engine's hybrid system failed, demoting him to third place behind the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Leclerc's teammate Sebastian Vettel finished fifth after spinning when being overtaken by Hamilton and having to stop for fresh tyres and a new nosecone.
After taking his first ever pole position on Saturday, Leclerc seemed to struggle for grip in the opening stages of the race and dropped to third behind Vettel and Bottas.
Undeterred, the 22-year-old soon found his rhythm, overtaking Bottas on lap two and Vettel on lap six before settling into a comfortable lead, with the first five cars separated by less than 10 seconds by lap 11.
At the back of the leading quintet was the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who made his first scheduled tyre stop on lap 12 after suffering a slow puncture, which triggered all the leading runners to also come in over the next two laps.
Hamilton took advantage of the undercut to emerge in second place ahead of Vettel, though the Briton had elected to fit soft tyres against his rivals' medium compound rubber, and soon began to complain of a lack of rear grip.
His struggles allowed Vettel to retake second place from the Briton on lap 22, with Leclerc still imperious at the front, the Monegasque opening an eight-second gap to Vettel by lap 30.
Hamilton came in for his second scheduled pit stop on lap 35, exchanging his ineffective soft tyres for a set of mediums, and immediately began to pick up the pace again, setting fastest lap and rapidly closing up to the back of Vettel after the German had made his stop.
After going side-by-side with Vettel on lap 37, Hamilton made it past the Ferrari the following lap, with Vettel's misery compounded as he spun his car and had to pit for a new set of tyres and front wing. After several unforced errors from Vettel in 2018 handed the championship initiative to Hamilton, this latest mistake raises further questions about the German's racecraft and ability to handle pressure.
Vettel's mishap stood in stark contrast to the serene progress at the front by his teammate Leclerc, who pitted for the final time on lap 37 and emerged still in the lead, seemingly on course for his first Grand Prix win.
Alas for the young Monegasque, it was not to be, as he radioed his team on lap 46 to complain about a loss of power. It emerged that the energy recovery system on his power unit had failed, causing him to run some 30 km/h slower on the straights. Hamilton overtook Leclerc for the lead on lap 48 and Bottas demoted him to third six laps later.
Leclerc would likely have lost further positions were it not for the late introduction of the safety car, which neutralized the race after teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo bizarrely pulled off the track with engine issues within moments of each other on lap 54.
With track marshals unable to clear the stricken Renaults before the end of the race on lap 57, Hamilton duly cruised to his first win of the season, with Bottas second and Leclerc salvaging third on a day that had promised so much more. Verstappen took fourth and Vettel salvaged fifth after having dropped to ninth after his mid-race mishap.
The retirements of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg promoted the McLaren of Lando Norris into sixth, the young Briton scoring points in only his second race. The rest of the points-paying positions were filled by Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen, Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull, and the Anglo-Thai rookie Alexander Albon, also scoring his first championship points in his second ever Grand Prix.
Hamilton's celebrations after his 74th Grand Prix win were somewhat muted, as the Briton chose to focus on Leclerc's display on a day when Ferrari could easily have finished first and second. "Today was a really, really hard job and the team were incredible. It was a devastating race for Charles. We were lucky today. I gave it everything in the race. [Leclerc] has a lot of race wins coming in the future."
The next round of the 2019 Formula 1 season - and the 1,000th F1 race since the championship was founded in 1950 - is the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 14.