Two races into the 2022 Formula One season, a new era of regulations and while it is evident to see that Ferrari and Red Bull have started the strongest, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen seem to be relishing the duel.

It is currently one race apiece for Leclerc and Verstappen, but both the former's win in Bahrain and the latter's in Saudi Arabia have been characterised by hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing.

Coming into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Ferrari's strength this season can be seen in the fact they have opened up a healthy 40-point buffer in the constructors' championship after only two races.

Leclerc and Sainz are also first and second in the drivers' championship, with the Monegasque's respective first and second place finishes coupled with bonus points for the fastest lap in the opening two races.

Following a tightly contested race in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc and Verstappen were revelling in the opening battles for the championship.

"It wasn't enough today, but my God, I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "Every race should be like this."

Especially in comparison to how sour the relationship became between him and Lewis Hamilton as they fought for the title in 2021, Verstappen is also enjoying the hard but fair racing.

"It was really tough, but a good race," the world champion said after his Saudi win. "We were both battling hard at the front. We just tried to play the long game."

 

Mercedes' lack of pace working against Hamilton  

Meanwhile, Mercedes have endured a difficult start to the 2022 season, claiming third and fourth thanks to Red Bull DNFs in Bahrain before a fifth and 10th place finish in Saudi Arabia, well off the pace at the front.

Their troubles with speed and managing downforce in relation to their heavy porpoising is difficult for any team, let alone one with expectations of drivers' and constructors' championships.

With that all in mind, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, tied with two other drivers for the most ever in F1 at a single track – Michael Schumacher at Suzuka and Ayrton Senna at Imola are the other two, while Hamilton also holds eight at the Hungaroring.

 

No home race advantage for Aussies

McLaren's poor start to the season could only serve to compound matters for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race.

No Australian driver has ever won, taken pole position or reached the podium in 35 editions of the Australian GP.

Ricciardo (2016, 2018) and Mark Webber (2010) only managed to secure fastest laps and mere points finishes.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 45
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 33
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 22
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 16

Constructors

1. Ferrari 78
2. Mercedes 38
3. Red Bull 37
4. Alpine 16
5. Haas 12

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Ferrari are a challenger for this year's Formula One drivers' and constructors' titles, despite Max Verstappen's victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Following his DNF in the season opener in Bahrain, Verstappen bounced back to claim the 25 points in a tightly contested race.

With Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz on the podium in both races, however, Ferrari have opened up an early 40-point lead in the constructors' championship. Leclerc has also added to his respective first and second-placed finishes with two bonus points from fastest laps.

According to Horner, it is a sign of their legitimacy and strength this season.

"Ferrari have got a great car, they've got great drivers," he told Sky Sports. "It was a really tough battle. If that's what we're set for the rest of the season... from what we've seen in the first two races, it's been epic.

"They're all competitive teams. Ferrari are a big team, they've been a sleeping giant for a couple of years. They've got great strength in depth. It was just a great motor race. We enjoyed it, it was good hard racing between the drivers, and let's see what happens in Australia."

In the second consecutive race this season, Verstappen and Leclerc were locked in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle, with the defending champion seeing off the Ferrari challenge in Jeddah this time.

Horner praised the reigning world champion's race management, with Verstappen well placed to hold off Leclerc's late charge, while also saving some words for fourth-placed pole-sitter Sergio Perez.

"It was a very patient race from Max," Horner said. "He looked after the tyres for the end of the race there, and then after the last safety car, he really went for it.

"[Sergio] has driven brilliantly all weekend. He got that pole, his race pace was great, and he's just got unlucky with track position with the safety car. We've seen that happen sometimes."

The F1 season resumes in April with the Australian GP in Melbourne.

Mattia Binotto enjoyed "a great spectacle" as Charles Leclerc battled with Max Verstappen in Jeddah – despite Ferrari coming off second best.

For the second week running, Leclerc and Verstappen were at the forefront of the race.

This time, however, Verstappen's Red Bull did not fail on him, allowing the defending champion to earn his first win and points of the season in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

As in Bahrain, where Verstappen had failed to make his passes stick, Leclerc initially looked to have a tactical edge, braking in front of the DRS line to beat his rival on the straight on one lap before nipping in front when the Dutchman attempted to do the same the following time around.

Eventually, however, Verstappen worked it out, getting ahead and staving off a last-gasp challenge to cross the line first.

Ferrari team principal Binotto was unable to celebrate successive victories following the Bahrain one-two but again had two cars on the podium, with Carlos Sainz in third, and simply enjoyed seeing Leclerc in position to challenge Verstappen.

"Red Bull and Max did a fantastic race. I think Max drove very well," Binotto told Sky Sports.

"It has been a great spectacle to see those two guys battling for the first positions. It has been a great – not good but great – race. I think it's what we're looking for.

"For us to be competitive, to be there, to fight, it was at least our objective to start the season. We can be very pleased. In two races, from 88 points total available, we scored 78, so this can only be a good start to the season.

"I think [Leclerc] drove very well, and he's very smart, and those two guys are very strong.

"He's got a lot of talent and he's proven again that he can fight with Max at the level. They've been fighting since when they were kids, and now they're fighting here at the first position in F1.

"It's very, very good for F1, a fantastic start to the season."

Max Verstappen hailed the race pace of his Red Bull after snatching victory in a gripping tussle with Charles Leclerc at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman edged out the Ferrari of Leclerc to deny the Monte Carlo racer consecutive wins after his victory in Bahrain, where Verstappen failed to finish.

Verstappen passed Leclerc for the lead with just a handful of laps to go on Sunday after sitting behind him all race, initially in third and then second after Sergio Perez dropped down the field.

It meant the 24-year-old earned his first points of the season as he aims to become a two-time world champion, and speaking afterwards, Verstappen admitted he was glad to have got off the mark.

"It was really tough, but a good race," the Dutchman said. "We were both battling hard at the front. We just tried to play the long game.

"They were really quick through corners, and we were really quick on the straight. The tyres were wearing out quite quick.

"You could see by the end we had a little bit more pace. I tried to get by, it wasn't easy, they were playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead.

"Even after that, he was constantly in the DRS. [I'm] really happy we finally kick-started the season."

Leclerc, who had looked poised for his second win as many races, took time to congratulate his opponent and point to the thrill of the jostling for first place.

"It wasn't enough today, but my god, I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "Every race should be like this. It was fun.

"We had two very different configurations. We were quite quick in the corner, but slow in the straights. It was extremely difficult for me to cover Max in the straight. He did a great job, it was a fun race."

The Ferrari driver felt the race only reinforced the respect the pair have for each other, adding: "It's always been there, especially when you finish a race like this on a street track.

"We've been pushing like I've rarely pushed before, we take risks. Of course there's respect."

Max Verstappen put the frustrations of Bahrain behind him with a superb drive to edge Charles Leclerc for victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah on Sunday.

The Red Bull driver and reigning world champion picked up his first points of the F1 season after coming out on top in a pulsating battle with his Ferrari rival.

It marked a return to the podium for the Dutchman after a late mechanical failure denied him a top-three finish at last week's season opener in Sakhir.

Leclerc seized the lead early on from Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez amid a safety car procession, following a crash by Williams' Nicholas Latifi, and looked poised for back-to-back wins after victory in Bahrain.

But amid a thrilling final stretch at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Leclerc was caught on the main straight heading into lap 47 by Verstappen.

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz came home in third, to leave pole-sitter Sergio Perez fourth, while Lewis Hamilton, who started 15th following a dreadful qualifying session on Saturday, fought through the grid for a points finish in 10th.

After a tumultuous build-up to race day on and off the track, an uncharacteristically sedate start saw the grid mostly hold position in the opening moments.

Verstappen made one of the few jumps, getting the edge on Sainz down to Turn 1, but he was otherwise unable to gain early ground on Perez and Leclerc until Latifi's crash facilitated a reshuffle at the top.

Having maintained a one-second-plus advantage over Verstappen after taking the lead, Leclerc was forced to fight tooth and nail to keep himself ahead of the Red Bull man.

But with just four laps to go, he could not hold on to his slender lead and the Dutchman passed to notch up those first points of his title defence.

Sergio Perez expects to be even quicker in Sunday's race than he was during qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Perez took pole position for the first time in his career by going two hundredths of a second faster than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in Q3.

Carlos Sainz was fastest in Q1, Q2 and after the first runs in the final session, but the Spaniard had to settle for third on the grid, ahead of reigning champion Max Verstappen.

Perez, who looked set for a podium in the season-opening race in Bahrain until technical issues forced him to retire on the final lap, suggested there is more to come from the Red Bull duo.

"We've been focusing more on race pace than qualifying," Perez told a news conference.

"We've felt that we've given away some qualifying performance to gain it in the race, but obviously we're going to see [on Sunday].

"I expect these two [Leclerc and Sainz] are going to be very strong, but I really hope that we can have a strong race."

Leclerc took the win in Bahrain ahead of Sainz, and he feels is in a good position to make it back-to-back victories at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

"I think it's very strange because we're actually quicker with the used tyres than the new tyres, and we need to understand that as a team, just to be a bit better prepared for the next race with these new tyres, and to put them in the right window," said Leclerc.

"But overall, I think for the race, I'm quite confident. I think we were quick this morning during the race simulation. So yeah, pretty confident."

Ferrari's Sainz was looking forward to going wheel-to-wheel with the Red Bulls, with the stage set for the drama to begin from lights out.

He said: "I expect an exciting start. Honestly, Checo [Perez] in front, Max behind, Red Bulls on the dirty side, us on the clean side but at the same time here in this tarmac, there's so much grip, clean or dirty side I don't think makes much of a difference.

"I think it's just going to be an exciting race. And I look forward to it. I think it's great for Formula One to have all four drivers just battling it out there. And I think we all have good respect for each other."

Sergio Perez brought an end to his long wait for a first Formula One pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, cutting short Ferrari's early-season dominance.

The Scuderia had looked set to continue their outstanding form, potentially locking out the front row in a hectic qualifying session that was delayed for an extended period following a terrifying crash for Mick Schumacher, son of former Ferrari superstar Michael.

Schumacher hit the concrete barrier at Turn 12 at 170mph, although he showed no signs of injury when he was eventually pulled from his Haas, heading to hospital for precautionary scans.

That incident came in the middle of Q2, with Lewis Hamilton having sensationally bowed out in Q1, leaving Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to battle with Red Bull duo Perez and Max Verstappen.

Defending champion Verstappen struggled to stay in touch, and it had appeared as though Sainz might be the man celebrating a first pole when he set the benchmark in Q3.

But he was passed by team-mate Leclerc and then Perez in his 220th grand prix, marking the longest wait for a driver before qualifying fastest, with ex-Red Bull man Marc Webber (131) the previous record-holder.

With Sunday marking 11 years to the day since Perez's first entry, he said: "It took me a couple of races, no?

"What a lap, unbelievable. I could do 1,000 laps and I don't think I could beat that one. It was unbelievable.

"We were not expecting too much from qualifying, we were focusing mainly for the race, so hopefully we get [the win] tomorrow."

Earlier, there had also been a red flag in Q1 following a crash involving Nicholas Latifi, after which Hamilton could not recover from a slow start.

His third time was his fastest but enough only for P15, where he soon fell below Lance Stroll to bow out in Q1 for the first time since the 2017 Brazilian GP and the first time on pure pace since the 2009 British GP.

Mercedes struggled to explain the result, as George Russell ran fourth fastest in that initial session, and Hamilton would not use the distraction a day earlier – when practice was halted due to a missile attack near the track – as an excuse.

"I just struggled with the balance of the car," Hamilton told Sky Sports. "It's not where we want to be."

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 1:28.200
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.025s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.202s
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.261s
5. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +0.868s
6. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.904s
7. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.947s
8. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.983s
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1.054s
10. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.388s

The new Formula One season is only a single race old, but Charles Leclerc has already matched the achievement of one title-winning former Ferrari star.

Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc is out to try to repeat a Michael Schumacher feat and set a championship charge in motion.

The Monegasque driver led a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain last week, holding off Max Verstappen before the defending champion's mechanical woes ensured Carlos Sainz joined his team-mate on the top two steps of the podium.

It was the Scuderia's first race win since the 2019 Singapore GP, another one-two when Leclerc finished second to Sebastian Vettel.

The Leclerc-Sainz one-two was Ferrari's 85th in F1 – a record – and signalled a return to form, coming at the end of a weekend they had dominated, with the race winner also qualifying fastest to start from pole position.

Heading into the rest of the season, that should certainly provide Leclerc with encouragement, given the last Scuderia driver to start the season with a win from pole was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. That was the most recent season in which a Ferrari driver won the title.

Indeed, should Leclerc convert pole again in Saudi Arabia, he would become the first Ferrari man to do so in the first two races of a campaign since Schumacher in his final title-winning season in 2004.

Leclerc and Sainz each discussed their title ambitions following Bahrain, so last week's runner-up will hope to go with his colleague again.

Ferrari have never had a one-two in each of the first two grands prix of a season, while Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008 were their last duo to achieve such a result in consecutive races at any stage of the year.

Meanwhile, if Leclerc hopes to follow in Schumacher's footsteps, Mercedes rival George Russell does not.

Schumacher in 2010, then in the twilight of his legendary career after coming out of retirement, was the only Silver Arrows driver to this point fail to make the podium in his first three races with the team.

A pit-stop error and a puncture saw Russell finish his Mercedes debut in ninth when deputising for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP, while he was fourth behind his new team-mate last week.

The Red Bull woe that boosted Ferrari also rescued that three-four result for Mercedes, but team principal Toto Wolff said: "It's too early to look at the championship as it stands. If you look at the pecking order today, it seems a long shot to even be in contention for any of the championships.

"If I look at [Bahrain] as a single race weekend, we probably scored the maximum of points that we could have. And we need to take it from there.

"Every weekend counts and, at the moment, it's singular events because, realistically, when you're third on the road, you can't think about winning it."

Somehow, the opening race of the 2022 Formula One season in Bahrain last weekend managed to compare to the drama of 2021.

The first Ferrari one-two finish since Singapore in 2019, wheel-to-wheel duels between race winner Charles Leclerc and reigning world champion Max Verstappen, Mercedes achieving damage limitation with late DNFs for both Red Bull cars, new regulations creating the potential for a huge shakeup in the pecking order – there was a lot that went on at the Sakhir circuit on Sunday.

Ferrari are the biggest story coming into Jeddah this weekend, though.

There was enough to suggest Ferrari would compete with Red Bull and Mercedes coming out of winter testing, but just how competitive remained to be seen.

Despite Verstappen's failure to finish, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz dispelled any doubt in that regard with a maximum points haul. Something that arguably reinforces the point on Ferrari's strength was Sainz admitting he did not have the best of weekends.

"I mean in FP1, FP2 and FP3 I was very far behind, the most far that I've been ever in Ferrari and that's why even with a one-two that we scored I'm not entirely happy with the weekend, because as a Ferrari driver it's been my most difficult weekend," Sainz said.

"It just shows I need to put my head down, understand this car, understand where is Charles making the difference with his driving and the way he's approaching the corners and driving the tyres, also in the race."

For Leclerc, however, there's a belief that he finally has a car accordant to his talent to compete for the driver's title.

"Coming into this season, we surely knew we were going to be in a better position compared to the past two years but we didn't really know where, and now we see that we are actually in the mix to fight for a title, so it's amazing," he said.

Ferrari and Mercedes battle across the grid

The fascinating battle between a resurgent Ferrari and a previously dominant Mercedes will not just be fought between the factory teams this weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Amid new regulations, an interesting detail was the battle below the top teams. Ferrari power units made for five of the top ten positions in Sakhir, and four of the top six.

Meanwhile, apart from Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in the factory cars, Mercedes-powered cars made up the bottom six cars to have finished.

The Ferrari-powered Haas and Alfa Romeo have long been lagging at the back of the pack, but now look strong enough to take up the fight to Alpine, as well as the ambitious and Mercedes-powered McLaren and Aston Martin teams.

The midfield battle will be as fierce as the one at the front of the grid, while Saudi Arabia might shed some more light on the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

How quickly Red Bull bounce back?

Red Bull provided the bulk of the late drama in Sakhir, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both failing to finish, due to fuel pump failure.

New fuel regulations for 2022 have meant higher engine temperatures on lower fuel, and Red Bull did not do enough low-fuel running during winter testing to encounter what they did in Sakhir.

Meanwhile, Mercedes and Ferrari were able to rectify these problems heading into the season start.

The question is, though the Red Bull is unquestionably strong in terms of race pace, how much will Verstappen have to play catch-up in the drivers' standings as the team sorts their fuel pump problem out?

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 26
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 18
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 15
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 12
5. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 10

Constructors

1. Ferrari 44
2. Mercedes 27
3. Haas 10
4. Alfa Romeo 9
5. Alpine 8

Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali is buoyed by Ferrari's resurgence, saying it is ultimately good for the sport.

Charles Leclerc's win in the 2022 season opener in Bahrain on Sunday was Ferrari's first since 2019, and the last time Ferrari claimed a win from pole position in the season opener was with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, who went on to win that year's driver's championship.

Along with passing on his congratulations to the team, Domenicali - a former team principal with Ferrari - believes it will invigorate interest in the sport.

"Next week there will be another race, then there is Melbourne and then Imola," he told Sky Sport. "I am convinced that we will find the [stands at the] Tosa and Rivazza corners as full as in the good old days.

"The satisfaction for the new regulations lay in seeing a beautiful, intense and interesting race for everyone.

"Then seeing Ferrari so competitive is an extraordinary sign. I say this with caution, but I am very happy. I was certainly pleased for Mattia [Binotto, the current team principal], for the drivers and for everyone who works there."

Ferrari's return to the top step on the podium has come with changes to Formula One regulations, which Domenicali and managing director Ross Brawn were tasked with implementing.

The 56-year-old believes technical regulations have allowed for unprecedented variety in design and engineering, which will positively impact the championship.

"The new F1 brings the technological challenge back to the centre. Last year I remember how many people said F1 would flatten out and talked about the cars all the same," he said.

"I have been in F1 since 1991 and there has never been such a great diversity between the cars, from a technical and technological point of view. This will also affect the competitiveness of the championship. There will be faster cars on some tracks and some faster cars on others."

Formula One managing director Ross Brawn is tentatively satisfied by the racing impact of new regulations, following the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

Following an era dominated by the Mercedes team, significant regulation changes have been made for the 2022 season, to allow for closer racing.

Brawn, who was tasked with implementing the regulation changes by Formula One, praised the "raceability" of the current cars in comparison to previous years.

"We're delighted," Brawn told Sky Sports F1 post-race. "It is the first race so we have to be careful but all the signs are that we have moved in the direction that we wanted to move in, and the ability of the cars to race each other has improved.

"In the past we have always focused on car safety and performance. Now we should focus on raceability. That should be in there as well, because there's never been any attention paid to it."

Some of the biggest regulation changes for 2022 relate to aerodynamic output and cleaning up the turbulent wake that quickly overheated following cars in recent past, affecting the potential of wheel-to-wheel racing, despite the optimal increase in performance.

Though lap times during winter testing reflect slower overall performance, Charles Leclerc's win at Sakhir on Sunday didn't come until after a closely fought battle with reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

Brawn believes Formula One is on the path to finding balance.

"We could see from previous cars, you could simply see the downforce or the aerodynamic performance of the car that was following degrading hugely when it was behind another car," he said.

"We (Formula One) can't see the data because we're the commercial rights holder, but the FIA will now look at all the data of the cars and from that, put that into the research program to see how we can improve it further.

"I think anecdotally, you could see the cars can race a lot better."

Carlos Sainz declared Ferrari "properly back" after finishing second in a Scuderia one-two that gave Mattia Binotto sweet relief following two barren years.

Ferrari had not celebrated a race win in Formula One since Sebastian Vettel led a one-two at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc was the junior driver on that occasion, but in Bahrain on Sunday he moved to the top of the drivers' standings for the first time in his career.

Leclerc was a deserving winner, while Sainz profited from a double Red Bull retirement to claim second.

"Ferrari is back and properly back with a one-two, where the team should be and should have been the last few years," Sainz said afterwards. "The hard work is paying off and we are there."

Team principal Binotto had expected Red Bull to be "stronger" and expects both they and Mercedes will "come back very soon", but for now he enjoyed being able to revel in a precious victory.

"It's a relief, it's fantastic. A one-two was unexpected," he told Sky Sports. "It has been a great race and Charles defended the position.

"It was nice to see him battling and fighting for the position, for the win.

"In the end, it was a bit lucky, certainly. It was a heart attack for me on the pit wall, when you're consolidating the position and you've got the safety car 10 laps from the end [before Verstappen retired]."

There is always expectation on Ferrari, so this result should go some way to easing the pressure very slightly.

"The pressure is high, very, very high," Binotto said, "but what we need to do is try to focus on what we are doing and forget about it; otherwise, I think it would be too much stress.

"We came here focused on the performance, trying to have a clean race. The drivers have done the job."

Christian Horner and Max Verstappen reflected on a "brutal" Bahrain Grand Prix – but one in which they saw cause for optimism.

Red Bull failed to earn a single point in the first race of the 2022 Formula One season after both defending champion Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez were forced to retire in the closing stages.

Verstappen had been on course for P2, while Perez was battling with Carlos Sainz to make the podium, with Ferrari instead claiming a one-two as Charles Leclerc triumphed.

Team principal Horner was still waiting to identify the exact nature of the mechanical failure that cost Red Bull, although he clarified it was unrelated to either a handling issue for Verstappen or a fire onboard Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri.

"It was a brutal finish to that race for us," Horner told Sky Sports. "What looked like a decent haul of points suddenly evaporated in the last couple of laps.

"It looks like a similar issue on both cars. We don't know exactly what it is yet, whether it's a lift pump, whether it's a collector or something along those lines. We've got to get into it and find out exactly what's caused it."

That Red Bull were competing with pre-season pace-setters Ferrari until that point was a clear positive for Horner, however.

"Zero points for us is tough," he said. "The positives we can take is we've had a competitive car.

"We were fighting for the race win at different points of that race, and we've got to get on top of these issues quickly.

"It's a long season, 23 races, so we've got to get this behind us and get stuck into the next event."

Verstappen had been frustrated for much of his drive and was not happy with Red Bull's performance, even if he agreed there were signs they could still compete.

"It was not great today. We didn't really show what we could do, for whatever reason," he said. "There is potential, for sure, otherwise you are not up there.

"We've lost a lot of points again in one race weekend, so that's really not good. I know one retirement means it's not over, but I would prefer to have at least 18 points."

Charles Leclerc says Ferrari could not have hoped for a better start to the season after he led a one-two in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Leclerc claimed maximum points as the Scuderia secured their first victory since the 2019 season.

The Monegasque driver took the chequered flag ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz at the Bahrain International Circuit on Sunday, with Lewis Hamilton finishing third in a miserable start to the campaign for Red Bull.

Defending champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez retired late in the race in Sakhir on a dream day for Leclerc.

"[I am] so happy," he said. "The last two years have been incredibly difficult for the team. We knew it would be a big opportunity for us and the guys have done such an incredible job in building this amazing car.

"Starting in the best way possible; pole position, victory, the fastest lap, one-two with Carlos - we couldn't have hoped for any better.

"I was trying to be as clever as possible, brake early in Turn One and twice, it worked out. I took back my first position, and I am incredibly happy to make it work."

Sainz was also elated to see Ferrari back in business.

"First, congrats Charles and Ferrari," he added. "Ferrari are properly back with a one-two, where the team should be. The hard work is paying off, and we are there.

"For me, it's been a very tricky weekend - I'm not going to lie. I didn’t have the pace today, but I managed to hold it and bring the one-two for the team.

"I have some homework to do over the next few days, and I'm sure I'll come back stronger."

Lewis Hamilton made the podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix only due to a double Red Bull retirement but accepted it was the best result he could have hoped for.

As Mercedes' struggles with their new W13 car continued, Hamilton was never in contention on Sunday, running in fifth for much of the race.

But issues for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in the Red Bulls allowed the seven-time champion to profit behind a Ferrari one-two in third.

Hamilton congratulated victor Charles Leclerc and the Scuderia – "they're such a historic, epic team, so it's great to see them up there," he said – but was also content with his own finish.

"It was such a difficult race," he explained. "We struggled throughout practice. This was really the best result we could have got.

"Obviously it was unfortunate for the other two drivers, but we did the best we could and we're grateful for these points."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff agreed, telling Sky Sports: "You can see how we've managed expectations.

"If we'd come in last year third and fourth, it would have been very frustrating, but this year I think we are punching above our weight class with the Red Bulls DNFing. Third and fourth is a fantastic result."

Mercedes must now turn attention to making their car competitive for the rest of the season, yet Hamilton is staying patient.

"I'm hoping [for upgrades]," Hamilton said. "I know the guys are working really hard back at the factory, but it's not going to be a quick turnaround.

"We all know as a team, we've been the best unified team for so long, we all know to keep our head down, keep working. There's a long, long way to go."

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