Lewis Hamilton powered to his record-increasing 95th victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday in a race overshadowed by a horrific crash for Romain Grosjean, from which the Frenchman escaped relatively unscathed.
The newly-crowned seven-time champion came home at controlled pace under a safety car at the finish, followed by Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, who profited from an engine failure which forced Racing Point’s Sergio Perez into retirement with three laps left.
The race was delayed after Grosjean survived a frightening collision with a barrier on the opening lap. He was taken to hospital with suspected fractured ribs and burns to his hands and feet after his crash which was followed by another accident that saw Racing Point driver Lance Stroll rescued from his overturned car.
Lando Norris came home fourth ahead of his McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz with Pierre Gasly taking sixth for Alpha Tauri and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo seventh.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished eighth, having suffered a puncture, ahead of Esteban Ocon in the second Renault and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton’s victory, his 11th of the season, lifted him 131 points clear of Bottas in the championship, which he has won already.
However, his initial reaction was one of relief for Grosjean. “It was such a shocking image to see and it shows the amazing job F1 and the FIA have done for him to walk away from something like that.”
On a warm, calm and near-perfect floodlit evening at the Bahrain International Circuit, where the air temperature sank from 26 degrees and the track from 29 at the start, the drama unfolded with stark violence.
Grosjean’s miraculous escape from his high-speed fireball crash had delayed the action for nearly 90 minutes before Stroll’s upside-down excursion, after contact with Daniil Kvyat’s Alpha Tauri at the re-start ushered in a safety car intervention. The Russian was given a 10-second penalty.
“I’m ok, just hanging upside down,” said Stroll with unintentional understatement, as he confirmed he had escaped injury following Grosjean’s remarkable leap to safety from his blazing Haas on the opening lap.
F1 ‘risk is no joke’
After the prolonged initial safety car intervention, the first racing lap was finally completed on lap 10 with Hamilton surging clear again from his third Bahrain pole and career 98th.
He had posted his thanks on social media after seeing Grosjean survive. “I’m so grateful Romain is safe, wow,” he wrote. “The risk we take is no joke for those of you out there that forget that we put our life on the line for this sport and for what we love to do.
“This is a reminder to us all. Thankful to the FIA for the massive strides we’ve taken for Romain to walk away from that safely.”
As Hamilton pulled away, the luckless Bottas, who picked up a puncture and pitted after Stroll’s crash, began to fight back from 16th, having started on the front row.
Verstappen was second, but grumbling about his Red Bull’s handling. “My car is jumping around like a kangaroo, I swear,” he told his team before picking up after following Hamilton in for a pit stop.
By lap 30, Hamilton led Verstappen by 5.3 seconds and appeared to be in control as he sought to become the first man to take a lights-to-flag victory in the event’s 11-year history.
On lap 34, Red Bull gambled by calling in Verstappen for his second stop, but a five-second switch to hards undid their under-cut plan. A lap later, Hamilton did the same in 1.8 seconds to return in the lead.
Perez had risen to second, but he gave that place back to Verstappen when he came in after 37 laps while Bottas pitted for a third time and fell back to 11th.
With 10 laps to go, Verstappen took a third stop for fresh mediums and a bid to grab fastest lap. He soon achieved that in 1:32.014 while Hamilton cruised 25 seconds clear in the lead.
Perez, third, was also cruising, but the Mexican’s race was over when, with three laps remaining, he pulled up with smoke billowing after an engine failure. A safety car was deployed for the second time – leaving Hamilton to lead a slow-mo queue to the flag.