If the fight between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen is worthy of the next Formula 1 season, it will take many more years.

Mercedes’ struggle with his car after the massive rule change of 2022 put Lewis Hamilton out of the title fight – again, at least, and maybe for the year if his team doesn’t come up with enough hasty solutions.

But Leclerc and Verstappen had an exciting competition at the Bahrain Grand Prix. They raced wheel-to-wheel for two laps and changed the lead five times before the Ferrari driver took the lead.

While their fight was the highlight of the race, it wasn’t the most dramatic moment. The last three laps were spared as both Red Bulls retired with the same problem – something with the fuel system, the team says – and lost second and fourth place.

Leclerc’s overall win – driving with speed, discipline, maturity, composure, and attack – put him in a strong position but that means little at the start of the longest F1 season ever, to share a very important point: Ferrari came back with a bang.

It’s a long road for the most famous F1 team. They were last fully competitive in 2017 and 2018 but those titles eluded them after a series of mistakes by the team and their leading driver Sebastian Vettel.

However, the highlights of the following year – Leclerc took more poles than anyone and won two races – were marred by controversy over their engine.

They lost power in the final few races after the rules for using the hybrid system were settled, and the following winter it was revealed that they had reached a private agreement with the FIA’s governing body, stating that he always suspected the engine. . run legally.

In 2020 their engine has taken a big step backward in terms of performance. You made progress in 2021. But their lack of competitiveness these seasons has allowed them to still see the 2022 reset rules as an opportunity to bounce back. Based on Bahraini evidence, hard work and attention pay off.

Ferrari was – at least in the hands of Leclerc – the fastest car in Bahrain. Except. He beat Verstappen on pole by just over 0.1 seconds and had a small but crucial race advantage.

Leclerc could react to anything Verstappen threw at him. He left in the first era. Twice he was able to fight his way back to Red Bull after Verstappen closed with the first pit stop before – with the help of a Leclerc error on his stomach and a sticky wheel change – and was back in the lead, always in command.

Ferrari gave themselves more space for a second stop: a bigger gap in front of them and a better lap from Leclerc followed by a faster stop. A lifeboat threatened to undo all the good work, but Leclerc handled the relaunch smoothly.

“We were sure we would be in a better position but we didn’t know where,” he said. “And now we see that we’re in the game to fight for the title, it’s fantastic. We’re both very happy that a car can win. And we’ll certainly fight for it.”

It’s been a while since Leclerc was a potential world champion if only he could get his hands on the right car. The man is so fast and he runs hard. It was a great race and he was a clear mile behind Carlos Sainz’s team for most of the weekend, with the Spaniard admitting he had to work hard to find out where his shortcomings came from.