Motor racing-Hamilton delighted with unexpected third place

Bahrain Grand Prix
Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 20, 2022 Third place Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton after the race REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

March 20, 2022

MANAMA (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton has won a record 103 Formula One grands prix but Mercedes’s seven-times world champion was all smiles in Bahrain on Sunday after third place exceeded his expectations.

“This is really the best result we could have got,” said the Briton after a season-opening race that looked sure to be a struggle after he started fifth behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls.

The retirement of Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen and team mate Sergio Perez provided a surprise 183rd career podium for Hamilton behind the Ferrari one-two of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

Champions Mercedes have started the sport’s new era on the back foot, Hamilton and team mate George Russell wrestling with a bouncing car and warning fans that rivals were clearly quicker.

“I woke up this morning hoping — super, super hoping — that we would have a chance to fight, have a car that’s better than we think or something like that but we did struggle in the race,” said Hamilton.

The 37-year-old had qualified some seven-tenths of a second off Leclerc’s pole time and looked set to stay fifth until the Red Bull pair were removed from the reckoning.

“Whilst we’re currently not necessarily performance-wise fighting with these guys, this is not damage limitations but just a really, really great result,” said Hamilton, winner of the previous three Bahrain Grands Prix.

“Of course we were fortunate but ultimately we’ve done a better job, we have better reliability.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said putting both drivers on hard tyres had been a wrong move like putting a “hand down the toilet” but the end result was “fantastic” for a team chasing a ninth successive constructors’ championship.

“If we would have 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,” said the Austrian.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Clare Fallon)