Analysis: Leclerc achieves in Bahrain what Verstappen couldn't in three years

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Though the story had an unhappy end, there's no doubt the Bahrain Grand Prix was the moment Charles Leclerc announced himself in Formula 1.

After it was confirmed the Monegasque would replace Kimi Raikkonen for 2019, predictions aplenty suggested his arrival would be bad news for Sebastian Vettel.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his first race weekend with Ferrari was a little nervy, but in the desert, those claims were justified as only a cruel twist of luck prevented a fairytale first win.

What was most remarkable was Leclerc's composure. Known for his calmness, he headed into his first real battle against the top two drivers of the past decade and dealt with them like a veteran.

In qualifying, he didn't put a foot wrong to claim his first pole in F1, capitalising on the same not being true for his four-time world champion teammate.

Even then, a little rashly, there was a feeling - as Vettel and Lewis Hamilton talked while Charles was being interviewed on the grid - that this could be the start of a 'changing of the guard'.

But in the race, he stepped it up further to a point that, in the end, the audience, media and even his rivals were in the palm of his hand singing all his praises.

Whether it was his recovery from third, after a pretty poor start, to be back leading by Turn 2 on Lap 6, or how he stretched away once clear to lead by as much as 12 seconds at one stage.

Just to see him take on the biggest stars and be beating them so convincingly was a sight to behold.

For those worried about team orders, they needn't have as within a lap of being on Vettel's tail it was Leclerc asking to be moved in front.

That in itself, to request the established team leader be moved out the way in just his second race, shows the type of driver he is.

In addition, RaceFans has revealed that, in response, he was told to wait behind Vettel for two laps. Charles chose not to, making the move with DRS at Turn 1 just seven corners after the instruction came.

From that point he was in complete control, building a lead lap after lap after lap, and was on course to take the chequered flag by over 10 seconds at least.

That was before disaster struck and a cylinder issue on his engine saw a dramatic loss of power which would eventually lead to the heartbreak.

Even in the heat of the moment, after letting out the initial frustration and anger at potentially staring retirement in the face, Leclerc showed that composure to reset himself and set about ensuring he at least got to the finish.

It was maturity that you don't expect from a driver so early in his career, had it been Max Verstappen, for example, the airwaves would have certainly been a lot bluer and perhaps he would found it harder to finish the race.

After an agonising defeat, however, Leclerc emerged arguably even stronger than had he claimed that first victory.

Hamilton was feeling guilty for having won at his expense and Vettel is now well aware of the task he faces to remain top dog at Ferrari.

Looking forward from Bahrain, what Leclerc's performance has done though is set a precedent for the year ahead and this is where the title of this piece comes in.

Since joining Red Bull in 2016, Verstappen has shown the talent to trigger a generational shift in Formula 1, but failed to do so mostly because of his car but also making mistakes.

In just one weekend, Leclerc changed all that by proving the torch is there to be claimed and suggesting he can go on to build a championship challenge against Hamilton and Vettel

The next race in China may well determine just how strong Charles' case is, as, like Australia, it's another circuit where he only has one year of past experience.

But with the confidence of knowing he can get the job done, there's no reason for Leclerc not to be a consistent threat for victories while at the same time, showing he can lead Ferrari and F1 into the next decade.

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