“Last weekend was tough for all of us,” said Verstappen, who vented his frustration during the race in a radio chat with his team before fueling issues brought him to a halt with four laps to go.
“It was disappointing. You always tell yourself and the team that we have to score. It doesn’t matter whether you come first or second on the first race weekend. You could see that. In turn one I didn’t risk too much fighting Charles. Everything was clean and I thought, ‘I’m happy with second place’, but losing so many points was very disappointing. You know, in a championship where it can get very close at times, those are very important points at the end of the day.”
Leclerc won ahead of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz in a resounding one-two for the Italian team, while Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes while Verstappen was followed into retirement by Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.
It was Ferrari’s first win since 2019 and placed them at the top of the embryonic championship.
“The Jeddah track is still very new to us. Last year the humidity was a challenge,” said Verstappen.
“It’s a really fast track with high-speed straights and this year’s cars are a bit heavier so it will be interesting to see how they do.”
The first Saudi event of last season in December was the penultimate race of the championship and delivered major drama with two red flag stops and fierce competition between Verstappen and Hamilton before the Brit won and set off a furious and controversial finale in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said he hoped his team could avoid further reliability issues but acknowledged Ferrari had shown they were quick in Bahrain.
“We may have made some strategic miscalculations, but Ferrari had the pace,” said Horner.
“It was encouraging for us that we brought the fight to them. Max was obviously very disappointed, but he’s also pragmatic and it’s been a long year. He knows we have a good car. We simply have to understand this problem.”
Mercedes admitted they still have work to do despite finishing third and fourth in Bahrain.
Trackside Engineering chief Andrew Shovlin told the F1 Nation podcast that their new car was plagued by many issues but was hoping to upgrade for Jeddah.
“There’s a lot of everything,” Shovlin said.
“It bounces. The balance is bad. It lacks grip at low speed. We have traction problems. The driving characteristics could be better. The tires are not warming up well enough… and the car is a bit heavy.”
The inaugural race brought a shake up of the hierarchy and lots of wheel-to-wheel racing.
Among the teams that emerged was Ferrari’s customer team Alfa Romeo, where China’s first F1 driver Zhou Guanyu made a points debut.