It’s official – the driver who sets the fastest lap time in Free Practice 3 in Bahrain is cursed. Max Verstappen’s late race retirement from the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix proves it.
There’s no such thing as a statistical curse. Or is there? On his first appearance as the reigning World Champion, Max Verstappen fought with Charles Leclerc for victory in the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix. Making the most of the undercut in the 3-stop race, Verstappen diced with the Ferrari driver as he looked to take the first win of the season.
Verstappen’s race ended three laps early, the result of a fuel pump issue. A similar fate befell his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez just two laps later when the Mexican was on the verge of a podium finish. Red Bull subsequently recorded their first double retirement in almost two years.
Verstappen certainly looked like he had the pace to be at the front of the field from early on in practice. While Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc were fastest in Friday’s practice sessions, Verstappen was fastest on Saturday morning.
The driver who has been fastest in Free Practice 3 in Bahrain has not gone on to win the race since Lewis Hamilton did so back in 2015. They’ve also failed to finish five of the last eight races at the track – and Verstappen has been the unlucky party on three of those occasions.
THE CURSE OF BAHRAIN FP3
The bad luck streak started with Sebastian Vettel in 2016. After setting the pace in the final practice session, he failed to even start the race following an engine failure on the formation lap. Further retirements for the fastest Free Practice 3 driver followed in the next two seasons. Verstappen was out on Lap 11 with brake failure in 2017, while Kimi Raikkonen retired in 2018 following a pit stop incident which left one of his mechanics injured.
|Year||Fastest in FP3||Race result|
The curse of Free Practice 3 hit Charles Leclerc in 2019. He was fastest by two tenths in final practice for the 2019 race and went on to take pole and lead much of the race. But then, his engine packed in and he was cruelly robbed of his maiden victory just a few laps from the finish line.
In all of the last four Bahrain races, it has been Verstappen who has set the session-topping time in Free Practice 3. While he went on to finish as runner-up in both the 2020 and 2021 Bahrain Grands Prix, he retired on the very first lap at the one-off Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020and retired in the closing stages of the 2022 race. We’re calling it: the curse is real!
In fact, the fastest driver in Free Practice 3 has not gone on to win or take pole position at any F1 race since Verstappen was fastest in final practice at the 2021 Dutch Grand Prix, before going on to lead the race from start to end.
And talking of curses, we don’t have the best news for Charles Leclerc. The winner of the first race of the season has not gone on to win the title in any of the last five seasons. Nico Rosberg was the last driver to do so, back in 2016. Can Leclerc turn that statistic around in 2022?
After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. The blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics.
Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and Motorsport Guides and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast. His work has appeared on WTF1, BadgerGP, motorsport.com, Sky Sports F1 and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast.