Sebastian Vettel produced a faultless drive from pole position to win the Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of the the two Lotus cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. This is Red Bull Racing’s first victory of 2012 and makes it four different winners in as many races this season.
It was Vettel’s 22nd career F1 victory and his first of the season. He is the fourth different winner in four races.
If Vettel’s pace in qualifying was a surprise, it was the Lotus’ performance on race day which caught the eye. Raikkonen, starting in 11th place, had a chance to win the race and was frustrated afterwards not to have done so. It’s a sign of how sharp the 2007 champion is after his two year layoff and how Lotus has produced a very good car.
Lotus brought a raft of updates to this race including a new rear wing, floor and barge boards and this made an already fast and consistent car into arguably the fastest car of the weekend.
Vettel now leads the Drivers World Championship, whilst Red Bull take over the lead of the Constructors’ World Championship as McLaren had a very poor day in the office which saw Jenson Button retire on the penultimate lap and Lewis Hamilton suffer two slow pit-stops resulting in an eighth position finish. In total he lost 16 seconds and inevitably ended up with a lot of traffic. But McLaren were struggling anyway with race pace and the rear tyre wear was clear from early on in the race.
Red Bull collected thirty-seven points this afternoon to McLaren’s three as Mark Webber continued his consistent form and finished the Grand Prix in fourth place, for the fourth time this season.
Vettel led the race from lights-to-flag and a perfect start allowed him to open up a gap of almost six seconds before the first round of pit-stops. Behind him, both Lotus’ had scythed through the field during the opening stint and found themselves knocking on the door of the podium after their first tyre change. During these stops Raikkonen opted for another set of the soft option tyre, unlike many of the field, and he was soon up into second position after passing Webber and Grosjean before the second phase of pit-stops.
During the second stops and seeing Lotus’ pace on the soft tyre, Red Bull gave Vettel another set of softs to try and maintain the gap to Raikkonen as the Finn was now on a new set of prime tyres. The Lotus once again showed very good pace as the tyres got older and the former World Champion closed to within 0.5 seconds of the current World Champion. Raikkonen was unable to pass Vettel before the final set of pit-stops and barring a couple of fast laps from Raikkonen the gap stayed constant through to the end of the race.
Grosjean had a fairly quiet race after a brilliant first stint and he claimed France’s first podium finish since Jean Alesi in 1998. The same can be said for Webber who had a fairly lonely afternoon, finishing the race in the middle on a fourty-five second chasm between third and fifth position.
Nico Rosberg had a very eventful race, having dropped down to ninth from the start he managed to claw his way back to fifth position, making two very aggressive defensive moves in the process on Hamilton and Fernando Alonso which landed him in trouble with the stewards. However they ruled that Hamilton was always behind Rosberg when he made the move to block and so awarded no penalty.
Rosberg, like Raikkonen, chose to run his extra set of option tyres during the second phase of the race, however he could not make them last the distance of the Lotus’ and was unable to make any strides towards Webber.
Behind Rosberg was Paul Di Resta, the Scot making just two stops during the race as he defended very well to keep Alonso and Hamilton at bay until the chequered flag. Alonso was another very fast starter, making his way up to fifth position during the first lap, although the Ferrari driver was unable to match the pace of Rosberg and Webber. Hamilton had a frustrating race, compounded by two slow pit-stops which both surrounded the rear left corner that cost Button time in Shanghai.
Felipe Massa was much closer to his team mate than previously and finished the race in ninth place. Michael Schumacher added another point to his solitary point from Malaysia as he made his way from twenty-second on the grid to take the final points position.
Sergio Perez’s Sauber headed the remainder of the field, as he too had a quiet race ahead of the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne. Vergne was able to beat team mate Daniel Ricciardo after the Australian made a poor start from sixth on the grid and finished the race in fifteenth, the Toro Rosso’s either side of Kamui Kobayashi in sister Sauber.
The Caterham cars came home line astern, with Vitaly Petrov beating Heikki Kovalainen to sixteenth place. Kovalainen received a puncture on the first lap, which ruined any chances of him progressing on from a great qualifying effort.
Timo Glock was the only finisher for Marussia after Charles Pic retired from the race on lap 25. Glock came home ahead of the HRT pairing, Pedro De La Rosa once again finishing ahead of Narain Karthikeyan.
We’ll deal with the wider context of this race in a separate piece
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX, Sakhir Circuit, 57 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull 1h35:10.990
2. Raikkonen Lotus + 3.333
3. Grosjean Lotus + 10.194
4. Webber Red Bull + 38.788
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 55.460
6. Di Resta Force India + 57.543
7. Alonso Ferrari + 57.803
8. Hamilton McLaren + 58.984
9. Massa Ferrari + 1:04.999
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:11.490
11. Perez Sauber + 1:12.702
12. Hulkenberg Force India + 1:16.539
13. Vergne Toro Rosso + 1:30.334
14. Kobayashi Sauber + 1:33.723
15. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1 lap
16. Petrov Caterham + 1 lap
17. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
18. Button McLaren + 1 lap
19. Glock Marussia + 2 laps
20. De la Rosa HRT + 2 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT + 2 laps
22. Senna Williams + 3 laps