Sebastian Vettel pulled off two key overtakes and managed his tyres to perfection to get early control of the Bahrain Grand Prix and take an easy victory, ahead of impressive drives through the field from Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
It was the same podium as last year’s race, with Vettel again starting on the front row and the Lotus cars being forced to come through the field.
After losing his second place to Fernando Alonso at the start of the race, the World Championship leader scythed past the Ferrari in the midfield esses section and promptly set about taking the race lead from pole sitter, Nico Rosberg.
He was able to make the decisive move on the third lap and from that point was peerless, producing an excellent second stint to put himself out of reach of the competition. The 28th Grand Prix win of his career went largely neglected as a number of battles behind made for an exhilarating race.
The first talking point, and heavily significant in the Championship, came when Alonso over took Rosberg for second and suffered a stuck rear-wing upper plane as his DRS failed to return to its starting point. This necessitated an early stop for the Ferrari and after the same failure occurred the following lap a further pit stop put a halt to his hopes of the race victory. He eventually ended the race in 8th position and is now thirty points off the Championship lead.
At the heart of the battles was a race long scrap between the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who spent much of the race in a fight with Rosberg. As has been the case during this early part of the season McLaren had a much better race pace than what they have shown on a Saturday and were able to compete with Ferrari and Mercedes throughout the race.
Button complained to his engineer at two points, insisting that Perez was driving too aggressively and should be ‘calmed down’. However that didn’t deter the Mexican on a day when he had the edge over Button, and he had his best race with McLaren thus far in sixth place, whilst Button could only manage tenth. Afterwards he criticised his team mate for being too aggressive and said, “That’s not the way I want to go racing.”
Perez said that it was too aggressive, but that Button had been just as guilty as he. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said that he felt the collision between them where Perez’ front wing tagged Button’s rear tyre was the only move he had been unhappy with.
Rosberg, meanwhile, could not replicate Hamilton’s podium from pole position last week and came under pressure for much of the race. He seemed to struggle massively with tyre degradation and was forced in to a fourth pit stop late in the race, putting him down to ninth.
As had been predicted before the race Raikkonen set out to complete the Grand Prix with only two stops. And due to his excellent ability to save his tyres he was able to jump from his eighth place starting position to secure a good haul of points for the Lotus team. The result sees him remain in second position in the Championship, now ten points off Vettel.
Lotus had also attempted to put Grosjean on a two-stop strategy, but the Frenchman made an extra stop and used his superior grip in the final laps to take the final podium spot from the two-stopping Paul Di Resta. Coincidentally the podium is a repeat of 2012.
Di Resta produced an excellent drive, particularly in his first stint to pass Rosberg and pile pressure on Alonso. It will be a shot in the arm for Force India who have had some difficulties in the first part of the season, however the second car of Adrian Sutil collided with Felipe Massa on the first lap and could not recover to score any points.
Massa had been picked amongst potential race winners after starting from fourth place in the hard tyre, but the collision with Sutil and two punctures made it a weekend to forget for Ferrari.
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX, 57 Laps
1. Vettel Red Bull 57 laps
2. Raikkonen Lotus + 9.1s
3. Grosjean Lotus + 19.5s
4. Di Resta Force India + 21.7s
5. Hamilton Mercedes + 35.2s
6. Perez McLaren + 35.9s
7. Webber Red Bull + 37.2s
8. Alonso Ferrari + 37.5s
9. Rosberg Mercedes + 41.1s
10. Button McLaren + 46.6s
11. Maldonado Williams + 1m06.4s
12. Hulkenberg Sauber + 1m12.9s
13. Sutil Force India + 1m16.7s
14. Bottas Williams + 1m21.5s
15. Massa Ferrari + 1m26.3s
16. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1 lap
17. Pic Caterham + 1 lap
18. Gutierrez Sauber + 1 lap
19. Bianchi Marussia + 1 lap
20. Chilton Marussia + 1 lap
21. van der Garde Caterham + 2 laps