Sebastian Vettel swept to victory in Sunday's Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix to extend his lead in the World Championship.
The reigning World Champion battled hard with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg during the opening laps of the Grand Prix before taking the lead and racing into the distance.
The race was held amid continued domestic disturbance and international condemnation as the struggle between Bahrain’s ruling classes and pro-democracy protestors escalated to levels higher than in recent months. FOM Chief Bernie Ecclestone stood by his decision that the event would be safe for competitors and fans alike, insisting the race would draw attention to the plight of the disadvantaged in the country.
Back on track, it was Vettel in control all the way, although the racing behind the dominant Red Bull driver was fraught with excitement and action. Most notable was the hot-blooded battle between McLaren team-mates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, the young Mexican banging wheels with his older rival on no less than three occasions as he struggled to pass the Briton. McLaren looked more competitive in Bahrain than in earlier races, despite Button being forced to make an extra pitstop for tyres just ten laps from the checkered flag.
“From here we travel back to Woking, where we’ll work hard on our upgrade package for Spain, where in three weeks’ time we hope to continue the process of demonstrating the fruits of our steady development of MP4-28 into the competitive machine we need it to be,” claimed Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh post-race.
He was less impressed with the heart-stopping antics of his drivers on track however: "Both Jenson and Checo are fast, forceful and hungry for success - and that’s exactly how it should be. It’s called racing, and we at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes always allow our drivers to race. It’s what this sport is all about. Having said that, it’s probably fair to say that Checo was a little too combative with Jenson this afternoon, and I think he knows that."
Starting 3rd and 4th had suggested a strong result was on the cards for Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in their Ferraris, but problems abounded as the duo dropped out of contention; Alonso with a malfunctioning rear wing DRS flap that necessitated two unplanned pitstops to repair, and Massa exceedingly unlucky to suffer not one but two punctures on his way to a lowly 14th place finish.
“We definitely didn’t have much luck today and that’s a real shame, at the end of what had been such a positive weekend for me and Felipe up until this afternoon.” mused the Spaniard after the race. “We had been competitive in free practice and qualifying and we were both expecting to have a good race.”
“I was really unlucky in this race and even if it’s true that many things can happen in this sport, I can’t find an explanation for why so many of them have to be negative.” said a downcast Massa, echoing the disbelief of his team-mate.
Mercedes had qualified on pole position with Nico Rosberg, but the German endured a hefty clash with Mark Webber’s Red Bull after the Australian failed to spot him and was just one incident on an afternoon where he faded badly to 9th place. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton executed a tricky two-stop strategy to progress to 5th place.
“We struggled badly in the early part of the race when the track temperatures were at their highest.” said Ross Brawn, Mercedes Team Principal. “Lewis and Nico did as good a job as possible with the car we had this afternoon but it was a case of damage limitation for both of them. However we must make it a priority to cope better with elevated temperatures: the tyres are the same for everybody and we are not performing as well as our competitors in these conditions.”
While some struggled, others prospered in the desert heat; not least of all Paul Di Resta in his Force India car. The Scot equalled his best ever Formula One result with 4th place after briefly leading the race on his two-stop strategy.
“The podium was very close, but with our strategy we were always going to be vulnerable at the end of the race - especially to [Romain] Grosjean who had two new sets of medium tyres. I had a good start to the race, a strong opening stint and we showed our true speed today, but ultimately fourth place was the maximum that was possible. We will get on the podium one day, hopefully soon, but for now we can be very happy with the points we’ve scored today.”
The Lotus team experienced a dramatic turnaround in fortune to secure 2nd and 3rd places on the podium after their cars had qualified in the lower reaches of the top ten on Saturday. Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean’s achievement meant the podium trio were the same men who filled the positions at this race twelve months ago.
“The win was not quite within our reach after the start we made, but to come away with a double podium when the top six would maybe have been a more realistic pre-race target was a great performance from everybody involved.” claimed Team Principal Eric Boullier. “I’m delighted for the whole team here in Bahrain and back at Enstone [The team base in Oxfordshire, Britain]; it’s a well-deserved result.”
“It’s important to get to the front; we saw at the last race that if you get stuck behind someone then it does have an impact on tyre wear and today it was important to make use of the tyres we had saved from qualifying yesterday.” beamed the delighted victor Vettel in the post-race press conference. “I love to be in clean air, so I was pushing hard to get into the lead and, with the speed we had mid-race, it was quite comfortable today. Well done to the whole team, to everyone here, to the factory in the background and especially to those who were working on the strategy today; it worked just as we expected, so we obviously got the numbers right.”
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX TOP TEN – (1) VETTEL – Red Bull, (2) RAIKKONEN – Lotus, (3) GROSJEAN – Lotus, (4) DI RESTA – Force India, (5) HAMILTON – Mercedes, (6) PEREZ – McLaren, (7) WEBBER – Red Bull, (8) ALONSO – Ferrari, (9) ROSBERG – Mercedes, (10) BUTTON – McLaren.
DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP TOP TEN
(1) Sebastian VETTEL – 77 Points
(2) Kimi RAIKKONEN – 67 Points
(3) Lewis HAMILTON – 50 Points
(4) Fernando ALONSO – 47 Points
(5) Mark WEBBER – 32 Points
(6) Felipe MASSA – 30 Points
(7) Romain GROSJEAN – 26 Points
(8) Paul DI RESTA – 20 Points
(9) Nico ROSBERG – 14 Points
(10) Jenson BUTTON – 13 Points