Bahrain Grand Prix: Vettel dominates as Lotus come good on the day

Race winner Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9 crosses the line.
Race winner Sebastian Vettel crosses the finish line in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel was in another league as he powered to a dominant victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix, his second successive triumph in the island Kingdom and scoring his 28th Formula 1 career win in the process, while behind him Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean finished second and third respectively – the same trio on the podium exactly as they were a year earlier – and not a Ferrari in sight…

Although Vettel dominated and Raikkonen cruised to second, behind them it was an action packed afternoon with some of the closest racing seen this year, including some hair-raising wheel-to-wheel moments, three cars side-by-side fighting for the same meter of tarmac as Formula 1 turned into a contact sport in the desert heat.

Again tyres played a huge role in strategy, and the teams who could best manage the degradation while delivering a consistently strong pace were to benefit most and in this instance Red Bull, particularly Vettel, and the Lotus pair were kindest to the Pirelli rubber.

Top three on the podium
Top three on the podium

On the podium Vettel described it as a ‘beautiful race’ and for him it surely was, as he crucially fended off a concerted charge from Fernando Alonso on the opening lap, then the Red Bull driver set his sights on, pole winner and, early leader Nico Rosberg who defended vociferously, but by lap three and going into Turn 4 the world champion was through and really that was it game, set and match.

Vettel said afterwards, “It was a fantastic race. I have to give a big, big thank you to the team today it was faultless from start to finish. The pace was phenomenal the car was great. We took good care of the tyres and it all paid off.”

“It was very tight in the first corner for us, I had to give way to Alonso but I got him back quickly which was crucial. I really had to think for a while because Nico appeared, it was very tight but I eventually got past him and the track was clear. I could really pull clear and show what the car could do.”

Start of the 3013 Bahrain Grand Prix
Start of the 3013 Bahrain Grand Prix

“We are in a good position in the championship. It was a very straightforward race. Incredible pace we had to today. We surely did not expect that. In the end, it was quite controlled. I managed the gap and still had enough tyres to push at the end,” added the reigning champion who leaves Bahrain leading the standings by ten points with 77 to his credit.

It was a remarkable turn around for Lotus, as Raikkonen recovered from a lowly eighth place on the grid and a less than stellar start to finish second, while Grosjean finally kick started his season with a strong showing to claim third from 11th place start. Together the black and gold cars bagged more points than any other team on the day.

For Raikkonen, who was only one of two who made a two stop strategy work, it was his 21st consecutive points scoring race.

Romain Grosjean battles with Sergio Perez
Romain Grosjean battles with Sergio Perez

He reflected, “Yesterday wasn’t ideal so we’d planned on Friday to try a two-stop and today it worked well. I didn’t have a strong first and second laps but after the first stop i was able to come back stronger so we had a good race in the end.”

After bagging his best finish since Hungary last year, Grosjean summed up what the result meant to him,  “In the first three races we were consistent but not where we wanted to be. We have done a lot of work on the car and basically today we got it right. Our strategy was different to everyone else and I am very pleased to be up here, the same as last year and now we hope we can find some consistency.”

Paul di Resta matched his F1 career best result, driving a steady race to finish fourth which included a brief stint in the lead. The Scot opted for a two stop strategy, and made it work despite losing out on a podium spot to Raikkonen (on a similar two stop action plan) and Grosjean late on in the race.

Lewis Hamilton’s race was compromised from the outset by a five stop grid penalty for changing a gearbox. He started ninth and at first the Mercedes driver not feature, seemingly well off the pace of his teammate Rosberg who was toiling away at the sharp end of proceedings.

Lewis Hamilton in the heat of battle
Lewis Hamilton in the heat of battle

As the race progressed Rosberg started to drop back and out of contention, spending most of the afternoon defending adamantly but ultimately unsuccessfully. Meanwhile Hamilton was cutting a swathe through the field – engaging in a riveting battle with both McLaren drivers, before a wheel banging scuffle with Red Bull’s Mark Webber late in the race when the Silver Arrows appeared to have some pace to spare.

The 2008 world champion declared that he was ‘very, very happy’ and explained, “All of a sudden, I could push after the second stop and the car was amazing.”

In the end Hamilton finished fifth with a three stop strategy, while Rosberg had to settle for ninth having made four pit stops in the process.

Prior to the Bahrain weekend, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh urged Sergio Perez to show more aggression and the Mexican did as he was told, but appears to have irked his more experienced teammate Jenson Button.

Sergio Perez versus  Jenson Button
Sergio Perez versus Jenson Button

Perez was involved in side-by-side ‘warfare’ with just about everyone and some of his blocks on the straight were outlandish, but the tussle with Button will be best remembered as the McLaren new boy attacked relentlessly, giving as good as he got. At one stage, as Perez tried to find a way around the sister car, Button got on the team radio and said, “He just hit me. Calm him down.”

Credit to McLaren’s pitwall who stood resolute and did not appear to make any calls to end what was a riveting on track battle involving both their cars – no Malaysian shenanigans here as the Woking squad stuck to their tradition of allowing their drivers to race, and boy they did!

In the end Perez got the better of Button, the pair finishing sixth and tenth respectively. Inevitably, at the end of the race, there were two sides to the story.

Button’s version went like this:  “I was very vocal on the radio, emotions were running high, but I would say exactly the same again. The racing was great out there. The only person that wasn’t was Checo. He was too aggressive, I would say. At 300 km/h, you don’t expect your team-mate to come alongside you and bang wheels with you. It was a bit of a surprise, and I’m probably not the only one that feels like that.”

Mark Webber leads the McLaren duo
Mark Webber leads the McLaren duo

Perez’s version was shorter:  “I was as aggressive as he was with me. It was probably, too much. It’s something we have to speak about.”

Webber was involved in a few skirmishes on his way through the field from seventh on the grid. As mentioned the Hamilton duel will go down as a must see. But the Australian’s aggressive move,  as he exited the pits, on Rosberg prompted a post race investigation by the stewards. Watch this space…

At one stage the Red Bull driver was looking good for at least fifth, but his tyres went off rapidly in the final laps to relegate him down to seventh when the chequered flag dropped.

Ferrari annexed the second row in Bahrain, but what should have been a big points haul turned into bitter disappointment for the Maranello team who had previously won four times at Sakhir.

Fernando Alonso with the jammed DRS flap on his Ferrari
Fernando Alonso with the jammed DRS flap on his Ferrari

From the outset Alonso looked racy and almost took the lead after a superb start. He settled for third in the early laps, but then it all turned very bleak, very fast as the DRS flap on his Ferrari jammed open. This forced him to pit twice, after which he was without DRS and way down in 18th place. Game over – not quite as the Spaniard stuck his head down and grafted hard to finish eighth – but a huge opportunity was lost and another big blow to his title aspirations early on in the season.

Felipe Massa was in the wars from lap one, making contact with Adrian Sutil’s Force India which triggered a torrid afternoon for the Brazilian. He drove the rest of the race with a flapping winglet on the front of his Ferrari, and thereafter suffered two punctures – make that blowouts – on his way to 15th.

Shortly before the start of the race the governing FIA said in a statement that it had disabled the telemetry link between race control and cars which acts as an electronic marshalling system in addition to flag-waving officials.

Thus the race took place without cockpit warning lights for the fourth grand prix in a row after continuing problems with the system.

Bahrain Grand Prix Result, Sakhir – Sunday, 21 April 2013

11Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault57Winner225
27Kimi RäikkönenLotus-Renault57+9.1 secs818
38Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault57+19.5 secs1115
414Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes57+21.7 secs512
510Lewis HamiltonMercedes57+35.2 secs910
66Sergio PerezMcLaren-Mercedes57+35.9 secs128
72Mark WebberRed Bull Racing-Renault57+37.2 secs76
83Fernando AlonsoFerrari57+37.5 secs34
99Nico RosbergMercedes57+41.1 secs12
105Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes57+46.6 secs101
1116Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault57+66.4 secs17
1211Nico HulkenbergSauber-Ferrari57+72.9 secs14
1315Adrian SutilForce India-Mercedes57+76.7 secs6
1417Valtteri BottasWilliams-Renault57+81.5 secs15
154Felipe MassaFerrari57+86.3 secs4
1619Daniel RicciardoSTR-Ferrari56+1 Lap13
1720Charles PicCaterham-Renault56+1 Lap18
1812Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari56+1 Lap22
1922Jules BianchiMarussia-Cosworth56+1 Lap19
2023Max ChiltonMarussia-Cosworth56+1 Lap21
2121Giedo van der GardeCaterham-Renault55+2 Laps20
Ret18Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Ferrari16+41 Laps16

Note – Webber, Gutierrez qualified P5 and P18, dropped 3 and 5 grid places respectively for collisions at previous round. Hamilton qualified P4, dropped 5 places for unscheduled gearbox change