Vettel Takes Championship Lead with Victory in Bahrain


Sebastian Vettel leads the field off the line at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix - Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel leads the field off the line at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix – Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

 

Sebastian Vettel took his first win of the season today in Bahrain, and now sits at the top of the drivers’ championship.

It was a good day for Lotus, with Kimi Raikkonen pushing Vettel for the lead at times during the race, and eventually finishing second. Romain Grosjean joined his team-mate on the podium.

Mark Webber, who could not defend against the Lotus duo at the start of the race, had to settle for a comfortable fourth place, ahead of Nico Rosberg, who finished exactly where he started.

Paul di Resta made excellent use of a two-stop strategy to finish sixth, ahead of Fernando Alonso.

It was a disappointing race for McLaren, however. Lewis Hamilton finished only eighth, and Jenson Button retired on the penultmate lap. Felipe Massa was ninth to claim his first points of the season and Michael Schumacher, who started from twenty-second place, picked up the final point by finishing tenth.

There was some surprise rain this morning in Bahrain, but not enough to trouble the twenty-four cars sat on the 32-degree track. Sebastian Vettel was sat in his familiar pole position, and tasked with the challenge of keeping Lewis Hamilton behind him into the first corner.

The double world champion got a good enough start to do just that, and the top three got away in their starting order.

Romain Grosjean was the big winner off the line, getting up into fourth place from seventh. Fernando Alonso jumped from ninth to fifth, and Jenson Button dropped from fourth down to sixth and Nico Rosberg fell from fifth to eighth.

Daniel Ricciardo, who started from sixth, was down in sixteenth by the end of the first lap, and continued to go backwards.

On Lap 4, the fast moving Lotus of Grosjean made it past Mark Webber to take third place. The Frenchman was then quickly up to the back of Hamilton. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was also on the move. Having started eleventh, the Finn had quickly got himself up to seventh and was starting to put Button under pressure.

Grosjean made it past Hamilton on Lap 7, making good use of the DRS. Raikkonen also overtook Button in the other McLaren on that lap. Both of the McLaren drivers were beginning to complain about struggles with their rear tyres.

A slew of pit stops began at the end of Lap 8. Button, Rosberg and Massa all came in, just as Raikkonen, who had already dispatched Button, was cruising past Fernando Alonso into the first corner.

The front-runners came in on the following lap: Grosjean, Hamilton, Webber and Alonso all took on a fresh set of tyres. In the pits, the McLaren pit crew had a problem with the left-rear tyre on Hamilton’s car, in almost a repeat performance of the stop that cost Button victory in China.

This longer-than-expected pit stop brought Hamilton out behind Rosberg. The Brit, who was probably a bit angry after his pit stop, tried to get past the Mercedes driver, and was promptly shoved off the track by the German. This incident will be investigated by the stewards post-race.

Rosberg tried exactly the same vigorous defence on Alonso later in the race. The Spaniard was forced off the track, just as Hamilton had been, and this incident will also be investigated later today.

Oblivious to all of the action behind him, Sebastian Vettel came in at the end of Lap 11, as did the fast moving Kimi Raikkonen. This temporarily promoted Paul di Resta to the lead of the grand prix, but Vettel quickly overtook the Scot using DRS and fresher tyres.

After the pit stops, the two Lotus drivers were the ones to watch. Webber quickly fell to Raikkonen to claim third place, and both of the black-and-gold cars were running in podium positions behind Vettel.

Raikkonen, who had chosen a second set of soft tyres in his first pit stop, then began to challenge his team-mate, who was on the medium tyres, for second place.

Button, running in fifth, was the first driver to make a second stop, doing so at the end of Lap 23. Rosberg came in as well, and so did Felipe Massa. Webber, Hamilton and Alonso followed on the next lap. Hamilton unbelievably had the same problem as he had in his first pit stop, at the same corner of the car, this time round as well.

Raikkonen was having no problems with tyre wear yet. He got past his team-mate on Lap 24, and was up to second place. He then came into the pits for a set of the medium Pirelli tyres.

Race leader Sebastian Vettel, and Grosjean, came in one lap later for their second stops. After the stops, Raikkonen had the net second place, and was free to go after Vettel, who had taken on the soft tyres this time round.

At half distance, Vettel was leading from Raikkonen by just a couple of seconds; Grosjean was a further eight seconds down the road, and Webber was holding a comfortable fourth place.

As this third stint continued, Raikkonen continued to catch Vettel, and by Lap 33 he was within one second of the Red Bull driver, and close enough to use DRS.

The Finn came close to taking the lead as the duo began Lap 36, but Vettel had just enough to stop Raikkonen into the first corner.

Rosberg and Hamilton were the first drivers to make their third stops of the afternoon whilst this battle for the lead continued. Button and Alonso followed one lap later.

Vettel and Raikkonen both came in for their final stops at the end of Lap 40. Vettel retained the lead of the grand prix, and now both drivers had 17 laps of the race remaining over which to fight for the victory (and make their tyres last).

At the beginning of this fourth stint, it looked as though Vettel had the upper hand, lapping about two tenths faster than Raikkonen.  It seemed, however, that tyre degradation was worse on the Red Bull than it was on the Lotus, as ten laps from the end of the race the gap suddenly began to narrow. It looked like game on for the victory!

But alas, the gap then began to widen. It went up to over three seconds between Vettel and Rosberg, and the German was now on course of victory.

The main action in the final stages of the race was the fight for fifth place. Paul di Resta, who had made just two stops, was hanging on to the position with ever-degrading tyres. Rosberg made it past the Scot five laps from the end of the race, and then Jenson Button began to hunt down the Force India driver.

But Button could not make a move on Di Resta. A slow left-rear puncture meant that the Brit had to make a fourth pit stop for a fresh set of tyres. This dropped Button out of the points, and boosted Michael Schumacher – who had started from twenty-second – into tenth place.