Once he came out ahead after a brief battle in the opening laps Sebastian Vettel made serene progress to take victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Vettel had to pass both Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg in the opening laps. Rosberg held on to the lead from pole position at the start, albeit having to defend from Vettel, which allowed Alonso to take second through the opening corners. Alonso’s spell ahead of the Red Bull man would, however, last only a few corners as Vettel fought back through the sweeping turns five and six to retake second place.
Vettel’s move to the lead completed when he passed Rosberg for the lead at the start of lap three, starting a torrid afternoon for the Mercedes driver that ended four pitstops later in ninth place. Within a dozen laps Rosberg had been pushed back to fourth, shuffled back behind Alonso and Paul di Resta at the start of a race in which Force India’s Scot was to play a starring role.
He was promoted up into second when Alonso’s race came was derailed by a malfunctioning DRS that twice became stuck open before the Spaniard simply stopped using it after stopping twice for the team to force the wing closed.
Di Resta then took the lead when Vettel pitted from the lead with most of the rest of the front runners. While Vettel, Rosberg, Felipe Massa, the McLarens and company all began strategies intended to play out as three-stop affairs Di Resta led those on alternative strategies, taking the lead ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg with Vettel emerging from the pits in fourth.
Behind the German a fantastic fight was developing between the McLarens – Jenson Button and Sergio Perez – Romain Grosjean, Massa and Rosberg. With various comers and goers this fight was to decide the bottom half of the top ten.
Grosjean was to leave the group behind, Mark Webber was to fall back into the group in the final stint. Massa was to the fight depart as serial tyre issues – including a puncture coming off the final corner – wrought havoc on his race pushing him down to a 15th place finish sandwiched in the final standings between Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. Massa’s trials – somewhat ironically – left him to finish behind Adrian Sutil after the pair had clashed on the opening lap leaving the German with a left front puncture that pushed him out of the points battle after qualifying sixth. Massa continued with a slightly damaged front wing.
The fight between the McLarens became a motif of the race. Perez and Button swapped places back and forth several times during the race, the two coming dangerously close to a calamitous coming together when Perez’s front wing grazed Button’s right-rear tyre. Thankfully for Martin Whitmarsh on the pitwall the only damage done was minor, and to Perez’s wing.
Alonso – coping with his lack of DRS – was to thrust himself between the McLarens, surprising Button at turn eight as he focussed on his teammate ahead. Button was another driver forced into making a fourth stop, dropping him to finish tenth with Alonso fighting back to eighth.
Lewis Hamilton – almost anonymous in the first half of the race – and Perez both past Webber in the closing stages, but as the tyre problems pulled apart the battling group in the final stages of the arce focus was turned to the climax of a race taking place on an entirely different schedule.
Di Resta and Raikkonen were both making the two stop strategy work, rising back up to second and third as the three-stoppers made their middle stop. Raikkonen moved into second on track, just a lap before making his own second – but final – stop with more than twenty laps to go. Di Resta made his own stop a few laps later and while the Scot’s strategy more evenly split his two stints of the harder Pirelli tyre it allowed Raikkonen the undercut, with the Finn comfortably ahead on track.
Di Resta’s race – and chances of a maiden F1 podium – hinged on the other Lotus in the hands of Romain Grosjean. Grosjean made his own final stop keeping him on the softer compound tyres for the final stint and once he had wriggled free of Button and Webber it seemed inevitable that he would take third from di Resta. He did exactly that five laps from the end, di Resta unable – or unwilling – to defend hard enough to even stand a chance to keep his top three slot.
Back down the order Charles Pic struck a blow in the battle for tenth for Caterham, beating both Esteban Gutierrez and Jules Bianchi to the flag. That came despite an early race clash with Jean-Eric Vergne that demolished the front wing of the Caterham as well as puncturing the right-rear tyre on the Toro Rosso, the impact almost certainly playing part in Vergne being the race’s only retirement.