Fernando Alonso described it as “a special day” after he won his first race with Ferrari, describing his new employers as “the best team in the world”.
The Spaniard finished sixteen seconds ahead of teammate Felipe Massa, who thanked God and everyone who supported him through his accident after claiming his first ever podium place in an opening race. He described the car as 'just perfect' but said that a temperature problem meant he could not challenge his teammate for the victory.
Lewis Hamilton got the final podium place with Sebastian Vettel, who suffered an exhaust problem while leading, bringing the car home in fourth. Hamilton was quick to congratulate the winning Ferraris and said that third place was 'more than he expected'.
Vettel said that barring the mechanical problem, it was a 'positive' weekend for the team. He said the team 'should have won' in Bahrain and the failure 'cost us a lot'.
Mercedes finished their first race fifth and sixth, with Rosberg getting the better of teammate Michael Schumacher. 'It was as good as it could have been' was Schumacher's verdict on his return, adding 'it was good fun!'
Button and Webber were out-performed by their teammates as they finish seven and eight, and Tonio Liuzzi and Rubens Barrichello collected the final points by finishing ninth and tenth respectively.
It was a difficult day for the new teams. Neither the Hispania or Virgin drivers made even half race distance and the Lotus of Jarno Trulli just failed to make it to the finish line. Heikki Kovalainen did see the chequered flag, and actually finished ahead of Sebastien Buemi.
The start of the race promised to be an exciting moment, with 22 drivers heading towards the first corner with about 160 kg of fuel on board (the two Hispania cars started from the pit lane). The top ten drivers were also disadvantaged because they had to start the race on used tyres. It was billed as the battle of the bravest. Who would brake latest?
Alonso got past Massa in Turn 1 and Rosberg got ahead of Hamilton in the first few corners. Michael Schumacher made it up to sixth place after starting seventh. There was one dramatic moment when Webber had blue smoke billowing out of the back of his car in the first few corners, but luckily for Red Bull it was an overfill of oil rather than an engine failure. Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil had a disastrous start to the race, spinning and falling from ninth and tenth down to 21st and 22nd on the first lap.
At the front Sebastian Vettel had pulled out a lead of two seconds by the end of the first lap, and this gap was steady to second placed Fernando Alonso for the first half a dozen laps.
Karun Chandhock didn't even mange two laps of the race, ending his grand prix debut at the side of the track, without a front wing. Lucas di Grassi lasted one lap longer before pulling off the track in his debut grand prix. Fellow rookie Nico Hulkenberg had an early spin, but continued after a pit stop.
By Lap 10 it had become clear that this race was turning into a three horse race between Vettel and the two Ferraris, who were lapping over a second a lap faster than the rest of the field. Vettel in particular was setting a series of fastest laps, and by lap 12 had a lead of 3.5 seconds ahead of second placed Alonso.
Bruno Senna was the first driver to make a scheduled pit stop on lap 12. Renault followed shortly afterwards, bringing both of their drivers in on consecutive laps. Kubica's stop went fine, but a major problem emerged in Petrov's stop and he had to get out of the car. While this drama was unfolding in the Renault garage, Petrov's teammate Kubica set the fastest first sector on his new medium tyres, and went on to set a fastest lap.
This showed the front runners that the medium tyres were compound to be on, and Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher were the first to stop from fifth and seventh place respectively.
Alsonso pitted at the end of lap 16, and was followed into the pit lane by Rosberg, Webber and Button. Rosberg emerged behind Hamilton, and only just ahead of teammate Schumacher. It was Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button that helped the 2007 champion gain the position; Rosberg was held in his pit box by the approaching Button coming down the pit lane. New regulations this year state that pit teams cannot release a car from its pit box if another car is within 55 metres. Lewis Hamilton showed the advantage of new tyres by setting a fastest lap after emerging from the pits.
Race leader Sebastian Vettel, originally decided to continue without pitting, and had a 8.2 second lead over Alonso before the Spaniard made his tyre stop. However, on the next lap both Vettel and Massa came in for medium tyres at the end of the next lap.
While places were changing at the front, Timo Glock was being wheeled into the garage, marking the end of Virgin Racing's debut race. Bruno Senna parked at the side of the road two laps later, leaving only the two Lotus cars representing the new teams.
After the first round of pit stops Vettel was about three seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso, with Massa closer to his teammate than before the tyre change. Hamilton was the main winner, taking a position off Rosberg, who was now only one place higher than his teammate Michael Schumacher. Button and Webber made up the top eight.
After Liuzzi and Barrichello, who both started on the medium compound, made their first stops, they were on the leader's pace of just over two minutes a lap, showing how the track conditions were now favouring the super soft tyre. With the frontrunners not expecting to have to make another stop, they were now trying to conserve their tyres until the end of the race, while still continuing to race. On Lap 29, the top three of Vettel, Alonso and Massa were covered by just four seconds.
Alguersuari was the first driver to set a sub two minute lap time, which was quickly bettered by Fernando Alonso on Lap 29. The two-times World Champion was now 1.5 seconds behind race leader Vettel, and looking to mount a challenge for Red Bull driver's position.
However, the Ferraris had both been told to stay out of the dirty air of the car in front, and Alonso had trouble staying directly behind Vettel. Alonso then had a dismal lap, and the gap to Vettel increased to over two seconds. Massa was close behind his teammate, but he was being told to conserve engine power.
Then on Lap 34, Vettel suddenly slowed, and Alonso was all over the back of the Red Bull. He was on the radio to the team telling them about a loss of power, and while he valiantly drove on, Alonso had taken the lead of the race by the end of the lap. Massa was past Vettel by the end of the start/finish straight at the start of Lap 35, and Vettel looked like a sitting duck.
In clear air, Fernando Alonso set another fastest lap on Lap 35, pulling out a 3.9 second advantage over teammate Massa. On the next lap, another fastest lap, and the gap was 5.4 seconds.
Lap 38 saw Lewis Hamilton take the final podium place from Vettel. The Red Bull driver was only about three seconds a lap off the pace, but had no speed on the straights, thanks to what the team thought was an exhaust problem.
By the end of Lap 42, the top five drivers were separated by over 36 seconds. Massa had a lead of 9.1 seconds, Hamilton was 7.7 seconds further behind, Vettel 12.6 seconds behind the leading Brit, and Rosberg 6.7 seconds behind the former race leader. Schumacher, Button and Webber were in a close group about four seconds behind Rosberg. The race had entered a bit of a lull and had almost become a precession to the chequered flag.
In the final few laps of the race, Alonso had a commanding lead of over 10 seconds from his teammate. The focus towards the end was how many cars would get past the slow moving Sebastian Vettel and, to a lesser extent, whether the two Lotus cars would finish. Jarno Trulli had a developing hydraulic problem and was lapping very slowly, but crucially creeping towards the end.
Alonso won on his first outing for Ferrari, Vettel held off Rosberg to take fourth although he stopped his Red Bull on the side of the track just after crossing the line. Trulli didn't quite make it to the line for Lotus, but Kovalainen did finish the new team's first race. Eddie Jordan described it as 'team performance of the weekend'.