What a strange Formula One season: We’ve had four races, each won by a different driver, each won by a different manufacturer. Red Bull haven’t had a great start to the year, but they left Bahrain with the lead in the driver and constructor championships.
On Sunday, Sebastian Vettel started on pole and never lost the lead, but this wasn’t the type of dominating performance we grew accustomed to last year. He was pushed the entire race by Lotus drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean.
In the end, Vettel crossed the line three seconds ahead of Räikkönen. Grosjean was a comfortable third. Mark Webber made it four fourth places in a row and Nico Rosberg, last week's winner, nursed a damaged Mercedes home for fifth.
Vettel, Hamilton and Webber all got away cleanly at the start, but behind them Grosjean was a man on the move. He quickly jumped from seventh to fourth. After passing Webber for third and then Hamilton, he began to pull in Vettel.
Grosjean eventually faded after the first round of pitstops, but the other Lotus was making ground. Räikkönen, having failed to make Q3, bizarrely had the advantage of a full suite of fresh tires. At the start he advanced from 11th to seventh and then proceeded to have a long battle with Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, with the position swapping several times.
The Lotuses looked like the real deal. After passing Alonso for good and Hamilton in the pits, Räikkönen picked off Webber; the Australian’s second stint was on used medium tires and no match for Räikkönen’s new softs.
When things shook out, Räikkönen was third behind only his teammate and Vettel.
“I just couldn’t stay with those three guys in the first two stints, absolutely no way,” said Webber. “So they were pulling away, the two Lotuses and Seb, and I had to accept that, consolidate and score some good points.”
Räikkönen eased past Grosjean on DRS then closed on Vettel. The Finn looked like he had the pace to take the lead. He made one attempt with the DRS but Vettel held him off. Räikkönen had one more chance when both cars came into the pits for their third and final stop, but both teams executed flawless changes. For that last stint Vettel finally had the luxury of a new set of tires and suddenly looked comfortable.
“Kimi always had new tires so we knew he would be a danger right up until the last lap,” said Vettel. “I think especially that second-last stint where we were on option tires and Kimi was on a new prime tire, I thought he would make his way past pretty easily. One time it was really close but after that it seemed that he was running into the same kind of problems with the tires."
Victory catapults Sebastian to the top of the drivers’ championship with 53 points, narrowly ahead of Hamilton (49) and Webber (48).
"I'm very happy," said Vettel. "I owe this one to the team. They've worked flat out here at the circuit and back at the factory. The garage is a real mess because of all the parts we tried before settling on the best package."
He added, "It was a very tight and difficult race, I knew every single corner would be crucial with no mistakes allowed."
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