Race dictated by tyre strategy with Ferrari's German driver having to eek out long stint on soft Pirelli tyre compound. He has now won season's first two races
Sebastian Vettel thought Valtteri Bottas 'would catch' him before winning Bahrain Grand Prix in his 200th F1 race
The last time Ferrari won the opening two races of a Formula One season was in 2004, and Michael Schumacher went on to dominate that year as he won 12 of the first 13 grands prix.
Sebastian Vettel will not be expecting to repeat the dominant feat of his German compatriot over the course of the 2018 campaign, but following up his win in Australia two weeks ago with a triumph in Bahrain on Sunday night in his Ferrari will boost his belief that he can his fifth drivers’ world title.
Competing in his 200th grand prix, he held off a challenge from the Mercedes-GP of Valtteri Bottas in the closing laps of the race in Sakhir on ageing Pirelli tyres to triumph at the track for the second successive year.
The race was dictated by tyre strategy with Vettel having to eke out a long stint on the soft Pirelli tyre compound.
This had been after Ferrari had been caught by surprise by Mercedes choosing to put both Bottas and world champion Lewis Hamilton on the medium compound, the hardest tyre available to the teams, when they made their first pit stops.
This had come after Vettel had already pitted, and seemingly committed to a two-stop strategy, and they were now were faced with the scenario of having to pit one more time than their rivals.
Adding to the problems was the fact that their pit crew had been compromised after Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen had run over a mechanic making his second stop, an incident that left the mechanic requiring medical attention and the Finn out of the race.
Vettel chose to stay out and set about managing his tyres, and for a while it looked as if he may be able to hold on comfortably as he built a lead of around eight seconds at one stage over Bottas.
But Bottas charged in the closing laps and began going one second a lap faster, but he could not find a way past Vettel on the final lap, despite a visible speed advantage, and had to be content with second place.
“I think I came on the radio with 10 laps to go saying everything was under control," Vettel said. "That was a lie. With Bottas' pace I thought he would catch me. I tried to keep it as clean as possible.
“Our plan worked, but just. Bottas had a bit of a sniff but ran out of laps.
"It turned out to be a great strategy and put us under pressure, but we had nothing to lose. To get the win under these conditions tastes even better."
Hamilton, who had started in ninth place after a grid penalty in qualifying for a gearbox change, was content with his podium finish in third, despite now trailing Vettel by 17 points in the championship.
“It was damage limitation,” said the Briton, who finished 6.5 seconds behind Vettel.
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Pierre Gasly produced his best result in F1 as he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso, ahead of the Haas and Kevin Magnussen and the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg.
The two McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were seventh and eighth, with Marcus Ericsson ninth for Sauber and Esteban Ocon’s Force India completing the top 10.
Neither Red Bull Racing car finished as both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen suffered mechanical failures.
The next race takes place in Shanghai, China next Sunday.