German driver takes chequered flag from Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean as Fernando Alonso's Ferrari encounters difficulties at the Sakhir International Circuit.
Sebastian Vettel claims Bahrain victory for Red Bull
With an index finger pointing heavenwards in celebration, Sebastian Vettel confirmed that his journey toward a fourth consecutive world championship is very much on course.
The German’s authoritative triumph at Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix means he has now taken two wins from four races in 2013 and leads the drivers’ standings by 10 points.
A finger of blame was pointing at Vettel in Malaysia last month as he disobeyed his Red Bull Racing team to to snare a controversial victory, but there were no complaints at Sakhir International Circuit as the 25 year old comfortably passed the chequered flag 9.1 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus.
Mercedes-GP’s Nico Rosberg had started the day on pole position, but his moment in the sun lasted only a couple of laps as a close, hard-fought start ended with Vettel passing him and quickly setting about building an advantage.
By the end of the sixth lap the gap stood at 3.5 seconds, and when Vettel pitted for his third and final change of tyres he led by more than half a minute.
“A faultless, seamless race from start to finish,” Vettel said. “I knew it was crucial to get into the lead and look after the tyres, the pace was phenomenal, the car was great. I could push every single lap. The pace we had, it was incredible. We surely did not expect that.”
It was as ominous a victory as this season has yet produced and all the more important as Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who has pushed Vettel to the final race of the season twice in the past three years, finished a distant eighth.
The Ferrari driver had started in third and jumped Vettel through the opening pair of turns, but he was unable to hold on and Vettel took the position back with a brave pass on the outside of Turn Five.
Vettel called the episode “crucial” to his race.
“Once you start to settle into a rhythm it’s difficult to overtake,” Vettel said. “At the beginning, I thought if there was a small chance to get into the lead, I have to take it because then I can take care of the tyres the way I like and hopefully direct the race the way we planned beforehand. If you sit behind someone and get stuck, then you struggle, you lose grip, you start to slide and the tyres start to go off.”
Alonso was given first-hand experience as his fight for the podium ended moments later when his adjustable rear wing malfunctioned and ended up stuck open.
Forced to pit earlier than planned, he rejoined the track amid heavy traffic.
With Alonso fighting merely for points, Raikkonen – employing a two-stop strategy – was able to capitalise. The Finn had started ninth on the grid yet managed his tyres expertly to take his third podium of the year and his sixth in Bahrain. The result also limited Vettel’s advantage over him in the standings.
“Second place is obviously better than third, but we haven’t won and that’s what we try to do,” Raikkonen said. “We got good points, we didn’t lose too many to Sebastian, but obviously it doesn’t help to finish second if he’s winning all the time.”
Raikkonen’s teammate, Romain Grosjean, passed the Force India car of Paul di Resta with six laps to go to take third, his best result of the season and his first top-three finish since Hungary last summer. It also ensured the podium was a duplication of last season’s Bahrain race.
The Frenchman has endured a relatively disappointing start to the year, finishing 10th in Australia, sixth in Malaysia and ninth last week in China. Alain Prost, the former driver and four-time world champion, earlier this week questioned his compatriot’s self-confidence. Eric Boullier, the Lotus team principal, yesterday said “Romain’s season starts now”.
“The first three races have been consistent, but not what we wanted,” Grosjean added. “[Sunday] we had to do some good fights on track, but this is why we’re racing and what we enjoy. So very pleased to be on the podium, same as last year.
“The fact I’m able to come back from a very difficult situation proves [Prost] was wrong. I have a deep respect for what he did, but I think it’s easy to speak when you are not here.”
Prost may now stop pointing fingers, but Vettel, having taken his most important step yet towards equalling the Frenchman’s four titles, clearly has no intentions of curtailing his habit.
Next up is Barcelona in three weeks, when a return to the sport’s European base means each of the 11 teams are expected to arrive with major upgrades.
“We need to just look after ourselves and make sure we score points,” Vettel said. “Everything else is difficult to predict.”
Lotus find their bloom
Sebastian Vettel’s second win on the season and 28th of the German’s career overshadows a stunning showing for Lotus, considering Kimi Raikkonen started the race ninth and Romain Grosjean 11th. It was an especially heartening result for Grosjean, who a few days earlier complained about struggling with the softer tires this season and not being able to challenge the leaders.
Bahrain GP results
1 Vettel, Red Bull 1:36:00.498
2 Raikkonen, Lotus +9.111
3 Grosjean, Lotus +19.507
4 Di Resta, Force India +21.727
5 Hamilton, Mercedes +35.230
6 Perez, McLaren +35.998
7 Webber, Red Bull +37.244
8 Alonso, Ferrari +37.574
9 Rosberg, Mercedes +41.126
10 Button, McLaren +46.631
11 Maldonado, Williams +1:06.450
12 Hulkenberg, Sauber +1:12.933
13 Sutil, Force India +1:16.719
14 Bottas, Williams +1:21.511
15 Massa, Ferrari +1:26.364
16 Ricciardo, Toro Rosso lapped
17 Pic, Caterham lapped
18 Gutierrez, Saube lapped
19 Bianchi, Marussia lapped
20 Chilton, Marussia lapped
21 Van der Garde, Caterham lapped
22 Vergne, Toro Rosso retired
Sebastian Vettel, Germany 77 pts
Kimi Raikkonen, Finland 67
Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain 50
Fernando Alonso, Spain 47
Mark Webber, Australia 32
Felipe Massa, Brazil 30
Romain Grosjean, France 26
Paul di Resta, Great Britain 20
Nico Rosberg, Germany 14
Jenson Button, Great Britain 13
Sergio Perez, Mexico 10
Adrian Sutil, Germany 6
Daniel Ricciardo, Australia 6
Nico Hulkenberg, Germany 5
Jean-Eric Vergne, France 1
Charles Pic, France 0
Max Chilton, Great Britain 0
Giedo van der Garde, Holland 0
Jules Bianchi, France 0
Esteban Gutierrez, Mexico 0
Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela 0
Valtteri Bottas, Finland 0
Red Bull Racing 109 pts
Force India-Mercedes 26
Toro Rosso-Ferrari 7