Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel leapt back into the limelight – and the lead of the world championship – with victory in Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix while Force India’s Paul Di Resta made a strong sixth-place finish here Sunday.
The world champion took the lead from the start and immediately out-paced McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and teammate Mark Webber. But it did not take long for the strength of the Lotus team threat to make it felt.
First it was Romain Grosjean who came thrusting up to pass Hamilton’s McLaren on the seventh lap. Then team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who started 11th, moved up to third as the first round of pit stops began two laps later.
Di Resta, who opted for a two-stop strategy in contrast to the three run by the other frontrunners, led a Grand Prix for the first time for Force India on the 12th lap after Vettel had pitted on the 11th, but thereafter the German was headed only briefly by Grosjean on the 40th lap during the third and final pit calls.
Raikkonen had forcefully hunted down Grosjean by the Lap 20 and moved ahead on the 24th before immediately pitting.
Grosjean held on to third to finish on the podium for the first time in his revived F1 career, to make it a great day for Lotus, and Mark Webber took a lonely fourth for Red Bull, unable to match his team mate’s pace this day but untroubled by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg who just edged ahead of Di Resta on the 52nd lap.
But Rosberg could be in trouble with the stewards after two aggressive-looking moves in which he swept from one side of the track in defence of position and seemingly put first Hamilton, and later Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, on to the dirt. Both incidents are the subject of post-race investigation.
The race was a disaster for McLaren. On two of his three stops Hamilton had a problem with the threads on the left-rear hub and lost horrible amounts of time. It was a similar problem to the one that afflicted teammate Jenson Button in China. The first time he dropped from third to 10th, and thereafter he was condemned to an afternoon of chasing rivals in the pack and wearing his front tyres out faster as a result.
Button was in the thick of battle for fifth place in the closing stages after conserving his tyres, but a left-rear puncture necessitated a pit stop on the 53rd lap, and then he was in again two laps later with a sick-sounding car to retire.
Di Resta drove a beautifully judged race to take a thoroughly-deserved sixth, and just kept Alonso and Hamilton at bay, though there was a moment of anxiety at the finish as Rosberg almost stopped in the middle of the road as he crossed the line, possibly as a result of mechanical problems.
Felipe Massa had a much better race and was hounding Ferrari team mate Alonso for a while on his way to ninth and his first points of the season, while Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher made great progress initially from 22nd on the grid after incurring a late five place penalty for a gearbox change, lost a bit of momentum mid-race, then hacked past the Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez to snatch the final point. In that little melee, Perez also overtook his team mate, even though the Japanese driver had fresher rubber.
It was also a disastrous day for poor Daniel Ricciardo, who dropped straight down from his sixth on the grid to 16th after getting beaten up in the early traffic and subsequently having to pit for a new nose after seven laps. He finished behind team mate Jean-Eric Vergne, while further behind them Vitaly Petrov led home Caterham team mate Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn drove a feisty race after an early clash ruined his strong qualifying position.
Behind Button, who was classified 18th, Timo Glock was Marussia’s sole survivor after Charles Pic posted the first retirement with mechanical problems, and led home the HRTs of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan. Neither Williams made it home. Pastor Maldonado had left-rear puncture and a big spin before retiring, and then Bruno Senna joined him in the garage with mechanical ills.
Red Bull’s first success of the season, which made Vettel the fourth different winner in four races, puts the champion back on top of the points table too, with 53 to the unhappy Hamilton’s 49. Webber is third with 48, followed by Button and Alonso on 43 apiece, Rosberg on 35 and Raikkonen on 34.
Red Bull also jumped ahead in the constructors’ rankings, with 101 points to McLaren’s 92, while the other big mover was Lotus who jumped up to third with 57 ahead of Ferrari on 45, Mercedes on 37 and Sauber on 31.