Sebastian Vettel took the win and the lead in the Formula One world championship in Bahrain after a tense tactical race in which his Ferrari team called their aggressive strategy with aplomb to ensure the best his Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton could manage was second. Vettel drove a composed and professional drive to take the win but the British driver compromised his own effort, having been given a penalty for slowing on entry to the pit lane. Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who had started from his first pole position, took third place, with the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in fourth and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.
The German has won in Bahrain twice before, both times with Red Bull in 2012 and 2013, after each of which he went on to win the title. It is his second win this season, having taken the flag in Australia and his 44th career victory. “Yes, guys that’s what I am talking about,” a jubilant Vettel said as he crossed the line.
Mercedes had the advantage of the front-row lockout but were pressured by Ferrari from the off when Vettel split the two silver arrows. Bottas made a clean start from pole but Hamilton, on the dirty side of the grid in second place, had some wheelspin and was jumped by Vettel round the outside of turn one and, as had been the case in Australia, the German was comfortable in the immediate wake of the Mercedes but Hamilton was able to stay with both of them and half a second separated the top three by lap six.
They could not draw away, however, and were swiftly caught by the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Ricciardo and by lap 10 the top five were within three and half seconds of one another. Proximity that prompted Ferrari to act. Vettel pitted early, on lap 11 as the team went aggressive, looking to the undercut and taking another set of the supersoft rubber. Verstappen did the same a lap later but suffered a brake failure at turn four on his out lap and went into the barriers, his race over.
Vettel, however, was immediately much quicker on the fresher rubber but Carlos Sainz came together with Lance Stroll on lap 13, causing the safety car to be deployed, and Mercedes pitted both their drivers with the Finn taking the supersoft rubber. Bottas came in first as the leading car with Hamilton stacked behind him to take the soft tyres. However, it did not work out as the team will have hoped for either driver. Bottas emerged behind Vettel and Hamilton behind both his team-mate and Ricciardo, who was in fourth place. Having called the strategy so well in Australia, Ferrari had done so again in Bahrain.
Worse was to come for Hamilton: the stewards investigated him for backing up Ricciardo on the entry to the pit lane – knowing he would be delayed by his team-mate stopping first and to try to ensure the Australian exited the pits behind him – and the British driver was given a five-second penalty for driving unnecessarily slowly.
The race restarted on lap 17 and Hamilton passed Ricciardo into turn one to take back third place and despite being on the slower rubber was able to stay with his team-mate. Vettel, however, had managed to eke out a lead in front and with Hamilton up to Bottas, who did not have the pace on the supersofts and the pair on different strategies, Mercedes ordered the Finn to let him past to try to stay with the German.
Bottas came in for the soft rubber on lap 31 and came out in seventh, by which point Vettel was just under five seconds ahead of Hamilton and, with the British driver catching him, Ferrari pitted the German on lap 34 for the soft tyres. Hamilton had the lead and was 16 seconds clear of Vettel but the latter was immediately quicker on the new rubber, with the gap down to 12 seconds by lap 38.
Hamilton needed to stop again and take the five-second penalty, he did so on lap 42 for another set of softs – the team believing it was the quicker tyre when questioned by their driver – and emerged in third, 10 seconds behind his team-mate and a further nine behind Vettel and looking to chase down them down.
He charged, on the freshest rubber of the leaders, and was two seconds a lap quicker than Bottas and just over a second up on Vettel, with the team telling him he had the pace to win. His team-mate allowed him past on lap 48 and he set about chasing the leader, who was 11 seconds ahead and encountering traffic, while Hamilton was 1.8 seconds a lap quicker. There was not enough time left, however, and he could not catch the German, who took the flag 6.6 seconds ahead.
The Williams of Felipe Massa finished in sixth; Sergio Pérez in the Force India in seventh – a fine recovery from 18th on the grid; Romain Grosjean’s Haas in eighth; the Renault of Nico Hülkenberg an impressive ninth and the second Force India of Esteban Ocon in 10th.
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