Vettel returns to form in the sands of Sakhir
Sebastian Vettel re-staked his claim to the Formula One crown on Sunday as he drove a faultless race to claim his first victory of the season. Behind him there were yet further surprises to the established order at the top of the table, as Lotus consolidated their long awaited resurgence to take second and third.
For a weekend that was always going to be surrounded by controversy, the grand prix itself was a relatively calm affair in comparison with recent races.
Practice and qualifying shaped up to reveal added pace from the Red Bull team as they appeared to finally get to grips with their new car. Mercedes had their hopes high after their success in China. Meantime McLaren looked strong but not necessarily all conquering. While Lotus, who appear to be going from strength to strength with young Romain Groslean taking a seventh place and Kimi Raikkonen a disappointing for him, eleventh.
The surprise of the day was the Daniel Ricciardo in the Torro Rosso who drove his way into an outstanding sixth place, while the Ferrari engined Sauber of Perez took eighth, trailed by Alonso in ninth, and the top ten rounded out by Paul di Resta.
With Vettel sitting in pole with Hamilton alongside, Webber in third and Button in fourth, it looked like business as usual at the start. But not for long. At least not for those following Vettel who got off to a storming start, quickly established a margin of some four seconds between himself and Hamilton who was having trouble matching the pave of the flying German.
Romain Grosjean had no such problems as he powered past Hamilton on lap seven. The race then in part took on a distinctly black and gold hue as the Lotus’s seemed to be the only team capable of matching, if not bettering the performance of their Renault engined rivals at Red Bull.
Yet again Räikkönen seemed set on hunting down the leader as he had done so last week. He passed his team mate on lap 20 and gave chase to Vettel. Meanwhile Hamilton suffered a series of troublesome pit stops with right rear causing problems on two pit stops which dropped him down the order and out of contention. Neither was it to be Button’s day. After fighting for fifth for much of the race, a puncture then intervened, followed by an engine problem which ultimately caused his retirement.
Back at the front, Räikkönen’s charge culminated in a late lunge on Vettel at the end of the pit straight on lap 36. But the Red Bull driver fought the challenge off and it then transpired that that had been Kimi’s one chance to take the lead. With that opportunity lost, he then had to settle for following Vettel to the end of the race, followed home by team mate Grosjean.
Webber once gain took a habit forming fourth place. Rosberg finished fifth, having passed the Mercedes powered Force India of Di Resta just four laps before the race end. Alonso managed to grab a couple of points in a distant ninth with Michael Schumacher bringing up the rear in tenth to bring his season total to two.
With just 10 points separating the top five drivers, the top of the table is wide open, but with Lotus coming on strong, one wonders how long before Räikkönen claims his first victory and joins the leading group?
Formula One now heads for Europe and the Spanish Grand Prix and with this brief respite, the upgrades will no doubt come tick and fast in time for Barcelona. Who knows who will come out in front then?