Sebastian Vettel tap-danced his way to victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix, nursing his weary tyres to a second successive win to open up a commanding early 17-point lead in the world championship table.
The Ferrari man, who started on pole, held off the challenge of the Mercedes pair of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, who finished second and third under the lights.
Ahead of the third round of the championship in China next weekend, Vettel’s strength upturned every prediction of Mercedes dominance. Victory in Melbourne a fortnight ago may have had an elements of luck to it; this one did not.
Sebastian Vettel raises his trophy on the podium after winning the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon
Vettel (left) finished first in an exciting Bahrain GP with Valtteri Bottas (right) second and Lewis Hamilton third
The German notched a second-successive win to open up a commanding early 17-point lead in the world championship table
Vettel celebrates after sealing his second victory of the new Formula One season at the Sakhir Circuit in Manama
Vettel, his tyres as thin as ribbons, was made to sweat at the end as Bottas came close to overhauling him but held on by half a second. Hamilton, who started ninth after a gearbox penalty, was six seconds back.
The world champion had early distinguished himself by pulling off a great move as four cars came together in the early stages. Hamilton was alongside Fernando Alonso with Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon in front of him when the world champion went powering down the straight at 220mph and turned up at the first corner ahead of them all. Bravo.
Hamilton was fifth and about to pass Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso, which he did.
It was now all about strategy. The Ferraris were in early, moving from supersoft tyres to softs – namely the fastest and least durable tyres on to the second fastest and second least durable option. Surely, it was thought, the Ferraris would need to stop again.
Mercedes went down a different route, sticking to their Plan A with Hamilton in moving him from softs to mediums – and, as the theory went, likely to take him to the end without a second stop. Bottas was moved from supersofts to mediums.
Mercedes star Hamilton drove well but couldn’t close the gap after starting ninth following a gearbox penalty
Hamilton (right) closes down on Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly during the early stages of Sunday’s race in Bahrain
Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo walks away from his car after retiring due to a possible systems failure during lap 17
His team-mate Max Verstappen retires from the race after picking up a puncture following a collision with Hamilton
The order in front was Vettel – Bottas – Raikkonen – Hamilton. It was, as we were saying, all going to come down to whether Ferrari needed another stop. If they had done, it should have ended Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen.
But Vettel managed to keep his tyres to the end, helped by a Ferrari that, in contrast to the Mercedes, was light on its shoes even on this abrasive track. Raikkonen suffered a nasty mishap in the pits to keep him out of the classification.
It was a dreadful day for Red Bull. Both cars retired early on. First, Daniel Ricciardo suffered an electrical shut-down. He surveyed his injured car with a forlorn backward glance.
As for Max Verstappen, his ragged start to the year continued. After spinning out in Melbourne a fortnight ago, he punctured his left rear tyre in a collision with Hamilton as the two of them battled it out hard.
Verstappen returned to the pits to be reshod but the damage was too much and he limped to a premature halt soon after.
The early damage may have cost the pair any possible shot at winning the drivers’ title. They had little chance of that at the start of the season so the setbacks this early on are probably more than they can afford even in a season 21 races long.
A Ferrari pitman lies on the ground after being hit by Kimi Raikkonen as the Finnish driver made to exit the pits
Raikonnen was too eager to exit the pit and ended up hitting the mechanic who had to be rushed to hospital
As for the Raikkonen-related drama in the pit lane: the Finn ran over one of his mechanics as he was released early from his second stop. The unfortunate tyre-fitter was holding the wheel in his hands, awaiting the old one being taken off. They could not free it, Raikkonen was sent on his way, and the mechanic in question, standing in front of the rear left tyre, was bowled over by a fast-accelerating Ferrari.
Maurizio Arrivabene, the team principal, left his seat on the pit wall to see the injury for himself. Raikkonen, who was stopped within yards of his pit box, threw a bottle of water in anger. Raikkonen had been running third and was bitterly disappointed.
The mechanic was taken to the medical centre to be assessed.
Fernando Alonso made the best of an ordinary McLaren to finish seventh, flattered by the retirements ahead of him. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne finished eighth on a poor weekend for a team that is struggling to find its rhythm.
Vettel (left), Bottas (centre) and Hamilton celebrate with champagne following the conclusion of the Bahrain Grand Prix