Sebastian Vettel outfoxed Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to claim his and Ferrari’s second victory of the 2017 Formula 1 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, returning to the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings in doing so.
Having claimed his maiden Formula 1 pole position in Saturday night’s exciting qualifying session, Bottas led the field off the line. Fellow front-row starter Hamilton, making his getaway from the dirtier side of the grid, got too much wheelspin and fell to third behind Vettel on the run to Turn 1.
The German was boxed in behind Bottas and unable to find a way through, prompting his strategists to make a race-winning call to bring him into the pits for an early tyre change on Lap 10. Vettel bolted on another set of Super Soft tyres – thereby ensuring he would have to stop again – and rejoined the field in eleventh place, quickly carving his way up the order once his tyres were up to temperature.
On Lap 12, Max Verstappen – who had made a great launch to climb into fourth place at the start – was removed from contention when he slid into the Turn 4 barriers with a sudden brake failure. He joined Haas’ Kevin Magnussen on the growing list of retirees, with the Dane pulling off the track with an electrical issue.
They at least made the start, which is more than can be said for Stoffel Vandoorne. Embarrassingly in front of McLaren’s major Bahraini shareholders, the Belgian’s car was wheeled back into the pits before the start with its second terminal Honda power unit failure of the weekend.
The thirteenth lap of the race proved a game changer for Vettel. With more cars following his lead by pitting early, Williams’ Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr came together at Turn 1. Sainz had just emerged from the pits, and the Spaniard T-boned the Canadian youngster as he took his normal racing line into the right-hander.
The two drivers were out on the spot, triggering just the third Safety Car appearance in the Bahrain Grand Prix’s history. Bottas and Hamilton were – now running first and second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull – were called into the pits to try and maintain track position ahead of a fast-closing Vettel.
Fearing the impact of being double-stacked behind his teammate, Hamilton slowed on approach to the pits and badly held up Ricciardo in the process. It was a clear breach of the sporting regulations and Hamilton was quickly handed a five-second time penalty to be served at his next pit stop.
Worse still, both Hamilton (now on Softs) and Bottas (on Super Softs) emerged behind Vettel when they exited the pit lane, handing the advantage to the German.
Vettel took control at the restart and started to pull clear of the rest of the field. While Hamilton was running an alternate strategy and not on the quicker tyre set in his second stint, he was still proving quicker than Bottas who was starting to struggle with overheating rear tyres. Mercedes asked the Finn to relinquish second place to his teammate.
Bottas made the switch to Soft tyres on Lap 31, followed two laps later by Vettel. Their stops gave the lead to Hamilton, who did not need to stop again.
Even so, Vettel was closing back on to the Englishman, and such was his pace it was inevitable that Hamilton would be overhauled if he didn’t come in for another set of tyres. On Lap 43, Hamilton dived into the pits and curiously put on another set of Soft tyres, immediately posting purple sector times and he closed down on Bottas once more.
Again, Mercedes asked the former Williams driver to make way – the pair awkwardly swapped places at Turn 12 – which released Hamilton into second place. He closed to within ten seconds of the German and chipped the gap down to under six seconds, but battling backmarkers and a lack of available laps meant that Vettel had the challenge in hand and was never seriously threatened.
Victory for Vettel ensured that he would reclaim the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings – having been tied with Hamilton coming into the event – by 7 points over the Mercedes driver.
Bottas finished a frustrated third and finished just two seconds clear of a fast-closing Kimi Räikkönen in the second Ferrari. Räikkönen had endured a tough race after a poor start, and described the handling of his car as “disturbing” over the pit-to-car radio.
Ricciardo finished a distant fifth in the sole Red Bull Racing entry, while Felipe Massa helped Williams celebrate team founder Sir Frank Williams’ 75th birthday with another points’ finish in sixth.
Force India’s Sergio Pérez claimed a fine seventh thanks to a superb start from 18th on the grid. His teammate Esteban Ocon finished tenth for the third race in a row, with the double points’ finish vaulting the Silverstone team into its targeted fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Haas’ Romain Grosjean finished in eighth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg. After a superb qualifying performance for Hülkenberg, he and teammate Jolyon Palmer (who himself qualified a career-best tenth) both slipped down the order as they struggled for race pace; Palmer finished a lowly thirteenth after being overtaking by Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat in the closing laps of the race.
On his first outing for Sauber, Pascal Wehrlein finished an excellent eleventh to help counter lingering concerns over his fitness. Teammate Marcus Ericsson was another retiree, with his car grinding to a halt late in the race with a broken gearbox.
Another driver to retire late on was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard put in another gritty performance that was well above the limitations of his car to threaten for a points’ finish, only to suffer an engine failure with the chequered flag in sight.
The fourth round of the 2017 Formula 1 season takes place in Russia on the weekend of April 28-30.
|2017 FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (57 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||57||1:33:53.374|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||57||+ 6.660|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||57||+ 20.397|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||57||+ 22.475|
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||57||+ 39.346|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||57||+ 54.326|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||57||+ 1:02.606|
|8.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||57||+ 1:14.865|
|9.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||57||+ 1:20.188|
|10.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||57||+ 1:35.711|
|11.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||56||1 lap behind|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||56||1 lap behind|
|13.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||56||1 lap behind|
|14.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||54||Engine|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||50||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||12||Collision|
|DNF.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||12||Collision|
|DNF.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||11||Brakes|
|DNF.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||8||Electrical|
|DNS.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||Engine|
Image via XPB Images