Sebastian Vettel extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings by winning an exciting Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix from Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.
His celebrations were tempered by a terrible pit lane accident for teammate Kimi Räikkönen who ran over and broke the left leg of one of the Ferrari mechanics during his second pit stop.
The 57-lap race under floodlights was a brilliant mix of action and strategy. Vettel jumped into the lead from pole position while Bottas moved from third into second, slotting between the two Ferraris.
The outcome of the race hinged on pit and tyre strategy. Ferrari had planned a two-stop strategy for both drivers, but Mercedes held back Bottas’ first pit stop and put the Finn on Pirelli’s Medium tyres to run to the end of the race. With Vettel unable to eke out enough of a margin to make a second visit to the pits work, Ferrari opted to run him until the end of the race.
Asking his Soft compound tyres to go well above Pirelli’s estimated 30-lap limit, the German had an uphill battle to manage his tyre wear until the end of the race. His rubber started to fade in the final laps, allowing Bottas to rapidly close up on him to create a grandstand finish as the chequered flag approached.
Bottas got into DRS range on the final lap and hoovered the Ferrari in down the start/finish straight, but Vettel deployed his available electrical energy in his ERS to counter the Mercedes’ attack. Bottas had a look into Turn 1, but couldn’t make a move stick.
In the end the pair crossed the finish line less than seven-tenths of a second apart, with a fast-closing Hamilton finishing in third place to limit the damage of his five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
Hamilton was always going to have to run a one-stop race given his ninth-placed starting position, but Ferrari’s sudden change of Vettel’s strategy seemed to catch Mercedes napping. There was confusion between the driver and his team over how hard he needed to push after his pit stop, but his challenge came to nought.
The Englishman admitted he was rather lucky to see the chequered flag, after surviving a second-lap contact with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen at Turn 1. The Dutchman started from fifteenth after his crash in qualifying and, like Hamilton, was looking to make up early ground in the opening laps.
He caught a slipstream off Hamilton down the start/finish straight and dived for the inside of the Mercedes, forcing the defending champion wide at corner exit. Hamilton’s front right clipped Verstappen’s left-rear tyre, causing a puncture on the RB14 and a long journey back to the pits.
He rejoined in last place and well adrift of the field, but retired on the fourth lap with a suspected differential failure. Post-race, the pair predictably blamed each other for the contact – Hamilton went as far as describing Verstappen as a “dickhead” in the pre-podium room post-race – but the stewards ruled it a racing incident.
Verstappen’s retirement was a double disaster for Red Bull Racing, as just moments before his teammate Daniel Ricciardo pulled off the circuit at Turn 8 with a complete electrical shutdown. Perceived as having the quickest car in race trim, this was a disastrous outcome for the Milton Keynes team.
Having been quickest in FP2 and FP3, Räikkönen’s race pace faded somewhat but the 2007 World Champion still looked on course to finish on the podium as he followed in Bottas’ wheeltracks for much of the race. Ferrari kept him on a two-stop strategy, but an error in the pit lane led to disastrous consequences for the Finn and one of his mechanics.
Footage showed the mechanics working on his left-rear wheel hadn’t yet changed the tyre, but Räikkönen was given the signal to depart his pit bay. His ‘wheel on’ mechanic, was still in the way and Räikkönen collected him. It was a sickening incident, with Ferrari confirming the injured mechanic had broken both bones in his lower left leg.
The retirements of the two Red Bulls and Räikkönen promoted Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly into fourth place, with the jubilant Frenchman claiming his first points finish and engine partner Honda’s best ever result in the turbo-hybrid era.
Gasly had been on the pace all weekend and the result was deserved on merit for the Faenza team after a poor season-opener a fortnight ago in Australia. The upgrades brought to the STR13 delivered (unusually) better than expected performance, and time will tell if this a true sign of things to come. Given Gasly comfortably had the legs on the (formerly Honda-powered) McLarens does raise some rather awkward questions elsewhere in the pit lane…
Gasly’s teammate Brendon Hartley – despite delivering a career-best 11th in qualifying – was unlucky in the race, tangling with Force India’s Sergio Pérez on the opening lap which earned the New Zealander a 10-second time penalty to be served at his first pit stop. That put him out of contention for a points’ finish.
Kevin Magnussen drove a typically bullish race to claim fifth place for the Haas team, a welcome reprieve after its double-DNF in Australia when both cars suffered cross-threaded wheel nuts. The Dane waged a race-long battle among the Renaults and McLarens before emerging on top at the end.
After a poor qualifying session that saw him start from sixteenth, his teammate Romain Grosjean faced his own uphill battle to recover a points’ finish among a tightly bunched midfield. The Frenchman suffered damage to his left-hand bargeboard and turning vane, which parted company with the car mid-race. With loose bodywork flailing and also trapped on the VF-18’s underbody, he faded to thirteenth.
Nico Hülkenberg consolidated Renault’s strong start to the season by finishing in sixth place in a tight midfield scrum with Magnussen and the two McLarens. His teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. struggled with tyre wear on the Soft compound rubber and was forced to pit too early for his second stop. A long final stint trying to manage wearing rubber and high fuel consumption saw him drop out of the points positions in the final laps.
Seventh and eighth went to the McLaren Renaults of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Another double points’ finish was a good result after a disappointing showing in qualifying, with Vandoorne’s recovery drive – after bogging down off the line and dropping to last place by Turn 1 – particularly impressive.
More acclaim should go to Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who broke a point-less streak stretching back to the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. The Swede was the only other runner outside the top-three finishers to attempt a one-stop strategy, with his economical approach helping him up the order as those around him pitted one extra time. Teammate Charles Leclerc finished twelfth.
The final point went to Force India’s Esteban Ocon. After the Frenchman qualified in the top-ten on Saturday evening, there were hopes that the pink cars would be able to mix it in the midfield and move further up the order. As it was, the team didn’t quite have the pace of Haas, Renault, McLaren or Toro Rosso – but a point is a point and the team will take it after a poor pre-season build-up. Teammate Pérez’s race was compromised by his first-lap punt from Hartley and he finished down in sixteenth place ahead of his assailant.
The only team without a point to-date is Williams, which had another wretched weekend with a car whose many flaws they are struggling to understand. Sergey Sirotkin completed his first race distance and finished 14th ahead of teammate Lance Stroll, whose race prospects were dented by damage to his front wing.
The third round of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship takes place at China’s Shanghai International Circuit next weekend.
|FORMULA 1 2018 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (57 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||57||1:32:01.940|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||57||+ 0.699|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||57||+ 6.512|
|4.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||57||+ 1:02.234|
|5.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||57||+ 1:15.046|
|6.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||57||+ 1:29.024|
|7.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||56||1 lap behind|
|8.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||56||1 lap behind|
|9.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||56||1 lap behind|
|10.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||56||1 lap behind|
|11.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||56||1 lap behind|
|12.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||56||1 lap behind|
|13.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||56||1 lap behind|
|14.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||56||1 lap behind|
|15.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||56||1 lap behind|
|16.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||56||1 lap behind|
|17.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||56||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||35||Wheel|
|DNF.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||3||Differential|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1||Electrical|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||22||1:33.740|
Images via Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda, Scuderia Ferrari