Sebastian Vettel now has a seven-point lead over Hamilton in the championship following his win at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
In a hectic race that came down to the wire, the Ferrari driver narrowly beat a fast finishing Hamilton with Bottas taking third.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen ended in fourth without seriously challenging for a podium spot. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished in fifth in front of Williams’ Felipe Massa. Force India had a strong race with Sergio Perez claiming seventh and Esteban Ocon tenth.
Chaotic Race Favors Vettel
That Vettel prevailed in a tightly contested race speaks volumes for the growth of the Ferrari team and the improvement in their car since last year.
Ferrari’s were characterized by poor and indecisive decision-making over 2016 but there has been none of that this season. In fact, it was their aggressive strategy in Bahrain that delivered Vettel another critical win.
Bottas started from pole and took the early lead but struggled with tyre pressure issues. A small train of cars packed up behind the Mercedes driver and despite Vettel’s superior pace he couldn’t find a way to overtake.
It forced Ferrari into an early pit stop on lap 10 switching Vettel to a second set of super-soft tyres. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen also pitted for the same compound but his race ended on the out-lap with brake failure.
A few laps later a safety car was required after Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz side-swiped Williams driver Lance Stroll in a move that earned the Spaniard a three place drop on the grid in Russia. It triggered a series of pit stops and Mercedes made the call to ‘double stack’ Hamilton behind Bottas. Knowing that there would be a delay, Hamilton slowed down entering the pit lane to prevent the trailing Ricciardo from over-taking during the stop. The stewards gave Hamilton a 5 second penalty in a moment that changed the shape of the race.
After the re-start, Vettel went about gathering a four second lead before Mercedes ordered Bottas to let Hamilton overtake for second place.
Hamilton served his penalty at his final pit stop on lap 41 re-joining 18 seconds behind Vettel with just 15 laps remaining. The Englishman showed his grit and experience to claw back the deficit and, for the second time in the race, Bottas was ordered to let Hamilton through. In the end, Hamilton finished 6.660 seconds behind Vettel – after slowing down on the final few laps – with his penalty being decisive.
Hamilton said during the post-race interview: “The pitlane was my fault and apologies to the team. I tried my hardest to catch up.”
For Vettel, his 44th victory was a sweet result.
“We got everything right with the strategy,” explained Vettel.
“We decided to pit early and these tactics proved to be working. Towards the end, I tried to manage the gap I had over Lewis. I expected him to charge through, of course I was concerned, with all the traffic ahead of me. But it the end it was all OK.”
“The car was like a dream to drive today. I felt right from the beginning that we had the speed to win today.”
Mclaren Fail Again, Force India Gets In The Points
The woes at McLaren continued in Bahrain with MGU-H problems impacting Vandoorne’s practice and stopping Alonso’s qualifying session short.
Their luck didn’t improve on race day with Vandoorne not even being able to make the grid. Alonso did manage a gripping midfield battle but his frustration boiled over when Force India’s Esteban Ocon screamed past on the straight.
Alonso said he had “never raced with less power in my life” and asked his pit engineer: “He was, what, 300 metres behind us on the straight?” In the end, the veteran was forced to retire with just laps remaining.
On the flipside, Force India will enjoy a two-weak break to the next race in Russia having completed a job well-done in Bahrain.
Sergio Perez started the race 18th on the grid to finish in seventh, while team-mate Ocon was unlucky with the timing of the safety car but still took tenth.
“Scoring seven points is a fantastic result and moves us up to fourth place in the championship,” said Deputy Team Principal, Robert Furnely.
“We are racing well, taking our opportunities and scoring important points. It’s a solid start to our season.”