The familiar sight of Sebastian Vettel winning a race made a reappearance following a faultless drive from the reigning world champion in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The German held off the challenge from Lotus to get his title defence back on track with his twenty-second career Grand Prix victory – his first this season – and he now leads the world championship for Red Bull Racing.
The pace of the Lotus was impressive, with both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean able to match the leading Red Bull on lap times.
To finish in second and third is a great result for Lotus. For Raikkonen, this drive to the runner-up spot has silence his critics that he still has the desire to go racing in Formula One.
While Grosjean should be immensely proud by recording a podium result in only his fourth race since making his Formula One comeback.
Mark Webber took fourth for Red Bull Racing, while pit-stop problems consigned front row starter Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren to eighth. Nico Rosberg completed the top five after an eventual race for Mercedes.
It soon became clear that the Lotus duo had stunning race pace. Although Vettel stormed away from initial pursuers Hamilton and Webber, Grosjean and Raikkonen were making quick progress up the order.
Grosjean had moved into fourth at the start, and then picked off Webber and Hamilton on laps four and seven.
While Raikkonen vaulted from P11 to seventh off the line, had a quick wheel-banging battle with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, then got up to third by the time the first pit-stops were done – by virtue of a string of passes and a long first stint.
The Iceman then closed on Grosjean, passing his Lotus team-mate on lap 24, just before their second pit-stops, and started hunting down race leader Vettel.
As they approached the final tyre changes, Raikkonen was on Vettel’s rear wing and was able to take several looks at passing the Red Bull.
The tension eased after the final pit-stops, with Vettel able to rebuild a slight gap over the Lotus and held it to the flag.
Mark Webber finished in an unchallenged fourth position, but there was plenty of action behind the Australian.
Rosberg slipped back to ninth on a scrappy opening lap, before recovering to fifth – although he attracted the stewards’ attention along the way after some aggressive defensive moves against Hamilton and Alonso.
The way Rosberg defended his race position by forcing Hamilton way off the track was over the top and against the sport’s governing body code of leaving a car’s width. As for the incident involving Alonso, yes, he made his one move but it was still quite marginal to edge the Ferrari off the track.
Both incidents were investigated after the race and after a few hours, the stewards decided no action was needed.
Paul di Resta did a great job on a unique two-stop strategy for Force India. At one point, he was leading the Grand Prix. To finish in sixth is a fantastic achievement for himself and the team.
Hamilton’s race went awry in the pits, as a wheel nut issue with his left-rear cost him a lot of time at both his first and second pit-stops. The McLaren driver had to settle for eighth chasing di Resta and Alonso to the flag.
In fact, it was a miserable race for McLaren. As Jenson Button spent much of the race on the fringes of the top six before a late pit-stop with a left-rear puncture, and then a mechanical problem that left his sick-sounding car heading for the garage on the penultimate lap.
Alonso had got up to fifth with an assertive start, but did not have the pace to stay there. Felipe Massa was respectably close to his team-mate’s pace on the way to ninth, while Michael Schumacher was able to come through from P22 on the grid to tenth in the Mercedes.
Two stars of qualifying saw their race hopes rapidly dashed. Daniel Ricciardo tumbled down the order on the opening lap with damage on the Toro Rosso’s nose. He was able to recover to finish in P15 though. While Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen picked up a puncture on lap one but made it to the end in P17.
So despite the political drama off-track dominating the news leading up to the Grand Prix, the racing at the Bahrain International Circuit was trouble free.
Red Bull’s first success of the season, which made Vettel the fourth different winner in four races, puts the champion back on top of the points table too, with 53 to the unhappy Hamilton’s 49. Webber is third with 48, followed by Button and Alonso on 43 apiece, Rosberg on 35 and Raikkonen on 34.
Red Bull also jumped ahead in the constructors’ rankings, with 101 points to McLaren’s 92, while the other big mover was Lotus who jumped up to third with 57 ahead of Ferrari on 45, Mercedes on 37 and Sauber on 31.
Race result at Bahrain, 57 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h35:10.990
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +3.333
3. Grosjean Lotus-Renault +10.194
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +38.788
5. Rosberg Mercedes +55.460
6. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +57.543
7. Alonso Ferrari +57.803
8. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +58.984
9. Massa Ferrari +1:04.999
10. Schumacher Mercedes +1:11.490
11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +1:12.702
12. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes +1:16.539
13. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1:30.334
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +1:33.723
15. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
16. Petrov Caterham-Renault +1 lap
17. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault +1 lap
18. Button McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
19. Glock Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
20. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
22. Senna Williams-Renault +3 laps
Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:36.379
Maldonado Williams-Renault 26 laps
Pic Marussia-Cosworth 25 laps
World Championship standings, round 4:
1. Vettel 53
2. Hamilton 49
3. Webber 48
4. Button 43
5. Alonso 43
6. Rosberg 35
7. Raikkonen 34
8. Grosjean 23
9. Perez 22
10. Di Resta 15
11. Senna 14
12. Kobayashi 9
13. Vergne 4
14. Maldonado 4
15. Hulkenberg 2
16. Schumacher 2
17. Massa 2
18. Ricciardo 2
1. Red Bull-Renault 101
2. McLaren-Mercedes 92
3. Lotus-Renault 57
4. Ferrari 45
5. Mercedes 37
6. Sauber-Ferrari 31
7. Williams-Renault 18
8. Force India-Mercedes 17
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6
Next race: Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona. May 11-13.