Vettel recaptures winning ways as Iceman melts in the sun
Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel has rekindled his 2011 form to take a commanding victory in Bahrain.
The German surprised many with Red Bull Racing’s new-found qualifying pace on Saturday by landing his car on pole – and subsequently led off the line and never looked back come race day.
Vettel contended with born-again Kimi Raikkonen for much of the afternoon, the Finn taking advantage of a plethora of fresh tyres after failing to make it through to Q3 the day before.
‘I think it was an incredible race,’ said the World Champion. ‘Extremely tough.’
‘We had a very good start, which was crucial. I was able to pull away from the pack, which turned out to be a big advantage.
‘A difficult race, but the strategy seemed to work.’
Vettel also paid tribute to the work of his Red Bull team over the past four rounds to develop his RBR8 after an inconsistent start to the season.
‘I can only say a big thank you to the whole team. An incredible job they’ve done over the four races,’ he said.
‘They spent a lot of hours in the garage, trying to get the car to our liking – and I think we got it this weekend.
‘All in all, extremely happy and very proud of the team.’
Vettel now finds himself at the head of the Championship table, the fourth leader in as many races.
Raikkonen found himself within a second of the race leader after half distance, his Lotus team seemingly in the box seat and set to pressure for the lead.
Red Bull pulled the trigger for the final pit stops first, however, forcing Raikkonen to pit two or three laps early than expected and confining him to the podium’s second step.
Raikkonen evidently felt that Bahrain was a missed opportunity.
‘I think we gave ourselves a chance at least,’ the typically monotonous Finn noted. ‘It’s a bit disappointing we didn’t manage to do it.’
‘It’s disappointing to finish second, but after last race we had to take and be happy.
‘At least we got the podium with both cars.’
Come the end of the race, it was evident that Vettel pushed his car to the limit defending against Raikkonen, his engineer requesting him to park his car at the end of the pit lane without completing a warm-down lap in order to save fuel.
Lotus will leave Bahrain happy with the race’s result, however, with Romain Grosjean finishing behind his teammate in third place after a weekend that finally saw the team reap points worthy of its pace.
Grosjean, who scored his first points in Formula One last weekend in China, was thrilled to appear on the podium this week.
‘For sure, it’s great,’ said the Frenchman through a grin. ‘I think we can be very happy with what we did.’
Grosjean did admit, however, that the pace of his Lotus was unexpectedly competitive.
‘We knew we had a good car, but we were surprised at the beginning how quick we were,’ he explained.
‘I think our car is very competitive in what is so far a very tight season.
‘I’m very, very happy to be on my first podium. Next step is a victory.’
Mark Webber brought home the second Red Bull in his now traditional finishing position of P4.
Despite a confident start that saw him lose no positions off the line, he was soon picked off by Grosjean in the faster Lotus E20.
Nico Rosberg maintained his qualifying position to come home in P5. His race was marred, however, by incidents with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in which he appeared to push each of them off the track as they squabbled for position.
Alonso, in particular, was livid over hsi team radio after he found himself racing on sand against the German. Both incidents were to be investigated after the race.
Paul di Resta finished in sixth, bouncing back from Force India’s disappointing showing last round. The team’s choice to conserve tyres and not set a lap in Q3 paid off, the Scotsman moving up four positions over the course of the race.
Fernando Alonso once again proved that his pre-race predictions are the most accurate in the paddock.
The Spaniard finished seventh, after predicting that the best Ferrari could hope for in the race would be sixth or seventh.
Both Scuderia cars finished in the points for the first time this season in a race for which Ferrari declared itself in damage control.
Felipe Massa, Alonso’s perennially-underperforming teammate, come home in a surprisingly spritely P9, scoring his first points of the year.
While the gap between Massa and Alonso was only seven seconds, it was enough for Lewis Hamilton to fit into, the Briton being the sole finisher for McLaren after Jenson Button retired with engine troubles on lap 54.
Leiws Hamilton looked set to challenge for podium places, but each of his three pit stops were hampered by wheel gun issues, his left-rear wheel nut being cross-threaded each time.
It was the second week in a row that McLaren’s pit stops have resulted in the team losing points, with Jenson Button suffering a similar problem in China that caused him to lose his shot a victory.
In P10, Michael Schumacher took home the final point in Bahrain after starting from 22nd on the grid.
Schumacher qualified in 18th after a rear wing issue hampered his running in Q1, and then suffered a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.
The seven-times World Champion charged through the field, making up five positions in the first two laps, and will be pleased to come away with his solitary point.
Formula One returns to Europe for round five of the 2012 season with the Gran Premio de Espana in Barcelona on May 13.