Round 2 of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, the Bahrain Grand Prix, saw Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel take his second victory in a row, although the fortunes of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen were rather less pleasing.
The races started with Vettel and Raikkonen having locked out the front row with ehind them, Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull. The third row was all surprises, with the Toro-Rosso Honda of Pierre Gasly a surprise fifth and the Haas Ferrari of Kevin Magnussen sixth. Lewis Hamilton would start in ninth position after a gearbox penalty was applied.
As the lights turned green Vettel got away perfectly to lead the pack. Raikkonen was passed by Bottas, the Ferrari Finn complaining of too much wheelspin, and the pack behind jostled for position throughout.
In the melee, Hamilton and Max Verstappen – the Dutch Red Bull ace starting down the grid after an accident in qualifying – touched, resulting in a puncture for the latter. Red Bull’s woes doubled moments later as Ricciardo pulled off track with what appeared to be an electrical problem, and the Virtual Safety Car was deployed.
The race at the front settled down after the re-start, with Vettel leading Bottas and Raikkonen, while Hamilton made great progress up to fourth. The first of the leaders to pit was Vettel, who took on soft tyres, with Raikkonen following a lap later. Bottas followed a lap later and, to some surprise, switched to the medium tyre.
Hamilton would do the same some six laps later, so clearly Mercedes was planning to take its cars to the end, hoping Ferrari would stop once more.
Drama in the Pits
On lap 36, after a middle-section of the race in which Bottas showed excellent pace behind Vettel, and Hamilton similar behind Raikkonen, Ferrari brought the Finn in for a stop. He was given the green light despite the left rear having not yet come off the car and, unbeknown to the driver, a mechanic was knocked down in the process. Raikkonen was forced to stop in the pit lane and retire. The unfortunate mechanic suffered a broken leg.
In the closing laps it became clear that Vettel was nursing tyres that were well past their best, as Bottas began to reel him in lap after lap. The last few laps were nail biting for the viewers and the teams, and a masterclass in perfect driving and positioning of the car from the German in the Ferrari. Bottas tried his best but, despite closing up to the very rear of Vettel’s car, could not make a pass.
Vettel won the race jubilantly with Bottas just behind, Hamilton a somewhat relieved third, and Gasly in the Toro Rosso a superb fourth after what was a simply faultless drive.
Behind them came a group of cars that had fought hard all race, the order being Magnussen for Haas, Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault, and – all a lap down – Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne for McLaren, plus Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber and Esteban Ocon for Force India.
Vettel now has a maximum score at the head of the points table as the circus moves on to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix next weekend.
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