Bahrain Grand Prix – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has taken victory in Sakhir, after beating the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton & Valtteri Bottas under the spotlights.
The race got underway with just 19 drivers on the grid, due to problems for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who retired with an engine failure before the formation lap even began.
As the lights went out, Vettel outdragged Hamilton into Turn 1 to move up to P2 behind Bottas, while Hamilton settled into P3 ahead of the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen & Daniel Ricciardo. Williams’ Felipe Massa outwitted Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen into Turn 3 to move up to P6 ahead of his former teammate, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg P8 ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean & Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
After five laps, it became clear that Valtteri Bottas was not able to pull away from Vettel as the Ferrari driver used DRS to stay within 0.5 of the Finn. The gaps behind weren’t much bigger either, with Hamilton also staying within DRS of Vettel. Bottas was told to turn his engine up to try breaking away from Vettel, but it didn’t appear like he was able to. The Red Bulls then joined the party, as Verstappen closed up on the rear wing of Hamilton to apply pressure on the Mercedes. Starting Lap 8, Kimi Raikkonen managed to get past Felipe Massa using DRS, moving up to P6 and set about catching back up to the train of cars that made up the leading top five. That same lap saw the first pitstop too, with Lance Stroll pitting to change tyres. He fell down to P19 as a result. Moments later, the second retirement of the race occurred as the Haas of Kevin Magnussen slowed and pulled over with an apparent mechanical issue.
As the race reached double digit laps, it seemed as though Bottas, as leader, was controlling the pace as the top five circulated nose to tail; Bottas handling the pressure brilliantly as he soaked up Vettel’s proximity. However, Ferrari decided to take a gamble and pitted Vettel at the end of Lap 11 and fitted a set of SuperSofts to run an attacking second stint. Vettel came back out in P12 and in relatively clear air, prompting him to try setting some fast laptimes in an attempt to jump ahead of Bottas when the Mercs pitted. Verstappen radioed in to indicate he’d like to do the same, and he pitted on Lap 12 to come out in P11 as Vettel had already moved up to P9 by passing Sergio Perez. Lewis Hamilton, in P2, started closing up on Bottas, before the race fell under yellow flags. Coming back out on track, Verstappen appeared to suffer a brake failure into Turn 3 and went off into the barriers. Obviously frustrated, he kicked the barriers as he walked away. The Safety Car was deployed moments later, due to a collision between Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz & Williams’ Lance Stroll. Both were eliminated immediately.
The Safety Car deployment meant a stacked pitstop for the two Mercedes drivers, with Hamilton having to wait for Bottas to clear the pit box. As a result, that meant Sebastian Vettel took the lead of the race ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo & Lewis Hamilton. While Vettel & Bottas elected for the SuperSoft tyres for their second stints, Daniel Ricciardo in P3 and Hamilton in P4 took on the Soft tyres in an attempt to get to the chequered flag without another stop. As the Safety Car withdrew, Hamilton immediately pounced on Ricciardo to take back P3, while Bottas started applying pressure to Vettel. Ricciardo then fell back down to P6 as Kimi Raikkonen overtook the Red Bull as well. As the race reached Lap 20, the order was Vettel, Bottas, Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Ocon.
Hamilton’s stacked pitstop came back to haunt him shortly after, as he was given a five second time penalty for slowing unnecessarily into the pitlane, hindering Daniel Ricciardo. Running P3, and slowly falling back from Vettel and Bottas, his chances of race victory appeared to be fading as the race approached half distance.
However, starting Lap 27, Bottas appeared to ease off the throttle into Turn 1, allowing Hamilton through into P2 and attempt to chase down Vettel’s 6 second lead. With Vettel definitely needing another stop on the SuperSofts, could Hamilton use the Soft tyres to get to the flag without another stop?
Lap 31, and Bottas pitted from P3 to take on the Soft tyres and he came back out in P7, finally free of the SuperSofts he ran in an unhappy second stint. Two laps later, and Ferrari brought Vettel in for his second stop, handing Hamilton the lead with 24 laps to go. Kimi Raikkonen moved up to P2 and awaiting his second stop, with Vettel & Ricciardo P3 & P4 respectively ahead of the recovering Bottas and Felipe Massa. Vettel immediately caught up on his teammate, with Raikkonen making life easy and allowing Vettel straight through into P2 as the German set the fastest lap and closed to within 14.5 seconds of Hamilton. Bottas moved up to P4 on Lap 37, passing Daniel Ricciardo into Turn 1. This became P3 a lap later, as Raikkonen pitted for the final time, taking on the Soft tyres for his last stint.
On Lap 42, Mercedes gave up on trying to get Hamilton to the end of the race without another stop, bringing him in and putting him onto Soft tyres for the last 15 laps. He also served his five second time penalty; he came back out on track in P3 and 18 seconds behind race leader Vettel. He was nine seconds behind Bottas in P2, and set about chasing down his teammate. Showing stunning pace, Hamilton cut chunks out of Bottas’ lead over him very quickly, swooping past the Finn in the final sector of Lap 48 to move up to P2. With Vettel’s lead over Hamilton just twelve seconds, Hamilton tried to close up on the Ferrari in the closing laps. With five laps to go, the gap was down to 8.5 seconds as traffic started to affect the two leader’s laptimes. A late race retirement from Marcus Ericsson threatened a Safety Car, but the car was cleared without any disruption and battle continued. With two laps remaining, Fernando Alonso broke his McLaren and retired from P12.
Hamilton’s charge seemed to fade away with two laps to go, with the gap remaining over six seconds. Sebastian Vettel crossed the line to take the win and the lead of the driver’s championship, Lewis Hamilton finished P2, with Valtteri Bottas making up the final podium place.
Kimi Raikkonen finished P4 in the second Ferrari, with Daniel Ricciardo P5 in the remaining Red Bull. Felipe Massa finished a great P6 for Williams, ahead of Sergio Perez in the Force India. Romain Grosjean was P8 for Haas, P9 Nico Hulkenberg in his Renault, and the final points position went to Esteban Ocon.