While anti-government protesters battled with police outside the circuit and blocked roads into the Bahraini capital Manama, on the track inside Sebastian Vettel utterly dominated the Bahrain Grand Prix. Indeed, such is the supremacy of the Red Bull driver, who won by nearly 10 seconds from Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean, that interest centred on the good, old-fashioned racing that went on in the leaders' wake.
Of all the encounters on the track none was more intense than that between the McLaren team-mates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who joined the team this year. Their intra-team conflict began right from the start, as they ran eighth and ninth off the startline, with Button fractionally ahead. And they continued to fight over fifth place until the Englishman had to make an unscheduled fourth pit stop on the 46th of the 57 laps, Perez eventually finishing sixth, Button in 10th.
At its zenith, their battle, which saw them swap places on several occasions and make contact more than once, Button told his team to get the Mexican to ease off. That came on the 30th lap when, as Button slipped back ahead, having been overtaken going into the first corner, Perez touched his right rear wheel with the left-hand side of his front wing as they exited turn four.
"Calm him down!" Button yelled into his radio. Two laps later they rubbed wheels, and again on the 33rd, prompting the angry Englishman to accuse his partner when the race was over of being too aggressive.
"I was very vocal on the radio, emotions were running high," Button admitted, "but I would say exactly the same again."
And he did not spare Perez when he added: "The racing was great out there. The only person that wasn't was Checo. He was too aggressive, I would say. At 300 kilometres per hour you don't expect your team-mate to come alongside and bang wheels with you."
McLaren had not seen the like of it since the acrimonious battles between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the late 1980s. "It was a bit of a surprise, and I'm probably not the only one that feels like that," Button said. "That's something you do in karting, and normally you grow out of it." Perez, however, argued that Button had been just as tough with him. "I think I was as aggressive as he was with me," he said. "It was probably too much. We could both have ended our races."
While Perez redeemed himself by seeing off Fernando Alonso with more wheel-to-wheel dicing before snatching sixth from Red Bull's Mark Webber on the final lap, Button had used up his tyres and had to stop for fresh ones before the finish, dropping to 10th.
The McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, jumped to his new driver's defence afterwards. "Before the race we had chivvied Checo up," he said. "He was getting his head down after receiving a lot of criticism for his performances in the opening three races, and wasn't in a good place.
"Jenson certainly wasn't happy after the race; no driver who has been beaten by his team-mate ever is. And if I had been him, I would have asked to get Checo calmed down. But Jenson is a racer and he is also a grown-up.
"He will be able to pull back and reflect on this and move on. He knows he is up against a very young driver who is himself fighting a former world champion with 10 years more F1 experience, in a less than fully competitive car and on tyres that are difficult to understand, so he is under enormous pressure," Whitmarsh added.
"I had plenty of advice from my colleagues to order them to slow down, but we were racing and I didn't want to do that.
"I know that Jenson and Checo will talk about it, and I spoke to Checo too. I told him that he could have given Jenson a puncture and damaged his own wing, and that he had crossed the line because you shouldn't make contact with other drivers, and the golden rule is that you should never collide with your team-mate! What he did was marginal, but Jenson was just as tough on him.
"But, at the same time, I don't want to curb Checo's passion and spark, because that's what got him past Alonso and Webber. And even if he knows that he p***ed off his team-mate, I don't suppose that will keep him awake tonight."
As Vettel won as he pleased, Raikkonen said that second was the best Lotus could have expected on a day when nobody could live with the lead Red Bull. Grosjean was delighted with a return to form that facilitated an exact repeat of last year's podium here.
The Frenchman's result came at the expense of Paul di Resta, who drove a beautiful race for Force India and seemed on course for his first podium finish until Grosjean's late charge carried him by. The Scot thus overshadowed Lewis Hamilton, who was nowhere in the early going as Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg led the first two laps before battling hard in the upper midfield. But as Di Resta faded, Hamilton's car came on strong, and his late spurt saw him fighting Webber wheel-to-wheel until he finally made his move for fifth place on the final lap. Behind him, Perez also passed the Australian having disposed of Alonso, whose day was ruined by an extra pit stop when his Ferrari's DRS rear wing stuck in the open position.
"Surely I did not expect this, I was pretty dominant today," Vettel, the three-time world champion, said chirpily, as well he might. Nobody could touch him once he bullied his way by Alonso on the opening lap, then passed Rosberg for the lead on the third.
"I realised from the second stint that I was able to open a gap and fortunately we never fell into a pressure situation again," he said. "But it was a close-run race and fortunately we were able to manage the tyres. Certainly we had more pace than we expected today, which is related to the way that we use the tyres." Words to strike fear into rivals who simply floundered in his wake under the Bahrain sun.
FIA Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain
Final Positions after Race:
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 36mins 00.498secs,
2 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:36:09.609
3 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 1:36:20.005
4 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:36:22.225
5 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes GP 1:36:35.728
6 S Perez (Mex) McLaren 1:36:36.496
7 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:36:37.742
8 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:36:38.072
9 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:36:41.624
10 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:36:47.129
11 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:37:06.948,
12 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 1:37:13.431,
13 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:37:17.217,
14 V Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:37:22.009,
15 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:37:26.862,
16 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap,
17 C Pic (Fr) Caterham at 1 Lap,
18 E Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap,
19 J Bianchi (Fr) Marussia at 1 Lap,
20 M Chilton (GB) Marussia at 1 Lap,
21 G van der Garde (Neth) Caterham at 1 Lap
Not Classified: 22 J Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 16 Laps completed .
Leading World Championship Standings
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 77pts
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 67
3 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes GP 50
4 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 47
5 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 32
6 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 30
7 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 26,
8 P di Resta (GB) Force India 20,
9 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 14,
10 J Button (GB) McLaren 13,
11 S Perez (Mex) McLaren 10,
12 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 6,
13 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 6,
14 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 5,
15 J Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1,
16 V Bottas (Fin) Williams 0,
17 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 0,
18 E Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 0,
19 J Bianchi (Fr) Marussia 0,
20 C Pic (Fr) Caterham 0,
21 G van der Garde (Neth) Caterham 0,
22 M Chilton (GB) Marussia 0.
1 Red Bull 109pts,
2 Lotus F1 Team 93,
3 Ferrari 77,
4 Mercedes GP 64,
5 Force India 26,
6 McLaren 23,
7 Scuderia Toro Rosso 7,
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5,
9 Williams 0,
10 Marussia 0,
11 Caterham 0.
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