Felipe Massa desperately needed a win here and all weekend he looked like a man determined to get it. When the red lights went out at the start, he set off from the front row of the grid, and that was pretty much all anyone else saw of him as he dominated for Ferrari and earned his redemption in style.
In his wake, he left Lewis Hamilton trailing.
It all went wrong for the championship leader at the start, when his McLaren stuttered on the grid. As Massa led the polesitter Robert Kubica into the first corner, Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, fifth on the grid right behind him, was only just able to avoid his car. The Englishman was only ninth at the end of the opening lap, trailing Massa, Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. Going into the second lap he was pushing his former team-mate hard when he suddenly rode up over the right rear wheel of the Spaniard's Renault, losing his car's front wing in the process.
"At the start the anti-stall kicked in," said Hamilton. "I hadn't hit the switch early enough and therefore we were not in the launch map and went straight into anti-stall, and when everyone else was in their launch mode, I wasn't."
Asked whether he thought Alonso had brake tested him, he replied: "I have no idea. I was behind him and it was very, very close and it looked like I could overtake. I went to the right and he went to the right. I couldn't help but go up the back of him, but that's racing. I'm always the first to blame myself, and to be honest that's the right way to go."
He was obliged to stop in the pits at the end of the lap to have a new nose and front wing fitted, as well as to have a fresh set of tyres mounted and be topped up fully with fuel to avoid the need for an extra stop. That dropped him to 18th place, and thereafter he was trapped in a bruising cycle of having to run with a fuel-heavy car in traffic. Adding to his despair, the aerodynamic deflectors at the front of the car had been damaged, and the resultant understeer further degraded his performance as it hurt his front tyres. His fastest lap of 1m 35.520s, compared to team-mate Kovalainen's overall fastest of 1m 33.193s, left him 13th by the finish and told its own story. This was truly a race to forget for Britain's great hope, who left early without even speaking to his father Anthony.
Before he left, however, he took the disappointment on the chin.
"It was a disaster," he confessed. "It was as good as you saw it. A very poor performance and I sort of let the team down today. I'm as disappointed as you could be, I guess. As a professional, when you start off badly you need to pick things up and still deliver, and I did none of that for the team."
While Hamilton struggled, Massa made the most of his car to open up a lead over Kubica. The Pole believed he had picked up a puncture on debris, but it later transpired that it was oil between the fourth and 11th corners, which his team had not informed him of.
"I had some problems with wheelspin on the formation lap, and again at the start," he said. "Then the car felt like a tyre was going down. Without that I think I could have kept Kimi behind me." Instead, however, the Finn drew up alongside the BMW-Sauber on the outside going into Turn One on the third lap, and squeezed ahead in a nice move. Thereafter, Ferrari owned the race as Massa and Raikkonen swapped fastest laps and increased their advantage. Kubica came back at Raikkonen towards the end, as his own team-mate, Nick Heidfeld, applied pressure, too. But the truth was nobody got close enough to worry Ferrari as Massa controlled the race from the front.
"It was really difficult in the beginning, when there was lots of oil on the track," he said, "but after that the car was very, very good and I didn't need to push completely because I saw the gap increasing. When Kimi was behind, I managed to keep that gap."
The win relieved the pressure that has been building on the charismatic little Brazilian, who won last year's race too. "For sure these have not been very easy weeks," he said sheepishly, having made mistakes in both opening races and been savaged by the Italian media, "but that's life. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I knew we were quick, so I didn't want to make any mistakes, just to bring the car home and control the pace, keeping in mind what happened in the last races. I love this circuit, we are always very strong here..."
Raikkonen was never quite on it this weekend, having failed to find his Ferrari's sweet spot. But taking over the lead of the World Championship was adequate compensation. "The whole weekend has been pretty difficult because we couldn't get the car quite right," he admitted, "but if it's a bad weekend and you still finish second, I don't mind. The championship is the main thing, and we know we have the speed."
The Finn leads the drivers' championship with 19 points, ahead of Heidfeld on 16, Hamilton, Kubica and Kovalainen on 14, and Massa on 10. In the constructors' chase, BMW Sauber lead with 30, ahead of Ferrari on 29 and McLaren on 28.
"I don't think it is a huge concern for me," Hamilton said after dropping to third. "We know we have got the pace and will be quite a bit quicker than we have been this weekend at the next race, so the confidence is still there. It's inevitable that this was going to happen eventually after the run I've had, it's all part of it, but don't count me out just yet. I'll keep my chin up and bounce back for the next race."
Bahrain Grand Prix details
1 Felipe Massa (Br) Ferrari 1hr 31min 06.970sec
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:31:10.270
3 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW-Sauber 1:31:11.870
4 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber 1:31:15.370
5 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:31:33.670
6 Jarno Trulli (It) Toyota 1:31:48.270
7 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:31:52.370
8 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:32:02.770
9 Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:32:16.470
10 Fernando Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:32:24.070
11 Rubens Barrichello (Br) Honda 1:32:24.770; 12 Giancarlo Fisichella (It) Force India +1 lap; 13 Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren +1 lap; 14 Kazuki Nakajima (Japan) Williams +1 lap; 15 Sebastien Bourdais (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso +1 lap; 16 Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri at 1 Lap; 17 Takuma Sato (Japan) Super Aguri at 1 Lap; 18 David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull at 1 Lap; 19 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India +2 laps. Not Classified: 20 Nelson Piquet Jr (Br) Renault 40 Laps completed, 21 Jenson Button (GB) Honda 19 Laps completed, 22 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso 0 Laps completedReuse content