Vettel takes chequered flag in controversial Bahrain Grand Prix
Sunday 22 April 2012
Sebastian Vettel became the fourth different winner of a grand prix this year by taking the chequered flag in Bahrain.
Not since 2006 has F1 witnessed such a start to a campaign, with the reigning world champion claiming his 22nd career victory.
Behind the German, Lotus enjoyed their best race of the season as Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean joined Vettel on the podium.
It was a disastrous race for McLaren, though, with Lewis Hamilton eighth after two pit-stop issues, whilst Jenson Button retired a lap from home.
It was a race, though, many felt should never have taken place, not given the unrest in the Gulf island in the build-up, and the escalation in demonstrations that have occurred this week.
So to have reached the chequered flag will be seen as a triumph of sorts for the ruling al-Khalifa royal family and King Hamad, against whom many of the protests are being staged.
In the end the race itself passed peacefully, despite rumours leading opposition party al-Wefaq had purchased tickets and had planned a protest inside the track.
In front of a half-full main grandstand, and with every other stand empty, polesitter Vettel crushed his rivals after starting at the front for the 31st time in his career.
Alongside him on the grid Hamilton had no answer, and although he managed to hold second in the opening stages, that was soon given up to Grosjean at the start of lap seven.
Hamilton's problems, though, were only just beginning because at his first pit stop after nine laps he suffered the same problem as befell team-mate Button in China last week, a slow stop due to an issue with the left rear.
If that was not bad enough, at his second stop after another 14 laps, a rear jack problem caused another delay, pitching the 27-year-old down to 11th.
Hamilton only managed to claw back three places through the second half of the race, costing him his championship lead, dropping him to second and four points behind Vettel.
Ahead of him the 24-year-old German appeared comfortable en route to his latest success, that was until after the 30-lap mark as he found himself reeled in by Raikkonen.
The Finn, however, could not find a way past over the following laps, and when the two leaders pitted at the same time, it was Raikkonen's fourth and final set of tyres that were not as strong as his third.
Although told over the radio Vettel would suffer from degradation towards the end, it failed to materialise, instead winning by a 3.3secs cushion come the conclusion of the 57 laps, with Grosjean a further 6.8secs adrift.
Remarkably, Vettel's team-mate in Mark Webber finished fourth for the fourth consecutive race, yet despite that only finds himself five points behind in the standings.
Nico Rosberg grabbed fifth, although could lose that as stewards are to investigate two dangerous moves, swerving violently to try and keep Hamilton and Alonso behind him at two different stages.
On a superb two-stop strategy, compared to three for the leaders, Paul di Resta was sixth in a Force India that today received some TV coverage after the blank of yesterday.
Behind Alonso in seventh and Hamilton, Ferrari's Felipe Massa picked up his first points of the season, with Mercedes' Michael Schumacher 10th after starting 22nd.
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