Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel held off a tremendous late charge from Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton to win the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday and take the overall lead in the Formula One title race.
Hamilton was catching the German on every lap but ultimately ran out of time and finished almost seven seconds behind.
“The car was really amazing to drive,” Vettel said. “Lewis was a threat towards the end and, with the traffic, you never know.”
Vettel and Hamilton were level with a win each, but Vettel’s second victory of the season and 44th of his career puts him in command heading into the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi in two weeks’ time.
“We just have to make sure we keep it going. But for now the team has done a really, really great job,” Vettel said. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas finished third after starting from pole position for the first time. It was his 11th podium. “I didn’t have enough pace today and we have to find the reasons why,” the Finnish driver said. “It was a tricky race today. I was oversteering all through the race.”
Bottas made a clean start but Hamilton was beaten for pace by Vettel, who overtook him heading into the first corner. “Sebastian was in my blind spot so I didn’t know where he was,” Hamilton said. Hamilton’s hopes were also hit when the British driver was given a five-second time penalty early into the race for driving too slowly in the pit lane and holding up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who was fifth.
“The pit lane was really my fault so apologies to my team for losing time there,” Hamilton said. “I tried my hardest to catch up. We will push hard, keep fighting. Losing points for the team is painful.”
With Bottas losing power in his rear tyres, Vettel sensed it was the right time to pit for new tyres on lap 11. Max Verstappen asked his team to match that strategy and he came in on the next lap. But moments later, the Dutchman’s brakes failed and he drifted across the track and into the wall, his race over.
The incidents were coming fast, with 18-year-old Lance Stroll hit from the side on lap 13 by Carlos Sainz Jr forcing the safety car to come out.
Both Mercedes drivers used the safety car incident to pit for new tyres, but Hamilton made the mistake of holding up Ricciardo. When the race began in earnest again on lap 17, Hamilton burst straight past Ricciardo into third while Vettel defended the corner twice to fend off Bottas.
With Hamilton gaining fast, Vettel came in for his second tyre change on lap 34 and came out fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton was the new race leader but, with more than 20 laps to go, a time penalty still to take and with Vettel on new tyres, it was a precarious lead. Hamilton came in with 15 laps left and took his time penalty. This put Bottas in second place, but he then backed off to let the quicker Hamilton through to chase Vettel down.