A battling performance by Shanghai star Sebastian Vettel earned Red Bull Racing a hard-earned second place in the Bahrain Grand Prix, but his team nonetheless admitted to a touch of 'disappointment' at not having been able to repeat its Chinese glory in the desert kingdom.
After qualifying third, Vettel was confident of being able to overhaul the two front row-sitting Toyotas on race day by dint of carrying rather more fuel than Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock – but that was to count without the Brawn GP of Formula 1 World Championship leader Jenson Button and, more significantly still, the McLaren-Mercedes of defending title-holder Lewis Hamilton.
A solid getaway at the lights was eclipsed by the KERS-aided start of Hamilton, and with one Briton on his inside into turn one, the other one took advantage to go around the outside, leaving Vettel with nowhere to go and having to cede position to both through the opening corner. From there the young German found his ambitions frustrated over the first 15 laps until the McLaren pitted, but he got past by waiting a further four laps before he made his own pit visit.
After shadowing Trulli throughout the middle stint of the race – with Hamilton never far from his mirrors – the 21-year-old would leapfrog the Italian too during the second round of stops, but by then Button was all-but home and dry, and though he would slowly chip away at the leader's advantage until the chequered flag, barring any overheating problems for the Brawn, the end result was never really any longer in doubt. Nonetheless, the runner-up spoils – after fending off Trulli to the close – have maintained Vettel's stellar start to the 2009 campaign and lifted him to within a single point of Rubens Barrichello for second place in the drivers' standings.
“Very good,” summarised the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner. “A good result and good points, but it was a difficult race. The start was okay, but then suddenly Lewis was next to me – he must have pressed his special button and got an advantage. At the first corner we were three-deep – me in the middle and Jenson on the outside – so I had to give way and lost two positions.
“Unfortunately I then got stuck behind Lewis, which caused degradation to the tyres – you start to slide and never really come back from that. It's hard-braking here, so you need the tyres and rear stability. In the second stint I was just behind Jarno, which was a shame as I was on soft tyres and could have gone a bit quicker.
“In the third stint, it was the other way round and I had to defend against Jarno who was then on the soft tyres. He was very close in my mirrors, but I didn't make any mistakes and we came second! A massive thanks to all the guys for this great result.”
Team-mate Mark Webber, for his part, staged a brave recovery from his back-of-the-grid starting position, battling his way gamely up the order and pulling off an impressive move on Ferrari's Felipe Massa, but ultimately losing too much time behind the KERS-equipped Renault of Nelsinho Piquet en route
to eleventh spot at the finish, still behind his arch-nemesis Piquet and 17 seconds shy of the last of the points-scoring positions.
“My start was okay,” the Australian mused. “We had a reasonable first few laps, but then I got stuck behind Piquet. It's very difficult to overtake a car with KERS – he was too quick on the straights and that really wrecked the first stint for me. We then converted to a two-stop strategy, but the grip was quite low on the prime tyres, although it was the same for everyone.