Sebastian Vettel says that the key to his victory in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix was the ability to hit the front in the first few laps.
Despite starting second on the grid, Vettel's opening attempt on the lead was sternly rebuffed by poleman Nico Rosberg, who gave his countryman a taste of his own medicine by squeezing the gap between himself and the pit-wall, and ultimately cost the world champion second place to Fernando Alonso. Undaunted, Vettel despatched the Ferrari at turn five, and took only two more laps to usurp the tyre-limited Rosberg from top spot.
From there, the German was only out of the lead during the first round of pit-stops, where his lead wasn't quite enough to rejoin at the front. At the second and third stops, however, the gap was more comfortable, and Vettel was able to cruise to his second win of 2013.
“We had more pace than we expected today, which I think is related to the way that we worked with the tyres,” the world champion reflected, “We know that the car is quick, we saw that [when] we were able to pull a strong qualifying lap together but, sure, it was crucial [to pass Alonso and Rosberg] because another car in front, especially once you start to settle into a rhythm, is difficult to overtake.
“At the beginning, I thought that, if there was a small chance to get into the lead, I have to take it because then I can take care of the tyres the way I like and, hopefully, divert the race the way that we planned beforehand. If you sit behind someone and get stuck, then you struggle, you lose grip, you start to slide, the tyres start to go off and you might have a different race.
“I think [overtaking] was probably helped a little bit by the fact that there was quite a strong headwind down the main straight, so the advantage for DRS or for overtaking was probably a little bit bigger than usual but, with the pace that we had, I think we could have had a strong race, even not being in the lead immediately. I just preferred it that way.”
Red Bull's decision to run Vettel on the medium compound tyre in qualifying paid off as the German not only qualified on the front row, but also had the more preferable hard compound tyres left for raceday.
“I could feel that I was able to pull away and the medium compound felt pretty strong, but obviously we had three sets of new hards and the car seemed to work very well on those,” he remarked, “Obviously, I realised, in the second stint, that I was able to open a gap, so I thought 'right, I'll take my chance as much as I can to pull away', because you know it can only help at the end of the race, when you don't know what is going to happen. It probably bought us some flexibility but, fortunately, we never got into a pressure situation again.”
Vettel havered when asked whether he expected his task to have been tougher had Alonso not run into problems with a sticking DRS, but recognised Ferrari's general performance so far in 2013.
“I don't know or I can't judge the Ferrari's pace [in Bahrain],” he ventured, “I think, at the last couple of races, they have been very strong, so anything else but a strong performance would have been a surprise to be honest - but how strong, I don't know. I don't know where Felipe [Massa] finished, but we can't really judge Fernando's race with the problem that he had, so it's difficult to say.”