22 April 2012
Vettel hangs on to deny Raikkonen victory
Sebastian Vettel led for almost the entire race at Bahrain, but storming Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean made sure it was never comfortable for him at the front.
If Sebastian Vettel's pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix had been unexpected, then his win on Sunday was even more dramatic. But his thunder was very nearly stolen by the Lotus F1 duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, with the Finn coming within inches of pulling off a major upset in the middle of the race.
But to get to the end, there had to be a start. Once the lights went out and the race got underway, all the distractions and controversies that had been swirling around the Bahrain Grand Prix melted away, leaving the attention fixed firmly to the action on the track rather than outside it.
What we got with the race was a neat summary of the start of the 2012 season as a whole: a wildly unpredictable affair with front runners that no one saw coming, and fierce battles up and down the running order throughout as car performances varied almost lap-to-lap. Drivers that were flying one minute would suddenly look sluggish the next as tyre wear or the difference in tyre compounds took effect, making it virtually impossible to tell at any given time who had the upper hand.
What did emerge is that Sebastian Vettel was looking back to something like his old self, but still far from his 2011 dominance; McLaren have some serious issues with set-up and pit stops; Mercedes and Ferrari look some way off repeating their early season Grand Prix wins any time soon; and then there's the small matter of both Lotus F1 drivers now looking in stunning form.
Vettel got a decent if hardly flying start, while Lewis Hamilton overcame the dirty side of the grid to slot into second ahead of Mark Webber. But Jenson Button had a tough time of it, crowded out from the outside by Webber and then squeezed on the inside line by an opportunistic dive from Nico Rosberg. That dumped Button down to sixth place, although it didn't benefit Rosberg who had to back out of the hairpin and then found himself forced wide onto the dirt by an uncompromising Kimi Raikkonen, dumping the Mercedes down to ninth place by the time the first laps were done.
Raikkonen's Lotus F1 team mate Romain Grosjean had the benefit of a seventh place starting position and put that to great use to dive through for fourth position at the start, although as good as that start was it still took him everything he had to stay ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari who slotted into fifth place ahead of Button. There were battles right through the field, with the early big losers being Heikki Kovalainen who was forced to pit straight away for a puncture, and Daniel Ricciardo who fell out of his mighty sixth place on the grid with front wing damage that had to be attended to in an early first pit stop at the end of lap 8 after the Toro Rosso had fallen to 19th place.
Once the eventful start was taken care of, Vettel emerged not only in the lead, but with a 2.2s lead by the end of the first lap. It painted a picture of a resurgent and utterly dominant Red Bull, but that impression was to prove somewhat deceptive and as much as result of the lack of pace of the cars immediately behind him in the opening laps as it was the speed of the winner. The early warning for Vettel came when his team mate Mark Webber lost third place to Romain Grosjean on lap 4 who applied a touch of DRS into turn 1.
Lewis Hamilton's McLaren was simply not looking good: he was holding back the rest of the field, and it was actually rather a relief when Romain Grosjean cruised into DRS range and finally dispatched him at the start of lap 8. Behind them, Raikkonen was restaging the Lotus/McLaren battle and shortly afterwards similarly pushed past Jenson Button, who by now was complaining of massive understeer and rapidly failing rear tyres.
Unsurprisingly in the circumstances, Button was quickly into the pit lane for new tyres and soon everyone was similarly ducking in for a service. It was incident-free for most of the drivers, but a mini-disaster for Lewis Hamilton whose stop stretched agonisingly long as the pit crew grappled with a problem on the left-rear wheel nut which ended up putting Hamilton back out onto the track in 12th position right into a fierce battle being waged between Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa.
Red Bull Racing
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