22 April 2012
Vettel hangs on to deny Raikkonen victory
It looked like a touch of red mist on Hamilton's part when he refused to surrender any more time and positions as a result of the bungled pit stop and kept his foot down even when driven off into the dirt by Rosberg. But as the race progressed and Rosberg managed to repeat his unyielding line and ended up under a post-race stewards' investigation for not just this first incident but also for a similar one with an incandescent Fernando Alonso, the feeling was that it was Rosberg who was letting his maiden Grand Prix victory last week in Shanghai somewhat go to his head and compromise his better sense of racing etiquette.
Vettel finally came in for his own first pit stop at the end of lap 12, but three drivers - Force India's Paul di Resta, Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Marussia Racing's Charles Pic - were pushing even longer in the hope of achieving a two-stop strategy. Vettel's meant that di Resta briefly led the Grand Prix (making his appearance on the television world feed unavoidable, despite any conspiracy theories!) before Vettel quickly took the place back on his fresh tyres.
Di Resta hung on for a few laps more despite the old tyres until Grosjean breezed past him as well, at which point he surrendered and came in to pit lane. That meant the leaders were once again Vettel, Grosjean and Webber in third, but on lap 14 Kimi Raikkonen cruised past the Australian with ease and set about closing on his team mate in second place. Moreover, both of them were starting to cut into Vettel's lead now that the likes of the slower McLarens, Red Bulls and Ferraris were firmly out of the way.
By lap 22, the two Lotus cars were running line astern and Kimi clearly felt that he had the faster car and should be allowed past Romain. In the end, no team orders came from the pit wall and Raikkonen had to do it the old fashioned way, deploying DRS and sailing past Grosjean into turn 1 a couple of laps later, albeit only just in time for the next round of pit stops.
This left Vettel on the softer compound tyres and Raikkonen on the hard, but the situation suited the Finn and he was soon tearing into Vettel's lead. By lap 33 he was entering into DRS range and the threat was clear to the Red Bull pit wall who were advising their man of the various tools at his disposal to boost his speed down the start/finish straight. Raikkonen's best chance came at the sart of lap 36 but a slight jink from Vettel just broke his momentum at a critical moment and Vettel kept the lead, and after that the reigning world champion was able to keep Raikkonen just far enough back to thwart his hopes for a rematch.
Vettel and Raikkonen came in together for their pit stops at the end of lap 39, both men opting for the hard compound in order to be able to be sure of making it to the end of the race without needing any further tyre changes. Raikkonen's stop was slower, and the new tyres initially suited Vettel better even though Lotus were assuring their man that the Red Bull was harder on its tyres and degradation would play into their hands later on.
That was true to a degree, but not enough to allow Raikkonen to come back as strongly on the leader as he had done in the previous stint. Although he closed to within 2s of the back of the Red Bull, Raikkonen couldn't quite seal the deal and remained outside the DRS activation zone until the end of the race. As the chequered flag came out, Vettel had it by a margin of 3.3s over the Finn. It had taken everything that the Red Bull had, as was demonstrated by the car immediately crawling to a halt just metres past the finish line and parking at the end of the pit lane exit.
Despite the disappointment of losing out on a victory, it was nonetheless an impressive display from Lotus - especially with Grosjean easily maintaining his third place by almost half a minute over Mark Webber by the end. Questions will doubtless be asked over whether Lotus's hesitation to instruct Grosjean to let Raikkonen past during the critical second stint affected the chance of victory, but it's just as well that the race result wasn't decided under the inevitable cloud that team orders invariably produce.
Sebastian Vettel was of course jubilant with returning to winning ways, although he'll be aware that this was no runaway victory. The fact that in four races we've had four different winners from four different teams merely underlines how tight and unpredictable it is at the top, and while Vettel won through this time there is no assurance that the situation will be repeated next time out in Spain.
Just ask Nico Rosberg, who went from being the hero of Shanghai to the villain of Bahrain (for many, at least - just ask Hamilton and Alonso.) In the end he won a prolonged DRS battle with Paul di Resta for fifth place, which was a decent showing all things considered but still almost a minute off the race leader at the end of 57 laps. Like Vettel before him, Rosberg barely managed to cross the finish line before parking up at the end of the pit lane, while his team mate Michael Schumacher recovered from his poor qualifying and grid penalty for a gearbox change to finish five spots back in tenth place.
Tagged as: Mclaren , Sebastian Vettel , Mark Webber , Lewis Hamilton , Jenson Button , Romain Grosjean , Red Bull Racing , Fernando Alonso , Nico Rosberg , Kimi Raikkonen , Bahrain
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