Sebastian Vettel took a dramatic victory in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix as Ferrari made a bold one-stop strategy work to fend off charging Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages.

Vettel managed to go 39 laps on a set of Soft tyres to continue his perfect start to the 2018 season, keeping Bottas - who had more durable Mediums for the second stint - back as they fought closely through the final few laps, ultimately being separated by just 0.7 seconds at the line. The result sees Ferrari make its best start to a season since 2004.

The start saw Vettel make a clean getaway to retain his lead into the first corner, albeit being tailed by Bottas after he managed to sweep around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1. Further back, Lewis Hamilton found himself losing ground on the Soft compound tyre, with Fernando Alonso making a pass for P9 on the opening lap

Hamilton lost another place on Lap 2 when Max Verstappen barged past at the end of the main straight, with the pair making contact. This left Verstappen with a puncture, forcing him to limp back to the pit lane, with the Dutchman retiring a couple of laps later.

Red Bull's race went from bad to worse just moments later when Daniel Ricciardo was forced to park his car up at the side of the track due to an issue. A Virtual Safety Car was called so the Red Bull could be recovered, cooling things down after a heated start.

Tempers began to flare when the race returned to green on Lap 4 as Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen went side-by-side while fighting for fourth position. The pair touched, with Gasly managing to retain position.

In the battle for sixth, Hamilton pulled off a stunning move on the main straight as he went four-wide with Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, working his way past all three of them into Turn 1. The Briton soon set his sights on Magnussen ahead, making the pass one lap later, with Gasly falling into his clutches the lap after that, putting up not much of a fight to keep the defending world champion back.

As Vettel kept his two-second buffer stable to Bottas in second as they approached the first round of pit stops, the midfield battle went to the pit lane as Magnussen tried to get the undercut on Gasly in the race for P5. Traffic stifled the Haas driver's charge, allowing Gasly to retain the position when he pitted two laps later. Hulkenberg and Alonso also diced for position through the traffic, with the Renault driver holding on to net-seventh.

Vettel was the first of the leaders to pit, diving in for a fresh set of Soft tyres at the end of Lap 18. The German was dropped into clean air, giving him the chance to immediately push and put pressure on Mercedes, who dummied for a pit stop on the same lap before keeping Bottas and Hamilton out. Ferrari brought Raikkonen in one lap later, also for Softs, leaving the Silver Arrows first and second.

Bottas was drafted into the pit lane at the end of Lap 20, releasing Hamilton into the lead, and moved onto a set of Medium tyres that would take him to the end of the race. With Ferrari appearing to need to pit both Vettel and Raikkonen again, Mercedes was looking to recover its pace deficit by outplaying its rival on strategy.

Vettel put his fresh tyres to good use, allowing him to quickly close up on the back of Hamilton for the lead before making his move into Turn 1 on Lap 26, albeit with Bottas now just five seconds behind. Hamilton was brought into the pits for his one and only pit stop at the end of the lap, also switching to mediums that would take him to the chequered flag.

Both Bottas and Hamilton not only managed to match the Ferraris for pace on their Mediums, but also were going marginally quicker. Bottas was able to slowly whittle away the gap to Vettel, while Hamilton also made inroads that meant if the leader were to pit, he would be sitting ahead on-track.

Ferrari drafted Raikkonen into the pits at the end of Lap 35 to put him onto a set of Supersofts, hoping their added performance would give him the chance to jump Hamilton. However, the Finn's hopes came to a calamitous end when he pulled away too early from his pit box, hitting one of his mechanics on the left-rear tyre. As the team tended to the fallen crew member, Raikkonen brought his car to a stop before clambering out, ending his race on a sour note.

Vettel was now left alone to fight at the front of the pack against both Mercedes drivers, but began to up his pace to extend the gap out to Bottas. He was unable to pit for a while as the team tended to the mechanic on the left rear tyre. Ferrari confirmed that the crew member had been taken to hospital for treatment.

Despite appearing to be in the pound seats, concern was sparked on the Mercedes pit wall as Vettel continued to circulate with his pace staying steady, leading the team to ask both Bottas and Hamilton up their pace to try and put more pressure on.

With Ferrari seemingly committed to keeping Vettel out until the end, Bottas began to close the gap with 10 laps to go as the pair both duked their way through traffic. Hamilton, meanwhile, complained that he wasn't getting enough of a picture from his pit wall about how the race was playing out, running 17 seconds back from the leader.

Bottas upped the wick further as Vettel's tyres continued to degrade, moving to within just two seconds of the leader with four laps to go, finding chunks of time lap after lap through the first sector.

The one-second gap was breached by Bottas with two laps to go, allowing him to utilise DRS to close up on the back of Vettel. A mistake at Turn 1 allowed Bottas to further close, setting the stage for a grandstand finish.

Bottas first angled for a pass for the lead at Turn 1 on the final lap, only for Vettel to cut him off and just retain his advantage. The Finn tried tailing through the middle sectors, but was unable to get another chance to pass.

The gap at the flag was 0.699 seconds, but enough for Vettel to capture his second straight victory and extend his lead at the top of the drivers' championship after completing a mammoth 39 laps on the Soft tyres. A late charge from Hamilton wasn't enough to bring him into the battle for victory as he finished six seconds back from Vettel in third place.

Pierre Gasly crossed the line an excellent fourth for Toro Rosso to capture the team's best result since last year's Singapore Grand Prix, matching the second-best finish in its history. P4 was also the best result for a Honda-powered car since the 2008 British Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello finished third.

Kevin Magnussen bounced back from his disappointment in Australia to finish fifth for Haas ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg. Fernando Alonso was able to complete a decent charge through the field to finish seventh after a long middle stint on the Mediums, having started 13th. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne took P8, giving McLaren a double-points finish for the second race in a row.

Sauber claimed its first points for almost one year after an excellent strategic play by its pit wall, one-stopping Marcus Ericsson to lift him into the top 10. The Swede fought superbly to take ninth place for Sauber, finishing six seconds clear of Esteban Ocon, who took the final point for P10 for Force India.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished 11th for Renault after suffering on his Soft tyres, having completed 40 laps on the set he crossed the line on. Sergio Perez and Brendon Hartley spent much of the race scrapping, having also made contact at the first corner. Hartley received a penalty for the clash, but fought back to finish just 0.027 seconds behind Perez in P12.

Charles Leclerc finished 14th in the second Sauber ahead of Romain Grosjean and Lance Stroll, while Sergey Sirotkin took P17 as the last classified finisher.

 

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