The Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Vettel Storms the Desert!

Defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel had a Bull run in Bahrain even as the Lotuses bloomed in the desert.

(Race 4: April 19, 20, 21, 2013)

Vettel, Red Bull drove a faultless race to win the Bahrain GP.

Vettel, Red Bull drove a faultless race to win the Bahrain GP.

Qualifying

Qualifying for the Grand Prix was a lot more relaxed for the teams with Pirelli having announced the use of their two relatively long-lasting compounds for the race – the medium tyres and the hard. Initial speculation was that the Red Bull Racing team would run away with the pole position and the second but there was always the 3-place grid penalty incurred by Mark Webber in the last GP to consider.

Qualifying went to form with all the top drivers and teams expected making the grade to Q3 with the exception of Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Sergio Perez, McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso and Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber.

While the Vettel expectedly put in a dominant run with a blistering 1:32:584s, what caught everyone by surprise was Nico Rosberg’s equally blazing time of 1:32:330s to take pole position. His team-mate, Hamilton claimed P4 with an impressive 1:32:762s only to be pipped by Fernando Alonso with 1:32:667 at P3.

The Lotuses meanwhile, had a torrid time with first Grosjean dropping out of Q3 to be placed finally at P11 and Kimi Raikkonen dropping down alarmingly to P9 with hardly any qualifying pace to match the front-runners.

The final line-up for the race was: 1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 3. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)* 5. Mark Webber* (Red Bull) 6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 7. Paul Di Resta (Force India) 8. Adrian Sutil (Force India) 9. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 10. Jensen Button (McLaren).

* Hamilton received a 5-place grid penalty for a gear box change and Webber was already under a 3-grid penalty for the accident he caused with Jean-Eric Vergne in Shanghai.

Race Laps 1 – 15

Nico Rosberg got off to a reasonable start but immediately was being put under the twin pressure of Vettel’s RBR9 and Alonso’s Ferrari F138. Characteristic of the men, it was an explosive start by the two championship rivals. Very soon, they had started to swarm around behind the leader. Rosberg defended gamely to stay ahead but the Bull and the Ferrari had far too much pace and grip. First Alonso came through from the outside to squeeze Vettel into P3 and move just behind the Mercedes. However, Vettel got better traction out of turn 4 and made a clean pass past Alonso. It was a fantastic piece of racing!

At the back of the grid, Felipe Massa made contact with Adrian Sutil of Force India and immediately damaged his front left wing. Sutil suffered a puncture and from then on, it was downhill for both the drivers – and it was only Lap 1! Massa lost one grid position and was down to P5 with Di Resta getting ahead. At this stage it seemed like yet another edge-of-the-seat thriller of an F1 race.

At the start of Lap 2, Rosberg was a mere 2/10th of a second ahead of the German champion and even though there was no DRS as yet, Vettel moved to the inside and tried a pass. Rosberg somehow held him off. The dogfight continued into turn 4 and both drivers were now racing wheel to wheel. Alonso too was awaiting his opportunity but stayed a couple of car lengths behind to avoid a repeat of Sepang where he managed to smash his front wing.

It was in Lap 3 that Vettel finally swept into the lead zipping past Rosberg to claim the lead. This was the signal that Alonso was waiting for to make his move. Just at the top of Lap 4 that Alonso made full use of his KERS and went past the Rosberg, but the German driver snatched the position right back at the second turn. Having the benefit of clean air in front, Vettel now set the fastest lap time of 1:41:960s.

Meanwhile at the middle of the racing order, Jensen Button, McLaren-Mercedes (P7) and team-mate Sergio Perez (P8) were doing a great job defending their places against the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Gosjean.

As the cars commenced Lap 5, Alonso used the DRS to full effect on the straight and rocketed away from Rosberg to snatch P2. More misery was to follow when Di Resta who was running a steady P4, squeezed his way past at the apex to move up one place. In a few short bursts of action, Rosberg was now trailing at P4. His medium compound tyres were now wearing alarmingly and the performance degradation was to the tune of around 2.5 seconds a lap. As if on cue, with his front wing flapping in the wind, it was now the turn of Massa to start harassing Rosberg.

Alonso's DRS wing stayed open forcing him to pit.

Alonso’s DRS wing stayed open forcing him to make an unscheduled pit-stop.

Up ahead, disaster struck for the other Ferrari when Alonso’s DRS wing got stuck in the open position due to a glitch in the automatic system. This forced the Spaniard to make an unscheduled pit-stop in Lap 8. The pit crew engineers did a great job by slapping back the errant wing into place and fitting on a new set of hard tyres but Alonso rejoined the race way back at P16 thereby practically wrecking his race and a prospective podium finish. He had also lost use of the DRS wing because he could not further risk using it in the race – a major handicap for a driver trying to work his up from the fag-end of the grid.

Lap 8 also saw the start of the Button-Perez drama with the latter playing the aggressor and the more experienced driver shutting him out. However, matters could have got embarrassing on more than one occasion with the Mexican driver sniping at Button’s rear wing and tyres.

At the start of Lap 10, Rosberg finally limped back in for his first pit-stop as did Button who decided to take a break from the dogfight he was involved in with Sergio Perez. Raikkonen and Perez, meanwhile, continued to stay on track and moved up into the slots vacated by the two. Fitted with sets of hard compound tyres Rosberg and Button rejoined the race at P12 and P13 respectively.

The start of Lap 11 saw Vettel make his first pit-stop along with McLaren’s Perez and Ferrari’s Massa. While Vettel rejoined at P5, Massa came out just behind Jensen Button. At this point in the race, Di Resta was in the lead for the first time in his F1 career followed by Raikkonen and joined by the ever-enterprising Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber. Like Raikkonen, Hulkenberg too seemed to be working on a two stop strategy and was making his tyres work longer.

Lap 13 saw Valtterri Bottas, Williams and Hulkenberg make a tyre stop and vacating two positions in the top 6 and allowing Sebastian Vettel to get into P3.

Meanwhile, the battle for P6 was hotting up with four cars chasing the luckless Rosberg – two McLarens (Button and Perez), Massa’s Ferrari, Grosjean in the Lotus and Hamilton in the other Mercedes! Each of the drivers threatened and challenged the other in an effort to wrest the slot with the most thrilling contest coming from Massa and Grosjean.

Back at the top of the field, in Lap 15 the Force India team made the call to race leader Di Resta to make his first pit-stop. It seemed like a puzzling decision at the time considering that the Scot was posting reasonable lap times and the wear on his medium set was not too drastic. Perhaps the fact that Vettel was fast closing in on the now-flagging Raikkonen in P2 was the cue they needed and before Vettel could continue his storming run in the desert, pulled Di Resta in.

Sure enough, Vettel swept past the Lotus being as he was on the fresher tyres to yet again lead the race. Team-mate Mark Webber, who until now had a relatively quieter race in comparison to the disastrous sequence of mishaps in Shanghai, had moved in to P3 and it now seemed that the Red Bulls were in a position to dominate the race at the Sakhir Circuit because the Finn had yet to make his first stop.

End of Lap 15: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Webber (Red Bull) 4. Rosberg (Mercedes) 5. Button (McLaren) 6. Massa (Ferrari) 7. Grosjean (Lotus), 8 Perez (McLaren) 9. Di Resta, Force India 10. Hamilton (Mercedes).

Race Laps 16 – 30

Lap 16 started uneventfully with enough daylight space between the top 6 cars. But Vettel was in a different dimension having opened up a 3.583s lead from Raikkonen and 4.330s from Webber. The Finn finally decided to make his first stop at the start of Lap 17 and he rejoined the field in P11. However, it was clear at this stage that he would make one stop less than some of the other drivers out in front thereby guaranteeing a podium or at least a high points finish.

The midfield jostle continued as Perez, McLaren easily overtook Massa who was beginning to look more and more leaden-footed with heavy tyre degradation. His fall down the field continued with Force India’s Di Resta now sweeping past him followed quickly by the Mercedes of Hamilton. Massa had enough and made his way into the pits for a tyre change just before the start of Lap 18. Interestingly, he was fitted back with medium compound tyres in an effort to get him up the field quicker, but by the time he rejoined the race, he was down to P15. Ferrari’s afternoon was going from bad to worse!

Grosjean used excellent tyre strategies to stay in the top 3.

Grosjean used excellent tyre strategies to stay in the top 3.

Lap 20 saw a relatively minor tussle between Button (P4) and Rosberg (P3) with the British driver easily passing the German to claim track position. It was then Grosjean’s turn to take on Rosberg and make his pass stick. The Mercedes driver was now under threat from Perez in the second McLaren. Like Massa, Rosberg’s race had begun to unravel now struggling as he was with tyre wear and consequent performance degradation. At the top of Lap 21, both drivers decided on a cease fire to come into the pits for a tyre change. When they went out again, Rosberg was just ahead of the Mexican at P12.

The end of Lap 21 and the start of Lap 22 saw a flurry of pit action as both Lewis Hamilton and former team-mate Jensen Button came into the pits for their second stops. Just a lap earlier, Mark Webber too had to come into the pits for fresh compounds leaving Vettel to charge the front of the field with little or no competition by now.

By the time the drivers rejoined, the battle for the 10th was on in right earnest between an array of cars – Perez, Rosberg, Button and Massa, all battling for the place. Perez took the position albeit briefly, only to lose it yet again to Rosberg in Lap 23. Lap 24 saw the three cars of Button, Perez and Rosberg line up side-by-side with the Mexican gaining by a nose-length to surge ahead. Button followed suit, but avoided a direct confrontation with his team-mate to stick right behind.

At the end of Lap 25, Vettel finally came in for his second stop after making his hard tyres last out comfortably for 15 laps. A typical Red Bull pit-stop in terms of time consumed and the significant cushion that he enjoyed in terms of lead time, meant that Vettel rejoined the race at P1 and retake the lead. He was followed by Grosjean, Lotus, Di Resta, Force India and Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus with the Frenchman in the Lotus still to make a second pit-stop.

Meanwhile, down the field, Perez continued to hold back a marauding Button who in turn was being hunted down by Nico Hulkenberg. The three drivers were now stacked at P6, 7 and 8. The tussle was split up with Rosberg pushing past Hulkenberg to slot himself in at P8.

At the front, Di Resta began to storm all around Gorsjean and managed to blast past the latter on the main straight to claim P2. It was superb driving from the Scotsman who was enjoying his best run of his life and a testimony to the great straight-line speed that Force India had developed over the end of the last season and the beginning of the new one. Losing the track position to Di Resta was cue for Grosjean to come into the pits in Lap 27. He went back in on a set of mediums which meant that he was in for a three-stopper.

Back in the middle of the field the mini McLaren war which had been brewing the whole afternoon, was won by Button with him sweeping past the younger driver. Or was it?

Button was harassed by his team-mate Perez throughout the race.

Button was harassed by his team-mate Perez throughout the race.

Perez continued his relentless attack on Button and in Lap 30 using DRS, he made yet another overtaking move stick. But Button wrested back the lead on the turn and in a way showing Perez who the boss really was. Perez responded by tailing Button again and clipped a portion of the former’s rear right tyre and losing a portion of his wing instead. While it was fantastic racing for the fans, Button was not amused forcing the British driver to radio call to his team telling them to ask Perez to back off!

End of Lap 30: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Di Resta (Force India) 3. Raikkonen (Lotus) 4. Webber (Red Bull) 5. Button (McLaren) 6. Perez (McLaren) 7. Rosberg (Mercedes) 8. Grosjean (Lotus) 9. Hamilton (Mercedes) 10. Alonso (Ferrari).

Race Laps 31 – 45

By the middle of Lap 31, Vettel had opened up a massive 13.9 second lead from Di Resta and nearly 15 seconds from Raikkonen. There was no way that these two were ever going to catch the champion unless there was a calamity of sorts for the Red Bull team at the last pit-stop. But there was good news for the Lotus camp as Raikkonen begain gaining rapidly on Di Resta. A P2 podium finish was now looking like a distinct possibility.

Just behind, Sergio Perez had now started to feel the heat from Romain Grosjean’s Lotus even as the Frenchman stormed all over his back wing. Rosberg in turn, was in hot pursuit of Grosjean. At this stage there were four cars line up on the track barely 25 metres from each other!

In Lap 34, Kimi Raikkonen made his final pit-stop yet again changing into a set of hard compound tyres and rejoined the race at P7. But the likes of Di Resta, Grosjean, Button and Perez were due for their last pit-stops which would automatically get him back into the top three or four positions. Meanwhile Hamilton in his Mercedes had sneaked his way up the field and finally put an end to the Button-Perez dogfight by sweeping past the Mexican from the left side of the track to the right with a brilliant pass, to P5.

Di Resta made his final stop at this time and rejoined the race in P8 behind Raikkonen (P6) and Alonso (P7). There was more disaster for Ferrari in Lap 37 as Massa suffered a second puncture and had most of his rubber shorn off the right wheel. There was no question of the Brazilian being able to gain any points for the day after that.

On to Lap 39 and Raikkonen on his set of fresh tyres made his move on Hamilton to go past and claim P3. As if on cue, Hamilton made the decision to make his final pit-stop and leaving the Finn free to chart his way to the podium. The field at this stage was: Vettel, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Di Resta, Webber, Button, Rosberg, Hamilton, Perez and Alonso.

Di Resta, Force India and Grosjean, Lotus produced some thrilling racing.

Di Resta, Force India and Grosjean, Lotus produced some thrilling racing.

Vettel came in for his last pit-stop in Lap 43, perfectly timed to keep him well out in the lead considering that he had by now a 26-second advantage over second-placed Grosjean and around 30 seconds clear from Kimi Raikkonen in P3. Grosjean too followed suit and pitted in the same lap ceding his position on the track to team-mate Raikkonen.

Lap 44 saw a bunch overtaking manoeuvres going on at the same time – Rosberg got past Button, but Alonso attacking but staying behind Perez, and Grosjean on fresh medium compound rubber simply blowing past his much slower competitors on worn tyres. It wasn’t long before the Frenchman was back at P4 and challenging Di Resta for a podium spot. In the interim, in Lap 45, Hamilton went cleanly past Button on the turn to take P6. His team-mate, Nico Rosberg meanwhile, made a fourth stop by now and rejoined at P10. The afternoon couldn’t have been any worse for the German!

End of Lap 45: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Di Resta (Force India) 4 Grosjean (Lotus) 5. Webber (Red Bull) 6. Hamilton (Mercedes) 7. Button (McLaren) 8. Perez (McLaren) 9. Alonso (Ferrari) 10. Rosberg (Mercedes).

Race Laps 46 –57

If anyone believed that the Button-Perez saga for the day was over, they were mistaken! At the start of Lap 46, Perez yet again moved hard on Button, made the move stick and forced the Englishman to concede the position. That scrap helped Alonso as he squeezed in on Button’s side to pass him and put him into 8th place. Button reacted by pitting at the end of the lap even as Alonso, now showing some typical form albeit sans the DRS advantage, blew past Perez to take P7.

By Lap 50, Vettel was comfortably ahead of Raikkonen by a shade less that 9.5 seconds who in turn had a cushion of some 9.5 seconds from Di Resta. The top two finishers had been decided but the third podium place was up for grabs with Grosjean eating into the lap times of Di Resta by almost 1.5 seconds per lap. Di Resta’s lead had now been cut to a mere 2.2 seconds and the question was whether the Force India driver could hold the Frenchman’s charge.

The final piece of action among the leaders came in Lap 52 when yet again Grosjean lined himself next to Di Resta down the main straight, and then exploded past to the turn for the last podium place available. It was better tyre management from the Lotus outfit and heartbreak for the Force India team.

Down the middle, Perez continued his most aggressive performance ever by taking on Alonso, squeezing him out on to the chicane and into the sand on turn 4 and then blowing ahead of the more accomplished of racers in the world.

Alonso, Ferrari is pushed on to the sand by Perez, McLaren.

Alonso, Ferrari is pushed on to the sand by Perez, McLaren.

Even more excitement was on with the Webber-Hamilton duo racing wheel-to-wheel to usurp the 5th place; the hot pursuit continuing right through into Lap 56. In the last lap of the race Hamilton finally got around the outside of Webber and passed him. It was absolutely on-the-edge racing from the two magnificent drivers and completed what was a truly thrilling race!

Vettel duly completed the formalities with Raikkonen and Grosjean following in P2 and P3 with Di Resta coming in at P4.

Bahrain may have been Vettel’s lone Bull run  but the rest of the action was enough to keep the legion of F1 fans hooked and happy!

Final Standings: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Grojean (Lotus) 4. Di Resta (Force India) 5. Hamilton (Mercedes) 6. Perez (McLaren) 7. Webber (Red Bull) 8. Alonso (Ferrari) 9. Rosberg (Mercedes) 10. Button (McLaren).

Next edition: The Bahrain Stats Sheet