After the result in the opening round of the season in Australia was seen as a bit of an anomaly, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari can claim to have given Mercedes AMG F1 and defending champion Lewis Hamilton a proper fight and come out on top.
Vettel claimed his 49th career victory in his 200th F1 start by just 0.699 seconds ahead of Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas who took on the responsibility of taking the fight to Ferrari after Hamilton started ninth following a five-second grid penalty prior to qualifying, yesterday.
Driving on extremely worn tyres at the end of the race, Vettel did enough to stay ahead of Bottas who attacked the German on the last two laps of the 57-lap race around the 15-turn, 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit.
Hamilton took third place but the path to the podium finish was not straightforward as he and Red Bull-Tag Heuer's (Renault) Max Verstappen battled side by side and banged wheels after the start of the race that resulted in Verstappen (who started the race from 15th on the gird) puncturing his left-rear tyre and eventually retiring from the race. An electrical problem then forced the other Red Bull RB14 of Daniel Ricciardo to stop, making the hard-charging Australian a non-factor in the battle for victory.
Hamilton then overtook three cars in one corner to continue his charge up the grid while trying to run as far as possible on the set soft compound Pirelli tyres he started with
It was left to Mercedes and Ferrari to go at it but Vettel's teammate Kimi Raikkonen was forced out of the race after his car's lefl-rear wheel got jammed on to the wheel during a pitstop and he was still given the go ahead to exit his pit-box. This resulted in the mechanic at the area of the wheel to get hit hard by the accelerating Ferrari and he had to be rushed to the hospital while Raikkonen was forced to retire.
This left Vettel to contend with the silver arrows on his own as both Mercedes drivers comitted to a one-stop strategy, forcing the German to run his set of soft tyres to the ragged edge. On the team radio after the race, he exclaimed that the Ferrari's tyres were 'done' over the last ten laps when Bottas slowly reeled him in before making an attempt to pass him for victory.
GASLY RIDES HONDA POWER TO FOURTH
Behind the battle of the big teams, Pierre Gasly was the 'best of the rest' in fourth place at the wheel of a Toro Rosso-Honda (yes, a Honda powered car). Gasly had qualified sixth (started fifth due to Hamilton's grid penalty) and was running strongly in fifth before Raikkonen's retirement allowed him to score a result that few would have believed given Honda's trouble in F1's hybrid era when they became partners to McLaren. The talk in pre-season testing revolved around how much more acommodating Toro Rosso had been to the Japanese auto giant when it came to integrating their power unit to the car's chassis as compared to McLaren, for whom Fernando Alonso very openly berated Honda at every chance he got.
After a somewhat fortuitous fifth place finish in Melbourne, following some key retirements, Alonso proclaimed, 'now we can fight' on the team radio. Gasly delivered the exact same message to the jubilant Toro Rosso team at the end of the Bahrain GP where he finished well over half a minute ahead of Alonso who was eighth in his McLaren-Renault.
Ahead of him was Nico Hulkenberg in sixth place for Renault F1 and Kevin Magnussen fifth for Haas-Ferrari, confirming both Haas' pace shown in Australia and also how incredibly tight the midfield battle is.
Stoffel Vandoorne was eighth to make it the second consecutive double points finish for McLaren while Alfa Romeo Sauber-Ferrari got a points scoring finish thanks to Marcus Ericsson who was ninth. Force India-Mercedes' Esteban Ocon completed the top ten, thanks in part to a ten second time penalty given to Toro Rosso's Brendon Hartley for causing a collision at the start of the race. Hartley had qualified eleventh and looked on course to finish in the top ten prior to the penalty.