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Sebastian Vettel went from pole position to victory in the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, winning the second race of the season in at least as much dramatic fashion as he won the first in Australia. While Vettel benefited from a pit mistake by Mercedes in the first race, the second was all him and extremely careful tire management.
Valtteri Bottas pushed hard, hard enough to get DRS assistance in the final two laps behind Vettel, but he couldn’t quite make it stick. He was on a different strategy to Vettel, and on much fresher tires. But Vettel just managed to contain the gap.
“Woooooo!,” Vettel came over the team radio after the race. “These tires were done. They were done!”
Another lap and you get the feeling Bottas would have overtaken him. Lewis Hamilton, who started far back due to a five-place grid penalty, worked his way up to third place and was six seconds back of Vettel at the end of the race, so it was a good showing from him, but he hoped to be competing for the lead.
Pierre Gasly of the Honda-powered Toro Rosso managed to finish fourth, the best finish for that team in a long time. Meanwhile, the Renault-powered McLaren, a year after moving on from Honda, saw its drivers finish seventh (Fernando Alonso) and eighth (Stoffel Vandoorne).
he 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix opened with fireworks not unlike those fired at its end for Sebastian Vettel, race winner. While taking victory from pole sounds like the easy path to the top step of the podium, Vettel’s journey was anything but.
The German and his teammate Kimi Räikkönen faced direct challenge from Valtteri Bottas in the first corner, with Kimi retreating from Valtteri’s overtake, submitting to the charging Mercedes driver. Despite half his Mercedes and Red Bull competition starting the race well adrift of Vettel, his foes knifed their way through the field with Verstappen and Hamilton making up multiple positions in the first few laps.
When Verstappen and Hamilton found themselves fighting for position, however, Verstappen’s elbows-out racing drove him to make minor contact with Hamilton, leaving the Dutchman with a puncture in his left rear tire. Verstappen would crawl past his stricken teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who retired from the race with an electrical failure around the same type that Verstappen burst his own tire. Despite arriving in the pit lane successfully for a tire swap, Verstappen too retired, on lap 5.
The focus of the Ferrari-Mercedes feud turned to race strategy from there with both Ferraris embarking on two-stop strategies, and the Mercedes, one-stop strategies, banking on taking track position ahead of Ferrari, whose cars would be handicapped by extra time spent in the pit lane and the dirty air generated by the leading cars. After his planned first pit stop, Vettel found himself behind Hamilton, and delayed by dirty air, could not get past the Brit until early on lap 26, after which Hamilton pitted for medium tires, on which he would finish the race.
In the wake of Kimi’s botched second pit stop on lap 36, which retired the car and hospitalized a mechanic, all of Ferrari’s eggs were in Vettel’s basket. Fearing Mercedes’ strategy would play out as predicted, Ferrari ditched Vettel’s second stop, keeping him out on soft tires originally meant to survive a far shorter stint.
The Scuderia’s gamble paid off, and despite challenge from a faster Bottas in the twilight laps of the evening race, Vettel maintained his footing in the race lead through the checkered flag, winning his second Grand Prix of the season in his 200th career Grand Prix start. Other drivers to have won their 200th race start include Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher, among others. The podium was completed by Bottas and Hamilton, in that order.
Elsewhere in the field, midfield and backmarker teams recorded their own successes. Marcus Ericsson of Alfa Romeo Sauber, who had not finished in the points for the last 50 Grands Prix, brought his Sauber home ninth to secure two points for the team.
Toro Rosso-Honda capitalized on its shocking Q3 results, posted by Pierre Gasly, and galloped to a fourth place finish, the best finish for a Honda-powered car in the V-6 era. Gasly, for his heroism, was voted driver of the day.Poor performance, unreliability and constant pressure from former partners McLaren has made life pretty miserable for Honda employees since the Japanese manufacturer returned to F1 in 2015.
But their unrelenting dedication in pursuit of success was rewarded in Bahrain as Pierre Gasly guided the Honda-powered Toro Rosso team to fourth place in the desert.
The result was better than anything Honda achieved with McLaren in three years together, in what was only its second race with Toro Rosso.
It was also a good recovery from Gasly after a frustrating opening race in Australia, when he suffered a power unit failure.
The team at Sakura and Milton Keynes found the fix and turned round a modified MGU-H and turbocharger that proved to be robust in the Sakhir heat.
That, too, is like a victory and while they are likely to still have bumps in the road this season, the strong result will have a massive effect on confidence and morale.