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Vettel Wins Again After A Gripping Finish In Bahrain
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Podium celebrations
Following the Formula 1 season opener in Australia a fortnight ago when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claimed a surprise and slightly fortuitous victory over arch rival and championship favourite, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, the F1 circus moved on to hot and sandy Bahrain this weekend. On this occasion the German multiple champion emerged on top again fair and square after holding off the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in a tense end to the Grand Prix.

The Bahrainis really welcome the F1 community and it is always a fascinating three day event, with both qualifying and the race held at night under floodlights when temperatures have dropped. The latter is always a significant factor re car set-up compared to running in the heat of the day.

This year attention was very much divided between the ontrack action and important multi-faceted proposals from the sport’s owners Liberty Media about how future Formula 1 should look. The current Concorde Agreement which binds all related parties expires at the end of 2020 and there is a serious intention to make the cost of competing lower, the sport more competitive and the sharing of prize money fairer from 2021 onwards.

Of course the two leading teams Mercedes and Ferrari do not want their current position of superiority to be threatened, but at least the other of the big three, Red Bull, very much sees the need for significant change. Last year just five drivers won in Formula 1, which contrasts with the highly popular British Touring Car championship where 13 different drivers claimed victories last season.

Sebastian Vettel powers his red Ferrari to victory
Liberty’s five-point plan, presented to the teams on the Friday of the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, addressed the following key areas: revenues, governance, sporting and technical regulations, power units and costs. The related press release was full of admirable aspirations and intentions, but many of the specific details were only shared with the teams and not made public. However, it seems clear that a significant budget cap and cheaper hybrid engines are on their way, news which delighted smaller teams like Williams.

Liberty’s Ross Brawn, a man with an immense Formula 1 track record, explained afterwards “the teams need to digest the information and then the discussions proper will start”, adding that “we need to move away from the personal objectives of each team and look at what Formula 1 should be”.

Turning back to the ontrack action at Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit, it was encouraging to see three different teams feature at the top of the opening Free Practice Session timesheets, with Red Bull’s Australian star Daniel Ricciardo fastest ahead of the Mercedes pedalled by Bottas and the Ferrrari of Kimi Räikkönen, who just outpaced his team-mate Vettel. Worse luck befell Red Bull’s Dutch flyer Max Verstappen as power unit woes meant he didn’t set a time and had to have his engine manifold assembly changed.

Free Practice 2 was crucial for the teams as it took place after sunset and out front it was very much a case of two by two, with Ferrari’s Räikkönen and Vettel heading the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton, followed by Red Bull’s Verstappen and Ricciardo.

Second placed Valtteri Bottas exits the pitlane
Ferrari subsequently received a €5000 fine for releasing Räikkönen from the pitlane with an unsafe right front wheel, but avoided a grid penalty after proving it stopped its driver as soon as possible. Hamilton was less fortunate as an unscheduled gearbox change meant he would have a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

In the final practice session Räikkönen, perhaps reacting to paddock rumours that he might be replaced for 2019 by Red Bull’s Ricciardo, was again the fastest man on track ahead of the two Red Bulls and later on Saturday after the floodlights had come on the all-important qualifying hour began.

The Ferraris set a blistering pace, with Vettel claiming pole position ahead of Räikkönen, leaving Bottas as the best of the rest ahead of his team-mate Hamilton. Ricciardo was fifth fastest and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly put in an outstanding effort to go sixth quickest. Hamilton’s five-place grid penalty dropped him down to ninth for the start of the race, moving five drivers up one slot.

Come race day Vettel lined up to start his 200th Grand Prix at the head of the 20 car field and led into the first corner as a fast starting Bottas edged past Räikkönen into second place.

Lap two was to be a disaster for the Red Bull team as Ricciardo ground to a halt with no power and after a tussle with Hamilton Verstappen had to crawl back to the pits with a shredded left rear tyre before retiring three tours later with a differential problem.

Hamilton meanwhile was making progress from ninth on the grid and by lap eight was upto fourth after sweeping past Gasly at Turn 1.

Vettel led from Bottas, Räikkönen and Hamilton and was the first of the leading quartet to make a pitstop when he switched to soft tyres on lap 18. Räikkönen then followed suit before Mercedes moved Bottas and Hamilton onto the more durable medium tyres, which would last to the end of the race.

Pitstop action for third placed Lewis Hamilton
The big question was whether Vettel and Räikkönen’s soft tyres would last to the chequered flag or whether, as seemed likely, they would have to make a second visit to the pits, unlike both Mercedes cars.

There was drama on lap 36 as Ferrari brought Räikkönen in for a tyre change, but the left rear was unwilling to come off and the Finnish driver headed off down the pitlane with three new tyres and one old one before being told to stop immediately . To make matters worse a mechanic at the problem corner of the car was run over and suffered a double leg fracture.

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Ferrari decided to leave Vettel on track to the end of the Grand Prix on his ageing soft tyres and he put in an amazing feat of tyre management as he maintained the lead whilst nursing his worn tyres.

As the race entered its final stages second placed Bottas closed on Vettel and we were treated to a grandstand finish as the German just held off the Finn to take the victory. Hamilton followed them home in third position.

The Toro Rosso team were understandably dancing in the pitlane after young French driver Gasly brought his car home in fourth place for them in only their second start with Honda power. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg completed the top six, with the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne again scoring points after finishing seventh and eighth.

Bahrain’s floodlit Sakhir circuit
18 year old British driver Lando Norris, who is the McLaren F1 reserve driver, deserves a special mention too as he made his Formula 2 debut in the championship’s two opening races in Bahrain and won the first one from pole position before finishing a creditable fourth next time out

One of Formula 1’s core strengths is that it is a truly global sport and brand, exemplified by the fact that in just a week’s time everyone will have moved on from Bahrain to Shanghai for this year’s Chinese Grand Prix, the next instalment in this year’s thrilling campaign.

2018 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix

1 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1hr32m1.940s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.699s
3 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +6.512s
4 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) +1m2.234s
5 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m15.046s
6 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +1m39.024s
7 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Lapped
8 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
9 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
10 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Lapped
11 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
12 Sergio Perez (Force India) Lapped
13 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
14 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Lapped
15 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
16 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
17 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
18 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) Retired
19 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Retired
20 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) Retired

2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 2 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Sebastian Vettel 50
2 Lewis Hamilton 33
3 Valtteri Bottas 22

2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 2 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Ferrari 65
2 Mercedes 55
3 McLaren 22

Vettel Wins Again After A Gripping Finish In Bahrain, 8th April 2018, 22:27 PM