SAKHIR, Bahrain — Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel leapt back into the limelight — and the lead of the world championship — with victory in Sunday’s Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was the first victory of the season for the German driver and the 22nd of his career.
The World Champion took the lead from the start and immediately out-paced McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and teammate Mark Webber.
But the surprise of the event, was the Lotus team, as teammates Kimi Rakkonen and Romain Grosjean quickly made their way toward the front.
Paul di Resta, who opted for a two-stop strategy in contrast to the three run by the other frontrunners, led a Grand Prix for the first time for Force India on the 12th lap after Vettel had pitted on the 11th, but thereafter the German was headed only briefly by Grosjean on the 40th lap during the third and final pit calls. But it was by no means an easy ride for the Red Bull driver.
Raikkonen hunted down Grosjean by Lap 20 and moved ahead on the 24th before immediately pitting. And then the chase began. At one stage Vettel had nursed a 6.3-second lead before the second stops, but now Raikkonen was only 2.2 seconds behind, and closing.
The gap came down to a second, until on Lap 36, Vettel had to block a determined move for the lead as they went into Turn One.
Both drivers pitted on Lap 39 and from there Vettel drove to a 3.3-second victory at the checkered flag.
“I think it was an incredible race,” said Vettel. “Extremely tough. Sometimes we had a decent gap but still even from the start we had a very good start, which was crucial. I was able to pull away immediately and pull away from the pack. That turned out to be a big advantage because we always had to go on a used set of tires as we used nearly all of them yesterday in qualifying. We could see, Kimi was getting through, he was very quick and so was Romain.”
Raikkonen was second with Grosjean completing the podium.
“I think we gave ourselves a chance at least,” said Raikkonen. “It’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t manage to do it. But I made a small mistake at the beginning and lost one place to Ferrari. I had to re-overtake him and it took a little time. I got past the people quite easily but if you look in the end I think we still took too long and we couldn’t win the race. But at least we got the podium with both cars.”
Mark Webber for Red Bull and Nico Rosberg for Mercedes completed the top five.
Red Bull’s first success of the season, which made Vettel the fourth different winner in four races, puts the champion back on top of the points table too, with 53 to Hamilton’s 49.