Sebastian Vettel captures victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Sakhir sunset leaves Sebastian Vettel to shine under the lights. With the German re-capturing the championship lead as Hamilton slowed to find himself in trouble. Pole-man Bottas may even have played the team game for Mercedes, but Hamilton’s error left him chasing the German controlling a race that ended with just 13 runners.
As Valtteri Bottas sat on pole position for the very first time, the Finn had his mirrors full of Formula One machinery. No one ahead but five red lights, waiting to diminish into the night’s sky. Engaging the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix, with two Silver Arrows shooting off from the front row.
Not in Bottas’ mirrors, though, was Stoffel Vadnoorne. After an MGU-H problem pounced on the Belgian again prior to lights out. Leaving the 2015 GP2 champion without a McLaren to race a year on from scoring points in his Formula One debut. Worse too, is if the team are forced to change his Honda unit for Russia in two weeks time. Meaning he’d be on his fourth component of the season, the limit of power unit parts allowed in 2017.
That race a year ago, interestingly, saw Bottas and Hamilton collide at the first corner when the race engaged. Something Mercedes would be glad did not repeat itself this year, as Bottas led into the opening bend.
But it was not Hamilton following behind. It was Sebastian Vettel as the Scuderia Ferrari launched off the line to lunge ahead of Lewis for second place. All the while, Verstappen was gaining too. Moving ahead of Ricciardo as Raikkonen dropped down to seventh.
Having qualified magnificently in 13th place, Wehrlein’s return to Formula One action did not get the best of start either. Dropping down the order to 17th as Vettel hounded Bottas and Raikkonen hassled his former team-mate.
Neither Ferrari could make a move on the current and former Williams drivers, though. Unlike Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez as the Force India pair climbed up the ladder from 14th and 18th to 10th and 12th respectively.
While Ocon once again put the Sahara sponsored car into the points, Raikkonen was looking for a way to put his Ferrari back ahead of Massa. A move that emerged at turn one when the Finn eased out of the Brazilian’s slipstream and flew bye.
A punchy move by the Ferrari driver was then followed up by the team going aggressive with Vettel. Drawing the second place man in for an early change of strategy with another set of supersofts. A route Verstappen begged Red Bull to follow as he followed closely behind Hamilton.
With a fresh set of tyres, Vettel began to push on. Taking three seconds out of the race-leader on his first lap. But on Max’s first lap, his race came to an early end. Suffering a brake failure that sent him into a smoke engulfed slide into the barrier.
Yellow flags were all that waved for the stricken Red Bull as Verstappen clambered out and over the barrier. But while the safety car was a strong possibility, Mercedes stayed out.
A choice they would soon regret as Lance Stroll was side struck by Sainz. Taking another two cars out of the race and beckoning the safety car to bunch up the field at the moment Mercedes stacked their cars in the pits having already lost three seconds and the lead to Sebastian Vettel.
Knowing he would be second to the box, Hamilton attempted to hold his pace on pit-entry to reduce the time sat still. But with Ricciardo behind, a five-second penalty came his way for holding back the man who would emerge ahead on track after a slow front-left tyre change.
Raikkonen, too, lost out in the pit-window as he fell back behind Felipe Massa. But while Hamilton would jump the Red Bull at the first opportunity, Kimi’s chance to longer to present itself. As fellow Finn, Bottas, put pressure on Vettel at the top of T4.
Vettel’s exit from the first two corners left the German lacking speed for the run up the hill. Letting Bottas close back in on the lead of the race, but with the inside covered an overtake was always going to be challenging. It was still on the cards, though, until Vettel eased Bottas out of track and back behind.
Ericsson was also finding himself back behind the field not long after, despite jumping up to eighth under the safety car having been the only driver not to pit. The laps after the safety car peeled in were also unkind to Daniel Ricciardo as the Australian fell backwards down the order as he struggled with tyre warm-up.
Kimi Raikkonen may have easily moved ahead of Ricciardo in those early laps, but laps rolled on and on before Kimi could re-get ahead of Massa. Pulling off another move into the first corner as he begun to develop a power problem at turn four.
One problem on Mercedes’ hands, with Hamilton pushing after his penalty was dealt, was that Lewis was gaining on Bottas as well as Vettel. Yet that problem was nothing as they asked Valtteri: “please let Lewis through”. Something Bottas instantly did as Hamilton moved past to begin his Vettel hunt.
Bottas moving aside, though, came at a time he began to struggle with tyres. Soon coming into the pits for his final switch. Something which Vettel soon matched after Hamilton closed in as he turned on the pressure.
At first, Hamilton was searching for a one-stop race. But with the penalty issued, that was no longer possible. Meaning Hamilton was be forced to stop again, fall behind Vettel and Bottas. But importantly, have the penalty served, with fresher tyres fitted and laps in hand to reel them back in.
When Hamilton made his stop on lap 42, Mercedes opted for another set of softs. A decision Lewis was perplexed by but “it’s all based on data” came the response from his pit wall.
A response that soon was backed up by lap times, as Hamilton began eating into the 10-second deficit to his team-mate and 20 seconds to Vettel. Setting a 1-minute 32-second lap as, lap by lap, Hamilton continued to close on Bottas. Before lunging past at the penultimate bend when Bottas edged wide to allow Lewis through.
“You’ve got the pace to win,” Hamilton’s engineer calmly expressed to the Briton.
Backmarkers were now coming into play, too. As Vettel caught up with the rear of the field while his lead continued to drop.
Blue flags waved on and on for Sebastian Vettel as Hamilton moved within 10-seconds of the lead. Moving within sight of the Ferrari, too – giving Lewis a target to point his Silver Arrow towards.
In between the target and arrow, though, sat Palmer and Ericsson as the two men at the rear of the field followed the leader. Yet as Hamilton caught the duo, the Sauber’s gearbox packed up early and brought out yellow flags for his retired car.
A Sauber that could easily be pushed aside as Vettel cleared the last of his backmarkers. While for Hamilton, they all remained as the final laps began. Leaving Lewis weaving through the dirty air as Vettel controlled the margin.
A margin now too great for Hamilton to overcome in the remaining laps. Laps that would not include Fernando Alonso as the McLaren’s day came to an end two laps from home.
Knowing there was too much left to do, Hamilton eased his pace and settled for second. Settling to be second best to the man who now holds a seven-point lead in the drivers’ championship over him, Sebastian Vettel.
After starting from his maiden pole position, Bottas’ race culminated in a third place finish. While in his racing return, Pascal Wehrlein missed out on a point by one position.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||39.346|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||1’02.606|
|10||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||1’35.711|
|11||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber||Ferrari||1 lap|
|12||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||Renault||1 lap|
|13||Jolyon Palmer||Renault||Renault||1 lap|
|16||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||Renault||DNF|
|18||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||DNF|