F1: Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel clinches tense Bahrain GP
"I tried to keep it as clean as possible," said a relieved looking Vettel on the podium. "The Mercedes were very fast at the end of the stints. Valtteri had a bit of a sniff but it was just enough
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel held on by the skin of his teeth to win a tense Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday. The German, his tyres fading, crossed the line only 0.6 seconds ahead of Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas who piled the pressure on Vettel in the final ten laps, with team mate Lewis Hamilton, who had started ninth, finishing third.
"I tried to keep it as clean as possible," said a relieved looking Vettel on the podium. "The Mercedes were very fast at the end of the stints. Valtteri had a bit of a sniff but it was just enough."
Sunday's win was the 49th of Vettel's career and an unprecedented fourth at the Sakhir circuit. It was also his second successive triumph, with the 30-year-old winning the season opener in Melbourne two weeks ago, making him the first driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to open the season with consecutive wins for Ferrari. Vettel started on pole alongside team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and went into Sunday's race favourite to win. But Vettel's evening under the floodlights turned out to be nowhere near as straightforward as that.
The four-times champion led away comfortably at the start. But Mercedes' decision to fits its drivers with more durable medium tyres as part of a one-stop plan, compared to Ferrari's move to bolt on the more fragile softer rubber in anticipation of a two-stop race, brought the evening alive. Vettel wasn't didn't seem able to pull out enough of a gap to make a two-stop strategy work. Drama in the pits when Raikkonen was brought in to test the strategy decided Ferrari in favour of keeping Vettel out. The Finn was given the green light to exit the pits before his left rear tyre had been changed, with the 38-year-old running over one of his mechanics who was taken to the circuit's medical centre for a check-up.
That left Vettel managing his pace on tyres that were losing grip even as Bottas mounted his charge, attempting a pass on the Ferrari on the last of the 57 laps. "I was seeing red!" said the Finn. "I knew there would be a chance at the end. But it wasn't quite enough." Vettel now holds a a 17-point lead in the overall standings over Hamilton with two of the 21 races completed.
The Briton, second in Australia, described his drive as one of damage limitation. It was nevertheless enough to allow him to equal Raikkonen's haul of 27 consecutive finishes in the points. Frenchman Pierre Gasly converted Honda-powered Toro Rosso's strong qualifying placing into a dream result by finishing fourth.
Kevin Magnussen was fifth in the Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne gave McLaren a double points finish. But the former champions finished a lap down.
Red Bull endured a torrid evening with both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo retiring within the first five laps. The Dutchman also suffered a rear-left puncture after making contact with Hamilton while attempting a pass on the Briton.