Have you ever had that feeling of déjà vu? That feeling that what you’re experiencing has already happened in the past? Have you ever had that feeling of déjà vu? That feeling that what you’re experiencing has already happened in the past? Well, for all of the action that took place during the Bahrain Grand Prix it was Sebastian Vettel who beat the Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to secure his second win of the year and repeat the podium line-up of 2012.
Vettel didn’t have it all his own way, at least not for the opening few corners. Pole man Nico Rosberg defending his position at the start of the race, allowing Fernando Alonso to make his customary opening lap gain and take second. Vettel was having none of it and quickly dispatched the Spaniard exiting Turn 4. Vettel attempted a similar manoeuvre on his compatriot a lap later but ran wide and was forced into a rethink. A lap later he made the move stick and headed into an untroubled lead.
Alonso also soon disposed with Rosberg but his DRS became jammed open. The Ferrari driver was twice forced to pit, which dropped him down to nineteenth place.
Vettel was comfortable up front, at times maintaining a lead of around half a minute as he used his three stop strategy to perfection. Behind him the battle loomed between the two stopping Raikkonen and Paul di Resta against their three stopping rivals.
Raikkonen voiced his concern early on that Lotus pitted him too early, but his worries were unfounded as he was unchallenged on his way to second. Di Resta was unable to stretch his tyres as long as expected but was still running in third place after the final round of stops. He was quickly caught by Grosjean, who saved his option tyres until the last stint, and the Frenchman denied Di Resta a maiden podium with seven laps remaining.
The Force India driver was able to hang on to fourth place, equalling the best result of his career.
“It’s great to round off the fly-away races with a fourth place and a race that was probably my strongest Grand Prix,” he said. “The podium was very close, but with our strategy we were always going to be vulnerable at the end of the race – especially to Grosjean who had two new sets of medium tyres.”
Lewis Hamilton struggled throughout the early stages of the race as he found himself out of the top 10. Suddenly his pace returned and he was able to bounce back to secure fifth place.
“The race started so badly. I wanted to get a good start, but I got a terrible start. Then I was so slow. I was nowhere, no speed at all. I was looking after the tyres but I really struggled on the first two stints and was falling back,” said Hamilton. “But as the temperatures dropped, the car picked up and then I had the grip that I needed to push and close the gap. I had so much fun fighting with Mark at the end. We really needed that point and I was so determined to get by. It was good, clean wheel-to-wheel racing. I’m very proud of what we have achieved over the first four races and to be third in the Drivers’ Championship is beyond any of our expectations.”
Webber, celebrating his 200th race, had started the final lap in fifth place but he was passed firstly by Hamilton and then by the McLaren of Sergio Perez and had to settle for seventh.
Perez put in arguably the finest drive of his McLaren career as he was embroiled in a fierce fight with team-mate Jenson Button.
The duo swapped positions several times, with Perez nudging Button at Turn 4 during their scrap. Button was a little irritating by his team-mate’s approach.
“The racing was great out there. The only person that wasn’t was Checo [Sergio Perez]. He was too aggressive, I would say. At 300 km/h, you don’t expect your team-mate to come alongside you and bang wheels with you. That’s something you do in karting, and normally you grow out of it.”
Perez admitted their level of aggression was probably over the top, but that he was simply responding to Button.
“I think I was as aggressive as he was with me,” said the Mexican.
Button struggled with tyres throughout the race and was forced into a late fourth stop that dropped him to tenth place, behind the recovering Alonso and Nico Rosberg, who also stopped four times.
Rosberg conceded that transforming his pole into a win was going to be a tough challenge, but he didn’t expect to slip down the order so rapidly.
“It’s been an unbelievable day – so bad,” he said. “Going backwards all day long was not a good feeling.”
Williams showed a marked improvement with Pastor Maldonado in eleventh place and Valtteri Bottas in fourteenth. The Finn struggled with his tyres in traffic early on and lost further time with a problem in his pit stop.
Nico Hulkenberg was twelfth in a badly behaving Sauber, ahead of Adrian Sutil. The Force India driver was among the leading group approaching Turn 4 but he was hit by Felipe Massa, puncturing his tyre and condemning him to a race at the back. In the circumstances, he did well to recover thirteenth but it was a missed opportunity considering the pace of the VJM06.
“My start was clean and I was racing Massa going into turn four,” said Sutil. “I was on the outside; I gave him a lot of space but he was off-line and made contact with my front right tyre. I don’t know what he did exactly but I had a puncture immediately. I had to pit and lost a lot of time, which ended my chance of scoring points.”
The aforementioned Massa endured a torrid afternoon. He sustained minor damage to his front wing in the incident with Sutil but worse was to come. His right rear tyre delaminated early on and he then suffered a puncture that left him down in fifteenth.
Daniel Ricciardo bemoaned a lack of downforce as he failed to replicate his Chinese heroics and was only sixteenth, ahead of an impressive Charles Pic in the Caterham. Esteban Gutierrez’s troubled start to his Formula 1 career continued as he made contact on the opening lap and became mired among the battle at the back.
Jules Bianchi once again beat team-mate and birthday boy Max Chilton, with the upgrade-less Giedo van der Garde rounding out the finishers after a difficult day. The Dutchman collided with Jean-Eric Vergne on the first lap, leaving him with a damaged front wing that resulted in an early stop. Vergne sustained terminal damage in the accident and he was the race’s only retirement.
Up front, Vettel’s progress was seamless and he crossed the line nine seconds clear of Raikkonen, and added insult to injury by setting the fastest lap. Vettel spent the weekend wearing a Red Bull Stratos inspired helmet, which will now be retired as with all his other race winning helmets. With the German already establishing a title lead over Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso – 30 points behind – it’s a case of déjà vu all over again.