22 April 2012 – Sebastian Vettel has kick-started his 2012 season by winning the Bahrain Grand Prix. He fended off Kimi Räikkönen, who had saved tyres and came through from 11th on the grid. As Romain Grosjean confirmed a double podium finish for Lotus, McLaren suffered a miserable day plagued by more pit-stop problems.
Although the run-up to the weekend may have been overshadowed by events taking place off-track in Manama, the happenings on it confirm that four different teams have now won as many races so far this year. A quartet of drivers have also led the standings, with Vettel now moving ahead as reigning Champions Red Bull capitalise on McLaren’s dreadful day. On an afternoon full of fascinating statistics, Lotus-entered cars enjoy a first double podium finish since 1979.
In a clean start, Vettel defended his lead from Lewis Hamilton as Mark Webber retained third place. A rapid getaway from Grosjean saw the Franco-Swiss shoot up to fourth, with Button tumbling to sixth and Räikkönen climbed to seventh. Both Lotus cars made significant progress in the opening stages, with Grosjean reaching as high as second by pulling a strong move on Hamilton at the first corner. By Lap 9, Vettel had extended his leading advantage to just under five seconds.
The race began to unravel as McLaren committed, not one, but two crucial pit-stop errors for Hamilton. Following problems in both Malaysia and China for Hamilton and Button, the 2008 Champion was affected by a cross-threaded left-wheel wheel nut on both occasions today, dropping him back into traffic as Paul di Resta took advantage of a number of big names to finish sixth on a two-stop strategy; he was passed by Nico Rosberg in the closing stages, although the German is under investigation for squeezing both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso off the track.
At the front, the flying Räikkönen – with extra sets of Soft tyres available because of his limited running in qualifying – followed team-mate Grosjean but Lotus, choosing not employ team orders, saw him sit behind for several minutes. The Finn eventually overtook on Lap 23 before hunting down Vettel; in reality, there was only one real opportunity for the Finn, who decided not to risk his car by diving up the inside of the first corner. A gap opened up on the outside line, but Vettel duly defended his leading advantage. After the pair made their third and final stops together, Räikkönen successful managed his final set of tyres and again started to home in on his rival, although Vettel was able to control the pace towards the chequered flag.
While Grosjean sealed a career-first rostrum finish and France’s first since Jean Alesi in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, Mark Webber bagged fourth place – the Australian collected more solid points and is yet to finish in any other position this season. Fifth was not quite another victory for Rosberg, despite passing di Resta; the Mercedes suffered a broken exhaust in the closing stages and, like winner Vettel and Felipe Massa’ Ferrari, stopped after the finish line.
Once again, the Grand Prix was filled with a selection of dramatic manoeuvres throughout the field, but Hamilton was unable to pull one on Alonso as the former team-mates just missed out on di Resta’s impressive sixth place. In ninth, Massa drove a confident race and scores for the first time this year, whereas Michael Schumacher finished tenth from 22nd on the grid after a gearbox penalty.
Jenson Button would have scored, but retired with a differential problem just two laps from home. Like Marussia’s Charles Pic, both Williams failed to make the finish and endured a double retirement, following on from a double points finish in China a week ago. On a happier note, Sebastian Vettel’s 22nd career win is his first since India last year and equals Damon Hill for 11th place in the all-time rankings.F1 2012 continues with Round 5 and the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, which marks the start of the European season in three weeks’ time