Vettel beats Raikkonen in Bahrain
Sebastian Vettel kick-started his title defence with his first victory of 2012 for Red Bull as Raikkonen and Grosjean took second and third for Lotus.
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 22/04/12 6:54pm
Sebastian Vettel kick-started his title defence with his and Red Bull's first victory of the 2012 season after seeing off a stunning charge from Kimi Raikkonen in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
In keeping with the sensational and unpredictable start to the new campaign, Vettel nearest challenge came not from the McLarens, or even last week's winner Nico Rosberg, but the two Lotus drivers of first Romain Grosjean and then Raikkonen as the rebranded Enstone team came through the field to take a two-car podium finish.
But it is the end of World Champion Vettel's mini victory 'drought' - which stretched back some six races to last October's Indian Grand Prix - which serves as the most ominous news for the rest of the field ahead of the start of the European season in three weeks' time.
However, while Red Bull finally returned to winning ways, pre-race championship leaders McLaren endured a miserable afternoon in the desert with both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button beset by problems.
Front-row starter Hamilton saw his 100% podium-finishing record this season come to an end after he was badly delayed at both of his first two pit stops - and, to a degree, even his third - as the team, once again, encountered problems changing one of their car's left-rear wheel. In running total, a McLaren driver has been hampered by pit-stop problems in three of this year's four races.
While the lost time contributed to Hamilton sliding down the order to a lowly eighth - despite the Briton keeping his nose clean all day and pulling off a couple of characteristically incisive passes - his team-mate Jenson Button ended the race in the McLaren garage, with his race effectively ending on the previous lap when his MP4-27 developed a puncture.
Yet while there is bound to be an inquest at McLaren into the succession of pit-stop dramas before the grid reconvenes for racing at Barcelona, Red Bull are firmly back on the up - as clearly are Lotus, who had set their sights on a podium finish prior to their arrival in Bahrain.
At the start Vettel had easily converted his unexpected pole into a comfortable early lead over Hamilton - the McLaren soon beginning to suffer with rear tyre problems - while behind him the Lotus pair were only just beginning their progress through the field.
Grosjean had moved up to fourth from sixth on the first lap but soon passed both Mark Webber and Hamilton with the aid of DRS down the main straight, yet it was Raikkonen's progress that was really beginning to cause a stir.
The Finn had on Saturday gambled on just one run in Q2 in order to save fresh tyres for the race and, although in the short term that left him only 11th on the grid, the strategy began to paid dividends as he tore through the field armed with two fresh sets of soft tyres.
Having got onto the back of Grosjean by the end of the second stint, Raikkonen took a couple of laps to pass his team-mate and then, having taken on the medium tyres, firmly took over the Lotus baton and got to within DRS-striking distance of Vettel approaching the final stops.
Given what had gone on before down the main straight already in the race, a pass seemed inevitable but Vettel had other ideas and managed to keep the 'Flying Finn' at bay prior what proved to be simultaneous final stops.
A repeat cat-and-mouse chase seemed set to be repeated over the closing stages but Vettel nipped that notion in the bud with a fast start on his final set of medium tyres to which Raikkonen had no answer to.
With Grosjean coming home a career-best third, Webber had a fairly anonymous run to fourth clearly ahead of a battle for fifth place that was ultimately won by Rosberg, who recovered from a dismal start to salvage a respectable result for last week's race winners Mercedes.
The German's defensive driving in earlier duels with Hamilton and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso - which saw both cars have to track to the sand run-off areas, the former actually managing to make a move on the Mercedes stick - saw him put under investigation by the stewards with a verdict due to be delivered after the race.
Alonso in particular was incensed by the move and at the flag found himself unable to get past Force India's Paul di Resta for sixth, the Scot having brilliantly executed a two-stop strategy.
With Hamilton eighth, Felipe Massa finally opened his points account for 2012 with a strong drive to ninth relative to the sister Ferrari as Michael Schumacher came from the lower reaches of the grid following his Q1 knockout and gearbox change to double his wholly unrepresentative meagre season tally in 10th.