An all Renault Bahrain podium - photo courtesy Lotus F1 TeamEnlarge Photo
If you tuned in to the Bahrain Gran Prix today and hadn't seen the three preceding contests, however, you might think it was the same ol' stuff, just a different day.
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing won the race over 2007 titleholder and current Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen by a slim 3.3 seconds; Raikkonen's teammate Romain Grosjean, a two-time GP2 champ took his first Formula 1 podium in third, 10 seconds back.
This was Vettel's 22nd F1 win but his first of 2012, as Renault-powered cars took the top four finishing spots with Red Bull's Mark Webber fourth.
Sebastian Vettel knew "a good start was crucial and I was able to pull away, which was a big advantage as we always had to go on scrubbed tires. We had used almost all of them in qualifying yesterday," he said of his pole run. "Kimi was very quick and so was Grosjean, but everything seemed to work well today: strategy was good and I can only say a big thank you to the team and the guys in the garage. I am extremely happy and very proud of the team."
Vettel commanded the lead from the start and steadily drew away from the balance of the pack, including the formerly consistent and quick McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Grosjean was the first to challenge the German and later Raikkonen would pass his teammate and try to force Vettel into an error--which he never made. Still the race pace shown by Lotus F1 Team fully backed up their preseason tests and the strength shown in the three earlier contests.
Raikkonen, the "ice man" gave a deadpan commentary on his race and stated, "I'm slightly disappointed we didn't take the win because we had the pace. I only had one chance to overtake and unfortunately I chose the wrong side to try and get past," he said. "If I hadn't made a small mistake at the start and allowed Felipe (Massa) to get through then maybe it would have been a different story. It's good to have both cars on the podium, especially after last race which didn't go to plan, but I honestly think we could have taken the victory today."
His teammate was a bit more joyful in earning his first F1 podium with Lotus F1 Team. "It's a great feeling to get my first podium and I'm really proud of the whole team for doing an incredible job today. We've known all season how quick the car can be," Grosjean noted, "but with such a tight field any small mistakes can make a huge difference. Today I think we got everything right and we've finally been able to prove how competitive we are."
Every driver bar one was on a three-stop strategy as marbles congregated by the side of the track, both Pirelli medium and soft tire compounds degrading easily. After the first round of pit stops, Vettel's lead yawed to more than six seconds but after their second stops Raikkonen worked the leader to a one-second gap. That would be the closest the Finn would get to victory, which he lamented in the post-race press conference.
Paul Di Resta - Photo courtesy Sahara Force India Formula 1 TeamEnlarge Photo