GP BAHRAIN F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

This is shaping up to be a very close Formula One season indeed, as Sebastian Vettel takes the chequered flag in a thrilling 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix. That makes it two wins out of three races for the German, and enables him to pull ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship – two were on level pegging on points coming out of Shanghai last week.

Having qualified third behind the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton, Vettel got off to a flying start, the Ferrari swooping past the Briton to take second place. Behind them, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen got the jump on the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, then forced his way past his teammate Daniel Ricciardo around the outside of Turn 1 into fourth.

Ferrari then took the risky gamble of pitting Vettel early on lap 10, putting him on fresh supersoft tyres. That put him way down in 12th place, but thereafter Vettel scythed his way around the track, running as much as three seconds a lap faster than the leaders. Verstappen attempted the same strategy a lap later, but crashed out on lap 12 due to a suspected brake failure.

Formel 1 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Großer Preis von Bahrain 2017. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas ;
Formula One – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Bahrain GP 2017. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas;

On lap 13, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz clattered into the side of the Williams of Lance Stroll as he left the pits, triggering the safety car; Mercedes responded by pitting both cars. As he was being stacked behind Bottas coming in, Hamilton slowed down in what appeared to be an attempt to block Ricciardo and get his teammate out ahead, although the Finn’s slow stop meant he came out behind the Australian anyway.

Hamilton’s manoeuvre was deemed unnecessary by the stewards, and he was slapped with a five-second penalty. What’s more, unlike in China, Vettel was so fast that he was still ahead of the two Mercedes drivers when they emerged from the pits, with Hamilton behind Ricciardo as well.

On the restart on lap 17, Hamilton passed Ricciardo on the main straight, while an eager Bottas tried to find his way around Vettel. The move did not stick, however, and the latter managed to pull away from the Silver Arrows. Meanwhile, Raikkonen added insult to Ricciardo’s injury by snatching fourth at the exit of turn 11.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

While Bottas struggled with overheating rear tyres, Hamilton was desperate to make up ground that he would have to concede due to his penalty. Bottas let him through on lap 29, and Hamilton was then free to catch Vettel; the latter peeled into the pits once more on lap 33 for soft tyres.

Hamilton stayed on until lap 41, then went in to serve his penalty and pick up a new set of soft tyres. From there, he was let through by Bottas again, then set a series of fastest laps to bring down the gap to Vettel from 19 seconds to just 5.8 seconds by lap 54. Running out of time, however, Hamilton backed off to finish the race 6.6 seconds behind Vettel.

Some ways behind the lead pair, Bottas clung on to the final podium position just two seconds ahead of Raikkonen, while Ricciardo finished fifth. After an engaging scrap with Raikkonen and Ricciardo, Felipe Massa crossed the line in sixth in the sole remaining Williams, followed by Force India’s Sergio Perez, Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Perez’s teammate Esteban Ocon.

Formel 1 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Großer Preis von Bahrain 2017. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas ;
Formula One – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Bahrain GP 2017. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas;

Rounding off the finishers were Sauber’s returning Pascal Wehrlein, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso again failed to finish, with yet another Honda engine issue dropping him out just three laps away from the end; his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne did not even get to start his race due to a power unit problem. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen also retired.

With his two wins to Hamilton’s sole victory last weekend, Vettel now leads the drivers’ standings with 68 points, just seven points ahead of Hamilton. Ferrari also tops the constructors’ championship with 102 points versus Mercedes’ 99.