Without doubt the most gripping race of 2013 so far saw Sebastian Vettel cruise to a trouble-free win in Bahrain while behind him a battle-royal raged. In a repeat of the 2012 podium Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean took second and third for Lotus, with Grosjean passing Force India’s Paul di Resta with five laps to go.
Di Resta took fourth place and like Räikkönen stopped only twice while the other front-runners visited the pits three times. Practice analysis had suggested there was little to choose between the two strategies and in the race it proved accurate, with traffic and tyre temperature rather than wear ultimately being the deciding factors for many teams adapting their strategies on the fly.
Behind Di Resta there was a melée going on among a series of three-stopping cars. When the hostilities finally ended Lewis Hamilton was fifth for Mercedes, Sergio Pérez sixth for McLaren, Mark Webber came home seventh in the second Red Bull and Fernando Alonso was eighth for Ferrari, having struggled all afternoon with a non-functional DRS.
Pole position man Nico Rosberg dropped to ninth in the second Mercedes and Jenson Button took the final point for McLaren. The latter pair made four stops, and after the race Rosberg revealed that he had struggled with his rear tyre temperatures all afternoon.
The battle for the minor points paying positions were fluid right to the last lap, with the DRS advantage outweighing any genuine pace differential and prompting changes of position every lap, as cars passed and re-passed each other at any of several good overtaking spots.
There were shades of a 1970s-style drafting grand prix with wheel-to-wheel action all the way to the flag with Hamilton and and Pérez both passing a fading Webber on the last lap, the last in a series of tense encounters.
So intense was the battle behind, Vettel taking the chequered flag was a minor diversion. He took the lead from Rosberg on lap three, after initially having fallen to third behind Alonso. After assuming the lead, however, he never looked back, only once losing the place during the pit stop window.
He confessed that he had not expected such an easy afternoon. “I was pretty dominant today which certainly was not the expectation. In the beginning [there was] quite tight, wheel-to-wheel racing. I knew it would be crucial to get in the lead because then you have a little bit of an advantage, looking after your tyres and managing the race from there. I could feel that I was able to pull away.”