Vettel victorious in Bahrain, Hamilton second after penalty

Sebastian Vettel takes Ferrari’s second win of the year in Bahrain as Lewis Hamilton recovers from a time penalty to take P2 for Mercedes.

Sebastian Vettel swept to Ferrari’s second win of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton after a time penalty hindered the Briton’s chances of victory.

Vettel managed to jump pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas in the first round of pit stops after a safety car period and forged a healthy lead that would prove crucial late on when Hamilton launched his charge.

Hamilton was hit with a five-second time penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo in the pit lane, forcing Mercedes to revise its strategy and keep the three-time champion out late before making a final stop. 

Despite charging in the closing stages on fresher tyres, Hamilton was unable to catch Vettel at the front, allowing the Ferrari driver to record his second win of the year and move seven points clear at the top of the drivers’ championship.

Starting from pole for the first time in his F1 career, Bottas did not let the occasion get the better of him and made a perfect jump off the line, retaining the lead. Hamilton took to the inside, only for Sebastian Vettel to sweep past at Turn 1 and give himself the cut-back for Turn 2, moving up into second place.

Vettel got DRS as soon as it was enabled and was able to latch onto the back of Bottas, yet the Finn managed to keep his pace in check, doing just enough to stay ahead of his Ferrari rival. Hamilton was close behind and had the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo for company, with the top five being covered by just three seconds as Bottas backed the field up.

Not willing to waste more time behind Bottas at the front, Vettel was the first driver to pit, coming in at the end of Lap 10 to switch to a second set of super-soft tyres. With Mercedes trying to extend the first stint for both its drivers, Verstappen was the next to come in and make the switch, only to suffer a rear-brake issue on his outlap that caused him to spin into the wall at Turn 4, much to the Dutchman’s frustration as he suffered his first retirement of the season.

Mercedes looked to be handed a ‘get out of jail free card’ when the safety car was deployed following a clash between Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jr. at Turn 1. However, a slow stop for Bottas meant that Vettel was able to move ahead, while there was worse news for Hamilton. The Briton tried slowing so he did not lose time during the double-stop with Bottas, yet he too had a slow tyre change, causing him to fall to fourth behind Ricciardo. The stewards also announced they would be investigating Hamilton’s slow pace in the pit lane as he appeared to impede Ricciardo, eventually deciding to give the three-time champion a five-second time penalty.

Vettel led the field away when the race returned to green on Lap 17, but was soon under pressure from Bottas. The Finn tried a move around the outside at Turn 4, only for Vettel to defend valiantly and stay ahead. Hamilton wasted little time in taking third place back from Ricciardo, who struggled with tyre temperature and immediately fell back to sixth, allowing Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen to gain places.

With Hamilton racing under the cloud of his time penalty, Vettel pushed to see off the threat posed by the second Mercedes, forging a healthy buffer over Bottas at the front of the pack that extended to six seconds as the race neared half-distance. Mercedes reacted by getting Hamilton to up his pace, slipping past Bottas at Turn 1 on Lap 27 to take second place as the Finn struggled with his super-softs overheating. Hamilton now had a big gap to bridge to Vettel at the front, but was not required to make another pit stop unlike his German rival.

Mercedes released Bottas out of his bind on Lap 31 and pitted him for a fresh set of soft tyres that would take him to the end of the race, while Vettel reported that he too was struggling on super-softs. Ferrari blinked just two laps later with the race leader, ensuring Vettel was out in clean air so he could maximise the pace of his fresh tyres. Hamilton now led for Mercedes, enjoying an 18-second buffer over Vettel in P2 – but with his softs some 20 laps older, it seemed unlikely he could get to the end and retain his advantage.

As his tyres faded and the threat of a safety car remained, Mercedes opted to bring Hamilton in on Lap 42 and switch him to another set of soft tyres, with the five-second time penalty being taken there and then. Hamilton was released in third place, 20 seconds off Vettel in the lead and 10 behind Bottas, and questioned why he was not given super-softs for the final stint so he could push hard late on.

Hamilton duly delivered at the beginning of his final stint, lighting the timesheets purple as he bore down on Vettel at the front, carving more than one second per lap out of the Ferrari driver. Bottas was told not to fight Hamilton, moving over at Turn 12 and dropping to third place with 10 laps to go. Hamilton now had clean air to charge into, yet with 12 seconds to make up, the challenge remained a big one.

And indeed, it proved too big. Hamilton halved the gap in the closing stages and nearly struck lucky when a safety car period looked possible after Marcus Ericsson stopped on-track. However, the marshals were able to recover it under yellows, ensuring Vettel remained at the front of the pack without any pressure.

Vettel ultimately crossed the line 6.6 seconds clear of Hamilton to record his second win of the season and mark his fifth success for Ferrari, retaking the lead of the drivers’ championship in the process.

Hamilton and Bottas rounded out the podium for Mercedes, the latter finishing 20 seconds down on Vettel after failing to convert his maiden F1 pole into his maiden F1 win.

Kimi Raikkonen had another tough race, recovering to fourth place, 22 seconds down on Vettel at the front, while Daniel Ricciardo ended up fifth for Red Bull, acting as its sole points scorer.

Felipe Massa led Williams’ charge in sixth place, finishing ahead of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, while Esteban Ocon rounded out the points in P10 for the third race in a row.

Pascal Wehrlein had a trouble-free return to racing with Sauber after missing the first two races, finishing 11th, half a second clear of Daniil Kvyat in P12. Jolyon Palmer was 13th, while an angry Fernando Alonso was the last classified finisher in P14 for McLaren, pitting with three laps to go due to an engine failure.


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