Advantage Sebastian after an F1 desert thriller

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were level on points at the top of the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship as they arrived in hot and dusty Bahrain last weekend for the third Grand Prix of the new season, but after a thrilling race it was the German quadruple champion who left with the biggest smile on his face courtesy of a thoroughly deserved championship lead over his main rival.

Vettel’s red Ferrari had topped the timesheets in the opening two practice sessions before Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and Hamilton’s Mercedes edged ahead in final practice. As the sun fell and the floodlights came on around the brightly coloured circuit for the all-important qualifying session it was the Silver Arrows of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton who set the fastest times, with the Finn achieving his first ever F1 pole position.

2017 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

Vettel was the best of the rest in qualifying, claiming third place on the grid, but was significantly almost half a second slower than the Mercedes duo, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completing the fastest quartet.

The following day the Grand Prix had a scheduled local start time of 6pm and when the red lights went out it was polesitter Bottas who swept into an early lead, with Vettel right behind him after getting the better of Hamilton into the opening righthander. The German was then the first of the leading drivers to make his opening pit stop and soon afterwards an unhappy Verstappen crashed out after suffering brake failure.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Bahrain Grand Prix - Practice Day - Sakhir, Bahrain

One lap later Williams’ Canadian rookie Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz collided at Turn 1 as the latter exited the pits and the safety car was forced to intervene. This prompted both Mercedes drivers to head straight to the pits, with Bottas leading Hamilton in. Knowing he would be stacked briefly behind his team-mate, Hamilton was guilty of some blatant and illegal gamesmanship against Ricciardo, unnecessarily delaying him as they drove into the pit lane. The British former champion subsequently received a five second penalty for his behaviour and later apologised to his team, but it did not affect the ultimate outcome.

As the race progressed through the second phase of pitstops Vettel regained his earlier lead ahead of the chasing Bottas, Hamilton and Räikkönen. Over the last 15 laps third placed Hamilton was quickly reeling in his team-mate and Mercedes asked Bottas to move over to let the Brit try to catch his German opponent for the victory. It was not to be though as Vettel led Hamilton home by 6.6s, with Bottas holding off Räikkönen for the final podium position. It was another great day at the office for Team Pink (aka Force India) as both its drivers again finished in the points and another dreadful one for the once mighty McLaren team with Fernando Alonso again failing to finish and Stoffel Vandoorne failing to even start the race due more technical woes.

The F1 circus now heads to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, with Vettel leading Hamilton by seven points and Ferrari heading Mercedes by just three points. One of the best F1 seasons for many years continues to develop nicely, so see you in Sochi for Vettel v Hamilton round four.

2017 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

2017 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix Results

1  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)                 1hr33m53.373s                        25 points

2  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)              +6.660s                                    18 points

3  Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes).              +20.397s                                  15 points

4  Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari)                  +22.475s                                  12 points

5  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)            +39.346s                                  10 points

6  Felipe Massa (Williams)                   +54.326s                        8 points

7  Sergio Perez (Force India)               +1m2.606s                      6 points

8  Romain Grosjean (Haas)                  +1m14.865s                    4 points

9  Nico Hülkenberg (Renault)               +1m20.188s                   2 points

10  Esteban Ocon (Force India)           +1m35.711s                    1 point

11  Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber)                          Lapped

12  Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)              Lapped

13  Jolyon Palmer (Renault)                            Lapped

14  Fernando Alonso (McLaren)          Retired

15  Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)              Retired

16  Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso)              Retired

17  Lance Stroll (Williams)                              Retired

18  Max Verstappen (Red Bull)                        Retired

19  Kevin Magnussen (Haas)                Retired

20  Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren)                    Did not start

2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 3 of 20 rounds)

1  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)            68 points

2  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)         61 points

3  Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)           38 points

2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 3 of 20 rounds)

1  Ferrari                102 points

2  Mercedes           99 points

3  Red Bull              47 points



By Graham Read

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