Bahrain GP - Sunday - Race Report
Vettel's keys to victory in Bahrain
By Dan Knutson in Manama
Sebastian Vettel did not dominate the Bahrain Grand Prix. He did not qualify on pole, lead every lap, clock the fastest race lap, and go on to win. He and the Ferrari team had to work for this victory, and it was aided by the Mercedes team working against itself at times with the result that Lewis Hamilton finished second and Valtteri Bottas third.
Here are some of the keys to Vettel's win.
This round went to Mercedes, with Bottas earning his first ever F1 pole and Hamilton gridding second. But Vettel slotted into third place, on the clean side of the track, and that gave him the opportunity to get a run down to the first corner after the start and pass Hamilton.
THE FAULTY GENERATOR
"Ultimately, this was a day of marginal losses which cost us the win," Toto Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said. "Our first loss came on the grid when a generator failure left Valtteri with too high starting pressures; that limited his pace in the opening stint, meaning we could not open a gap to the field and, with Lewis running behind Vettel, our strategic choices were pretty limited."
Bottas grabbed the lead, but Hamilton could not hold off Vettel.
"Sebastian was in my blind spot so I didn't know whereabouts he was," Hamilton said. "I didn't know where anyone was behind me. Valtteri got a good start and it was really just about covering him. I obviously lost position to Sebastian there. It was really hard to follow but we're generally all similar kind of pace."
SPLITTING THE MERCS
By getting into second place, Vettel was able to split the Mercedes drivers.
"It was crucial for us to get between them to not allow them to get in front and pull away and do their thing - upset them a bit," said Vettel.
THOSE HIGH TIRE PRESSURES
Bottas: "I don't know the exact amount, but it was more than one PSI. Even then, with everyone starting on the Pirelli minimum pressure required, they are already too high, so anything more than that is just worse and worse. The effect was basically it felt like it was overheating, it felt like I was driving on marbles, they were overheating from the surface in a small area of the tyre, so basically I didn't have a good balance and traction was poor."
Vettel pitted earlier than the others, coming in after 10 laps.
Wolff: "It was a bold move and it won them the race."
When the safety car was deployed following the accident between Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz, the others pitted and Vettel sailed by to take the lead on lap 14.
Both Bottas and Hamilton came into the pits when the safety car was on track, and as a result they got "stacked" as Hamilton was going to have to wait for Bottas' car to be serviced first. Hamilton slowed down, and thus impeded Daniel Ricciardo who was just behind him. Officials handed Hamilton a five-second penalty that came back to bite him at the end.
PIT STOP PROBLEMS
Wolff: "It looks like we had a power loss on the [wheel nut] guns, and we couldn't operate the guns as they were not functioning."
Bottas lunged after Vettel when the race was restarted after the safety car came in at the end of lap 16, but Vettel hung on to the lead.
"That was hairy," Vettel said. "It was a bit tricky because we only got the message very late: 'the safety car's coming in' and then, you can't just be stupid and break the field down, do a stop-and-go but I tried to use a little bit of momentum. I thought I had a decent gap leaving the last corner and then it felt like I had more headwind than in the whole race on that particular lap.
"I was fairly confident halfway down the straight, just looked in the mirror to check and he was coming. I saw sparks behind me everywhere and then I obviously had to defend. Yeah, then I wasn't quite sure where he was under braking but I guess we were side-by-side so it was a lot closer than I expected, leaving the last corner. But fortunately, I stayed ahead."
After his second and final pit stop, Hamilton was in third place and 19 seconds behind Vettel. He got that gap down to 6.66 seconds at the finish.
"I had very good pace, particularly the second and last stint," Hamilton said, "and I honestly believed I would be able to catch Sebastian up but obviously with a five-second penalty that made it twice as hard as it was already going to be."
The Ferrari was just plain fast.
"The pace was certainly key today to win," Vettel said.
THE COOL CUSTOMER
This was not the first time Vettel has led a grand prix, or had a top driver hunting him down. But he kept his cool and went on to win for the 44th time.