Sebastian Vettel won a disruption-free race in Bahrain holding off a determined charge from Kimi Raikkonen
It was an impressive afternoon for the Lotus team with Raikkonen securing his best finish since returning to F1 and his team-mate Romain Grosjean making it onto the podium for the first time in his career. Grosjean was also the first Frenchman on the podium in more than a decade.
Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, who was driving by himself most of the afternoon, finished P4 while Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg had to settle for a contentious P5 - having run both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso off the road.
It was curious weather pattern that descended on the Sakhir Circuit in advance of the race, with spots of rain threatening. Any rain was likely to have burnt straight off the track with the ambient temperature of 27C and the track at 32C. After the cars came round on the parade lap Bruno Senna was slightly out of position on his grid slot.
1.Vettel, 2.Hamilton, 3.Webber, 4.Button, 5.Rosberg, 6.Ricciardo, 7.Grosjean, 8.Perez, 9.Alonso, 10.DiResta, 11.Raikkonen, 12.Kobayashi, 13.Hulkenberg, 14.Massa, 15.Senna, 16.Kovalainen, 17.Vergne, 18.Petrov, 19.Pic, 20.de la Rosa, 21.Maldonado, 22.Schumacher (gearbox change after Qualifying), 23.Glock, 24.Karthikeyan
Sebastian Vettel got a great get-away and put in one of his typical scorching first laps. Lewis Hamilton eased into P2 with Mark Webber behind, but it was Jenson Button behind them who got squeezed out by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Grosjean wasn't going to settle for P4 and challenged Mark wbber for P3 later in the lap.
Fernando Alonso (from P8) took advantage of Button's lack of momentum to get past the McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen got a flyer from P11 competing hard with Rosberg on the opening lap. Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo, who had qualified brilliantly on Saturday, had a shocker of a start and ended the opening lap in P16 from P6 on the grid. Force India's Paul DiResta also dropped back.
Positions at the end of Lap One
1.Vettel, 2.Hamilton, 3.Webber, 4.Grosjean, 5.Alonso, 6.Button, 7.Raikkonen, 8.Massa, 9.Rosberg, 10.Perez, 11.Senna, 12.DiResta, 13.Kobayashi, 14.Vergne.
Michael Schumacher finished the opening lap in P18 while Heikki Kovalainen had to return to the pits after a puncture from contact with Ricciardo.
Sebastian Vettel's lead on the opening lap was 2.2 seconds as the order began to shuffle in the first stint. Massa got past Raikkonen for P7 on Lap 3 and then Romain Grosjean took Webber for P3 a lap later. Kimi didn't stay behind Felipe for very long and on lap 5 he got a better exit from Turn 4 and was back past Massa.
Both McLarens looked vulnerable with Vettel stretching out his lead to 4.6 seconds by Lap 5 and Grosjean homing in on Hamilton, whose rear tyres looked to be going away after just 6 laps. Grosjean dived down the inside into Turn 1 on Lap 6 to take P2. On the same lap, Jenson Button lost his P6 to Kimi Raikkonen.
At the end of Lap 7, Button, Massa and Rosberg pitted, and on Lap 8 Hamilton, Webber and Alonso stopped for tyres. It was another disastrous stop for the McLaren team with the left-rear tyre again proving to be problematic. In China Button had lost the chance of a win because of it, and in Bahrain Hamilton dropped behind both Webber and Alonso thanks to it.
To make matters worse as Hamilton exited the pitlane he got embroiled in an incident with Rosberg, the Mercedes driver pushing his friend (former friend) off the circuit in defending his place. It looked very dangerous but Hamilton managed to keep going and actually got the place in front of Rosberg who moaned down team radio that Hamilton had overtaken him off the track. To which the McLaren team would have said - where was Lewis supposed to go.
Vettel and Grosjean pitted at the end of Lap 11 while on Lap 12 Jenson Button made a brave overtaking move on Fernando Alonso through Turns 5,6,7 to take P7. Ahead of them both Paul Di Resta actually led the race not having stopped yet.
Positions on Lap 12: 1.DiResta (not stopped), 2.Vettel, 3.Grosjean, 4.Kobayashi (not stopped) 5.Webber, 6.Raikkonen, 7.Button, 8.Alonso, 9.Hamilton, 10.Rosberg, 11.Massa, 12.Perez 13.Maldonado, 14.Schumacher
Raikkonen had got himself ahead of Jenson Button in the pitstops and on Lap 13 was past Webber for P5 (net P3), he put in the fastest laps on Lap 14 and 15 in pursuit of his team-mate, meanwhile both Kobayashi and di Resta stopped on the same lap. When di Resta emerged from the pits he had to contend with a Maldonado who he claimed was "weaving all over the place". The most animated he has ever appeared in his F1 career.
Lewis Hamilton was informed by team radio that it was time to go to "Plan B" on Lap 16 whatever that was. Vettel, Grosjean and Raikkonen were the only drivers in the 1:39s at this stage and were dropping Webber to make it a three-way race at the front.
Gradually Raikkonen hauled his team-mate in, while Vettel continued to enjoy a 5.4 second gap at the front.
On Lap 22 Button pitted early again and was followed in by Massa and Rosberg. On Lap 23 Webber, Hamilton, Alonso, Maldonado and Schumacher all pitted. The McLaren pitcrew were having a dire afternoon and yet again the left rear of Hamilton's car proved problematic and as a result the Brit lost more places.
Rosberg had got ahead of Alonso by stopping a lap earlier and now came under serious pressure from the Ferrari man. The stewards had already said that they would investigate the incident between Hamilton and Rosberg after the race, but the same incident was played out again on Lap 25, although this time between Alonso and Rosberg. Again Rosberg pushed his opponent onto the sand in what looked a patently dangerous defence of his place.
This time Rosberg kept the position as Alonso complained loudly over team radio
Positions on Lap 26: 1.Vettel, 2. Raikkonen, 3.Grosjean, 4.DiResta (one stop) 5.Webber, 6.Kobayashi (one stop), 7. Button, 8.Rosberg, 9.Alonso, 10.Massa, 11.Hamilton, 12.Perez
At this stage of the race Raikkonen had closed the gap to Vettel down to 2.2 seconds and he would gradually reduce this down to 1.4 seconds on Lap 31 and 0.7 by Lap 34.
Kobayashi disappeared from the order for his second stop on Lap 31 and Paul Di Resta on lap 34 as all eyes were on the front of the race with Raikkonen reducing the gap to Vettel to 0.6 seconds on Lap 35 and having to defend against Raikkonen on Lap 36.
Although Lewis Hamilton was stuck behind Felipe Massa, both he and Jenson Button's tyres were going off again and they had to stop on Laps 37 and 38 respectively. Button would lose a place to Rosberg following his stop. At the front, the drama was reduced by Vettel and Raikkonen coming in together on Lap 40. Red Bull Racing won the battle of the speedy pit-stops and Vettel exited with a bigger advantage.
Positions on Lap 41: 1.Vettel, 2.Raikkonen, 3.Grosjean, 4.Webber 5.DiResta 5.Webber, 6.Rosberg, 7.Button, 8.Alonso, 9.Kobayashi 10.Hamilton, 11.Massa, 12.Schumacher
Despite Kimi's engineer telling him that the Red Bull had "worse deg than us" (degradation) on Lap 45 he had a 3.4 gap over the Finn - this went down to 2.8 seconds on Lap 49 but was up to 3.4 seconds on Lap 50.
Paul DiResta was sitting in a brilliant P5 position for Force India but his tyres were a lot older than the chasing NicoRosberg and Jenson Button. He managed to resist Rosberg using double KERS on the start/finish straight but on Lap 52 Rosberg took P5 into Turn 1. Jenson Button was just closing in on the Scot a few laps later when the Mclaren picked up a left rear puncture and fell from P7 to P13. Although he had new tyres when Button resumed the track his engineer asked him to switch modes on his steering wheel and a lap later his car was heading back down the pitlane and into retirement.
Now DiResta came under attack from Fernando Alonso who managed to hold him off on the final lap.
Ahead of them there were no changes in the closing stages with Sebastian Vettel becoming the fourth GP winner in four races in 2012, coming home 3.3 seconds in front of Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean clinching his first ever podium. Mark Webber was in his familiar P4 position in front of the contentious drive from Rosberg and the just-about-holding-on DiResta in P6.
Before the race Alonso had thought that sixth place might be possible but the Spaniard managed seventh ahead of Hamilton in P8, Massa in P9 and Michael Schumacher who struggled through from P22 on the grid to score the final World Championship point. Kobayashi was forced into a late race third stop and lost the point he looked destined to pick up.
It had been an interruption free race where Lotus asserted their claim to be World Championship contenders, but where the reigning World Champion had shown how determined he is to make it three in a row.
01. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h35:10.990
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 3.300
3. Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 10.100
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 38.700
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 55.400
6. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 57.500
7. Alonso Ferrari + 57.800
8. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 58.900
9. Massa Ferrari + 1:04.900
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:11.400
11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1:12.700
12. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 1:16.500
13. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:30.300
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:33.700
15. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
17. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
18. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1 lap
19. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
20. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
22. Senna Williams-Renault + 3 laps
Did not finish
Bruno Senna Williams-Renault Lap 54
Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault Lap 25
Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth Lap 24
Any reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of 365 Media Group is strictly forbidden.