Sebastian Vettel took a thrilling 49th career victory on his 200th race start, nursing fading tyres to the chequered flag to hold off a determined charge by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. Lewis Hamilton took third place after starting ninth as Red Bull Racing saw both cars exit the race early on.
At the start, Vettel held his advantage from pole, but behind him Bottas made a better start than Räikkönen and stole second through Turn 1. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was briefly passed by Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly but the Australian quickly retook the position.
It all then began to unravel for Red Bull. Ricciardo slowed as he approached the end of the first lap with an electrical failure and pulled over at the side of the track to retire.
Further back, in midfield, Max Verstappen was charging forward from his 15th place starting position but as he began the second he tangled with Hamilton, with the Dutchman sustaining a punctured rear left tyre as he collided with Hamilton’s front wing in Turn 2.
Verstappen eventually made it back to the pit lane and after taking on a new set of supersofts rejoined in 19th place. It was a brief bit of action, though, and on lap three he pulled over and stopped his RB14, the damage from the collision with Hamilton preventing him from continuing.
By lap 10 Vettel had carved out a three-second lead over Bottas, with Räikkönen a further three seconds back. Behind them, Hamilton had staged a remarkable fight back from ninth place at the start, and from his bruising battle with Verstappen, and was now up to fourth ahead of Gasly and Magnussen.
Vettel pitted from the lead on lap 18, taking on a set of soft tyres, with Hamilton 10.2 seconds behind the Ferrari driver and in fourth place. Räikkönen followed his team-mate a lap later, rejoining 2.5s behind Vettel.
Bottas now led from Hamilton, but on lap 20 Mercedes covered the Ferrari stops and brought the Finn into pit lane. He also emerged on medium tyres, splitting the Ferraris as he had through the first stint.
Hamilton, who had started on used soft tyres and had not made a pit stop, was now in the lead, five seconds clear of Vettel, with Bottas third ahead of Räikkönen, Gasly and Magnussen.
Hamilton was soon caught by Vettel on fresh tyres, and Mercedes quickly pitted the Briton. He took on medium tyres, targeting a one-stop race, with Vettel set to make a second stop. Hamilton rejoined in fourth, some 25 seconds adrift of Vettel, with Bottas second and Räikkönen third.
Ferrari then pitted Räikkönen for a second stop on lap 35 but there was trouble for the Finn as the rear left wheel failed to come loose. There was confusion and when the Finn was released he collided with one of his crew, who had to be taken to the medical centre for checks. Räikkönen was told to stop in pit lane and the Finn quickly climbed out of the car and exited the race.
That boosted Hamilton to third and by lap 45 he was 16.7s behind Vetted. Ahead, Vettel’s problem was Bottas, who was secure in second, some seven seconds behind Vettel and setting good times on his medium tyres. The proximity was forcing Vettel to push to the end on his soft tyres and Bottas was given the message to close the German down.
With nine laps remaining Bottas was 5.4 behind the German and lapping half a second quicker than the Ferrari man. Behind the Hamilton was told to “keep his head down” and wait for Vettel’s tyres to fall away.
On lap 52 of the 57 Bottas had carved a further two seconds out of the gap to the leader and was told to “just push to the end” as Vettel began to struggle on his degrading soft tyres.
The German wouldn’t be denied, however. Bottas attacked with a lap remaining but Vettel held firm and though he was shadowed to the flag by the Mercedes driver in a tense finish, he crossed the line to score his 49th career win just over half a second clear of Bottas and 6.5s clear of third-placed Hamilton.
Drive of the day though, should have perhaps gone to Pierre Gasly. In just his seventh grand prix the Frenchman handed the new Toro Rosso-Honda partnership 12 valuable points with a superb, pacey and precise driver to fourth place.
Behind him Magnussen opened Haas’ 2018 account with fifth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Marcus Ericsson delivered a positive result for Sauber with ninth place and two points and the final point on offer was taken by Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
2018 Bahrain Grand Prix – Race
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari –
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 0.699
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 6.512
4 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso Honda 1’02.234
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1’15.046
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 1’39.024
7 Fernando Alonso McLaren Renault 1 lap
8 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Renault 1 lap
9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1 lap
10 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 1 lap
11 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault Renault 1 lap
12 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1 lap
13 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso Honda 1 lap
14 Charles Leclerc Sauber Ferrari 1 lap
15 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1 lap
16 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 1 lap
17 Sergey Sirotkin Williams Mercedes 1 lap
Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari DNF
Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG DNF
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG DNF