Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took his second victory of the season in Bahrain as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton recovered from a poor start and a penalty to finish in second place ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton exerted intense pressure in the final stages, chopping deep into a 13-second deficit to Vettel but the German kept a cool head to thread through traffic and take the flag with 6.6 seconds in hand. Had Hamilton not earlier been penalised for holding up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo during a pit stop, the battle might have been more nerve-wracking for Ferrari. Behind, Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
At the race start, pole sitter Bottas led through Turn One. Hamilton, though, lost out and was passed by Vettel as the field streamed through the first corner. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen made an excellent start to rise from sixth on the grid to fourth by the end of lap one, the Dutchman profiting from Hamilton’s poor start and the fact that the Briton backed up Daniel Ricciardo as they went into the first corner, with the result that the Australian was demoted to fifth ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, dropped to seventh from fifth on the grid.
Over the opening laps, Bottas was unable to carve out a significant lead and by the time the drivers were starting their 10th lap, just three seconds separated the top five drivers.
With a Vettel was the first to take a strategic gamble, pitting on lap 11 to take on more supersofts. Verstappen noted it and request similar action but when he emerged from his first stop he almost immediately arrowed off track and into the barriers, reporting brake failure.
Moments later Vettel’s early stop reaped dividends when the Safety Car was called into action when Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll collided in Turn One, with the Williams’ driver’s car stranded on track.
Bottas pitted and Vettel inherited the lead. Hamilton was brought into the pits at the same time as his team-mate and as he approached the pit entry the Briton slowed dramatically to minimise waiting time in the stacked stop. The result was that Ricciardo, also on his way to pit lane, was held up badly. The incident eventually led to a five-second penalty for Hamilton, who was punished for driving unnecessarily slowly in the pit lane.
When they emerged supersoft-shod Vettel led from the similarly equipped Bottas, while Ricciardo and Hamilton, both now on softs, were in third and fourth respectively.
When the safety car left the track, Ricciardo’s tyres appeared to be far from the right operating window and he was rapidly passed by Hamilton, Massa and Raikkonen.
At the front, Vettel began to eke out a gap to Bottas and by lap 26 the German had 4.8s in hand over Bottas and a second more over Hamilton. On lap 27, though, Hamilton surged past Bottas to claim P2.
Soon after, Ricciardo was also the move. Raikkonen had passed Massa and on lap 29 the Brazilian was passed by the Red Bull driver, under DRS and under braking through Turn One.
On lap 31 Bottas pitted for the final time, taking on soft tyres. Ahead Hamilton was catching Vettel, whose supersoft tyres, by lap 32, were beginning to look spent. With the gap to Hamilton shrinking Ferrari opted to put the German on lap 34. Vettel took on a set of softs for his final stint and rejoined in P3 behind Raikkonen. He was soon past his team-mate, however, and then he began to chase down Hamilton, lapping a second quicker than the Briton as he ate into the 15.7s deficit.
By lap 39 the gap was down to 12.1s and closing. Behind them, Bottas was now third ahead of Ricciardo who had inherited fourth when Raikkonen made his final stop for soft tyres. The Australian then made his final stop, for supersofts on lap 40 and prepared for a late-race blast from fifth place.
Hamilton made his final stop on lap 42, serving his five-second penalty and taking on soft tyres. He dropped to third, 9.4s behind Bottas and 19s behind Vettel who was now looking comfortable in pursuit of his second win of the season.
The race looked like it might open up again in the final stages after Hamilton passed Bottas and then began to scythe through a 13-second gap to Vettel, but the German held his nerve and applied the pace necessary to keep Hamilton at bay to take the 44th win of his career.
With Hamilton second and Bottas third, fourth place went to Raikkonen who finished 16.8s ahead of Ricciardo. Massa was sixth for Williams, while Force India’s Sergio Perez enjoyed a great evening’s work to rise from P18 on the grid to seventh place at the flag. Romain Grosjean was eighth for Haas and the final points placings went to Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon in the second Force India.