Red Bull’s Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel took a commanding victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix for the second year in a row on Sunday to extend his overall lead to 10 points after four races.
In a race with plenty of skirmishes on the track, but untroubled by anti-government protests and reported clashes elsewhere in the tiny Gulf kingdom, the German beat Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen by 9.1 seconds.
The win, with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa watching amid heavy security surrounding the Sakhir desert circuit, was Vettel’s second of the season and 28th of his career.
If the event itself was controversial to some, because of human rights concerns after the crushing of a 2011 uprising, the sporting outcome was a straightforward demonstration of supremacy.
“It was pretty dominant today,” said the 25-year-old triple world champion, who started on the front row and was so far ahead after 25 of the 57 laps that he could pit and still come out in the lead, after swigging the winner’s rosewater on the podium.
“Certainly we had more pace than we expected,” he added after what team boss Christian Horner called “an absolutely impeccable drive”.
France’s Romain Grosjean finished third for Lotus, his first podium since Hungary last July, to complete the same top three as last year.
Britain’s Paul Di Resta equalled his career-best finish, after leading for three laps, with fourth place for Force India after losing third to Grosjean with six laps to go as the Frenchman made the most of fresher tyres.
Vettel now has 77 points to 67 for 2007 champion Raikkonen, who chalked up his 21st successive scoring finish and is three races away from equalling the record set by the now-retired Michael Schumacher.
There was bitter disappointment for Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg, who started on pole position but slipped to ninth at the chequered flag, and for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who could have expected to be on the podium but for a mechanical failure.
The Spaniard, now fourth overall with 47 points, finished eighth after having to make an unscheduled pit-stop on lap seven – a lap after coming in for his regular stop – with his rear-wing DRS system stuck open.
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton moved up to third in the standings, on 50 points, after taking fifth place for Mercedes in a thrilling battle with Red Bull’s Mark Webber over the closing laps of the Australian’s 200th race.
The two traded positions, almost locked side by side but never coming together, in a remarkable display of precision driving in the searing heat.
“In the middle of the race I thought I could get on the podium, but then it was about pace management and it’s a fine line between racing and saving tyres,” Webber said of another highly strategic race.
“It was a pretty good battle with Lewis for both of us; neither of us had any tyres left, but we were trying to race as best we could.”
Mexican Sergio Perez also passed Webber after a wheel-to-wheel duel with McLaren team mate Jenson Button in which the newcomer nudged the rear of the 2009 champion’s car in a series of risky manoeuvres.
Button urged the team to ‘calm him down’ but Perez continued to push with Grosjean looming in his mirrors.
“I was very vocal on the radio, emotions were running high, but I would say exactly the same again,” said Button afterwards. “The racing was great out there. The only person that wasn’t was Checo (Perez).
“He was too aggressive, I would say. At 300 kph, you don’t expect your team-mate to come alongside you and bang wheels with you. It was a bit of a surprise, and I’m probably not the only one that feels like that.”
Perez, who has been under pressure after a difficult start with McLaren, sounded unrepentant: “I was as aggressive as he was with me…It’s something we have to speak about.”
Webber finished seventh while Button was 10th, denying Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado a first point of the season for Williams.
Rosberg led from the start but could hold off Vettel – who made three pitstops while Raikkonen did just two – for only two laps, with Alonso swiftly moving up to second before his nightmare in the pits.
“I knew it would be crucial to get in the lead if I could because then you have a little bit of an advantage looking after your tyres and managing the race from there,” said Vettel. “I could feel that I was able to pull away.”
The heavy security presence – especially in villages near the circuit – meant any protests went unnoticed by those inside the paddock.
Except for a black plume of smoke rising from a dirt field, there were few signs of unrest by late afternoon in mostly Shi’ite villages near Manama.