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Vettel, Red Bull Return To Top

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 23 2012

Order was restored in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship at an unlikely venue Sunday, when Sebastian Vettel turned his first pole of the season into his first victory of 2012 in the politically troubled Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.

Vettel, the two-time/reigning World Driving Champion for Red Bull Racing/Renault, held off a late-race charge by 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen for a margin of victory of 3.30-seconds after 57 laps around the 3.363-mile/14-turn Sakhir Circuit. Romain Grosjean, Raikkonen’s Lotus/Renault teammate, posted his first podium finish in third.

A miserable day in the pits for McLaren/Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton – the 2008 World Champion and points-leader as the day began – allowed Vettel to move to the top of the table with 53 points. Hamilton, who had finished third in the first three events of 2012 but was eighth Sunday, is second with 49 points. Mark Webber, Vettel’s RBR teammate, is third with 48 points. Former World Champions Jenson Button of McLaren/Mercedes and Fernando Alonso of Scuderia Ferrari are tied for fourth with 43 points.

The constructors’ championship is topped by Red Bull with 101 points, followed by McLaren with 92 and Lotus with 57 – 12 points ahead of Ferrari. Mercedes rounds out the top five with 37 points.

Sunday’s result marked the fourth different driver/constructor winner in as many events, an unpredictable trend unlike Vettel’s runaway season in 2011. Button, the 2009 World Champion, won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, followed by two-time World Champion Alonso’s victory for Ferrari in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Second generation star Nico Rosberg of Mercedes AMG posted his first career F1 win last weekend in China, where Vettel bemoaned a fifth-place finish.

“It’s very tight,” said Vettel, who earned his 22nd career F1 victory. “Cars are very close to each other and small things can make a huge difference on a Sunday. So, I think we started the season saying the McLaren is the best car by far, by quite a bit, and we’ve seen on Sunday it can be a different picture. I think they still have one of the strongest packages but you need to get everything right. You need to have the right tires, you need to treat them right, you need to find the right setup during the course of the weekend _ so a lot of things to look out for.

“So yeah, I’m very happy we made it here. We were not quite sure how competitive we would be. I think China was a very good lesson for us to understand probably the weakness of the car a little bit more, driving with two different packages. For here, we focused on the new package and pushing that forward on a circuit where I think you need a lot of power as well. I’m just happy for now. I don’t really care what happens the next race, at least not today.”

With the exception of an open test session, teams will be idle until Round 5, the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, on May 13. SPEED’s live coverage will begin at 7:30 a.m. (EDT).

The FIA-sanctioned series will return to the United States for the inaugural Formula 1 USGP at Circuit of The Americas, a $300-million facility under construction in Austin, Texas, Nov. 16-18.

Webber finished fourth, giving Renault-powered cars the top four positions. Rosberg completed the top five but came under scrutiny for a pair of blocking moves against Hamilton and Alonso. The incidents were under investigation as the race ended.

“It was an incredible race. Extremely tough, even sometimes (when) we had a decent gap,” said Vettel, who also qualified on-pole for this event in 2010, when Alonso scored the win. The race was canceled in 2011 because of the political unrest that continued to provide an uneasy backdrop to the weekend. Large portions of the massive grandstands appeared empty, even as FIA officials defended their decision to run the event based upon assurances of safety for all by the government.

“From the start I was able to pull away immediately from the pack,” said Vettel, “which turned out to be a big advantage because we always had to go on a new set of tires as we used nearly all of them (Saturday) in qualifying. We could see that Kimi was getting through. He was very quick. So was Romain, so a difficult race.

“But strategy and everything seemed to work and I can only say a big ‘thank you’ to the whole team – to the boys in the garage. Incredible job they have done over the first four races. The amount of work we gave them, in particular, because we weren’t happy with the car and we asked for this and that – little tweaks here-and-there. They came with new parts, old parts, back with the new parts, back with the old parts, back-and-forth. They spent a lot of hours in the garage trying to get the car to our liking and I think we got it this weekend together for the first time. I was very happy in qualifying and throughout the whole race to be fair.

“Given the fact that Kimi found a dealership, a dealer, somewhere where he got new tires from which allowed him to start every stint on new tires. I think it was extremely tough to keep them behind us. Once he was very close. I thought that he would get more than just one shot but it turned out to be enough. At the end I was even pulling away a little bit and could control the last stint.”

Once Raikkonen cleared teammate Grosjean on Lap 24, just before their second stops, he started tracking down Vettel. Raikkonen ultimately drew within a few yards of Vettel but couldn’t find an opening.

Raikkonen said he had no problem with having to work to pass Grosjean. “There’s no team orders. We know the rules,” Raikkonen said. “I tried to get past as quickly as I can but it’s not easy. It’s always easy afterwards to say if it would have been, but we were not fast enough to win and we have to take second. I get one chance on Sebastian but I choose the wrong side (to pass) under braking, so that was it really. And I didn’t have any other chances to try. I mean, it’s disappointing to finish second but I think after last race we have to take it and be pretty happy.

“We gave ourselves a chance at least and it’s disappointing that I didn’t manage to do it. I made a small mistake in the beginning, lost one place to a Ferrari (Felipe Massa) and I had to re-overtake him and it took a little time. I got past people quite easily, but it still took too long. We couldn’t win the race but at least we got the podium with both cars. After the last race we tried hard and we failed so probably people thought we were a bit stupid. But I think the team deserves what we have achieved now. We have been working hard and not being 100 percent happy with how the weekend has run we finally got some proper result for the team.”

While Raikkonen returned to an F1 podium for the first time since 2009, Grosjean emerged as the first Frenchman to score top-three points since Jean Alessi in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. “We knew we had a good car but I think we were a little bit surprised how quick we were,” Grosjean said. “Our car is very competitive and every small detail makes a huge difference so the team is working very hard bringing in new pieces and putting back the old and trying to see which one is the best. Not always easy but we can be very happy with what we did. Personally, I’m very, very happy to get my first podium. It’s quite a good feeling, I have to say.”

FIA Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix results with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine and time/laps differential:

1. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1 hour, 35:10.990-seconds

2. (9) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault, plus 3.30-seconds

3. (10) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus/Renault, plus 10.10-seconds

4. (2) Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, plus 38.70-seconds

5. (8) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG, plus 55.40-seconds

6. (11) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, plus 57.50-seconds

7. (5) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, plus 57.80-seconds

8. (4) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, plus 58.90-seconds

9. (6) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, plus 1:04.90-seconds

10. (7) Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes AMG, plus 1:11.40-seconds

11. (15) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, plus 1:12.70-seconds

12. (12) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, plus 1:16.50-seconds

13. (17) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, plus 1:30.30-seconds

14. (14) Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber/Ferrari, plus 1:33.70-seconds

15. (16) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, plus 1 lap

16. (21) Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham/Renault, plus 1 lap

17. (20) Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham/Renault, plus 1 lap

18. (3) Jenson Button, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, plus 1 lap

19. (24) Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia/Cosworth, plus 2 laps

20. (22) Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT/Cosworth, plus 2 laps

21. (23) Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT/Cosworth, plus 2 laps

22. (19) Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams/Renault, plus 3 laps

23. (18) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, retired Lap 26

24. (25) Charles Pic, France, Marussia/Cosworth, retired Lap 25

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 23 2012
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