At what point does a political issue become a moral one? And at what point, if any, should motor racing enter that debate? These are the questions that Formula 1 and all those involved have wrestled with since the Bahrain Grand Prix was put back on the calendar for this year.
Some argued that sporting competition should rise above such issues. Others decried the cold-heartedness of holding something as glitzy as an F1 race where government forces are brutally cracking down on protestors – particularly when the race itself is orchestrated by said government.
One way or another, however, the grand prix took place this weekend in Bahrain, entering the record books as the fourth round in this year's championship. Keep reading to find out how it unfolded.
Related Gallery2012 Bahrain Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel dominated last season's Saturdays to take all but four pole positions on his way to clinching his second consecutive world championship, and he took the pole again this weekend at Sakhir. Mark Webber landed his RBR in third to stagger the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in second and fourth, respectively. Last week's race winner Nico Rosberg placed his Mercedes in fifth, just ahead of Toro Rosso's rookie Daniel Ricciardo, who impressed with a sixth-place qualifying time as the quickest Ferrari-powered car of the day.
Romain Grosjean (Lotus), Sergio Perez (Sauber), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Paul di Resta (Force India) took the remaining spots in the top ten, with Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) relegated to eleventh, fourteenth and eighteenth places on the starting grid, respectively. Schumacher was bumped behind Pastor Maldonado at the back of the grid when both swapped gearboxes in exchange for five-place qualifying penalties.
After a clean formation lap, Vettel lead the field into the first turn, with Hamilton and Webber in tow. Behind them, however, was Grosjean in the Lotus, skipping past Ricciardo, Rosberg and Button to take fourth position off the line. Alonso similarly charged from ninth to fifth, followed by Button, who dropped from fourth to sixth. Raikkonen also charged from seventh to eleventh off the line, with Bruno Senna up to tenth from fifteenth.
By the second lap Schumacher had already advanced from twenty-second to sixteenth, but his teammate Rosberg fared far worse, dropping from fifth to ninth. By lap 3, Massa had already advanced from fourteenth on the starting grid to pass Raikkonen for seventh, only for Raikkonen to retake a few laps later.
Meanwhile, up front, Vettel was opening up his lead in similar style to last year, while the Lotus duo advanced in the ranks behind him. Grosjean passed Webber for third on only the fourth lap, and then took second from Hamilton on lap 7.
Proving the team's form as well as his own after two years away from F1, Raikkonen followed suit and passed both Button and Alonso to claim fifth place, then advanced to take third from Webber.
By the midway point, Raikkonen passed his junior teammate for second place, and then proceeded to whittle down Vettel's lead. With Button's puncture dropping him to thirteenth and elevating a charging Schumacher into the points as the only dramatic action to speak of in the second half of the race, Vettel held on to claim his first victory in defense of his title this season. In doing so, he became the fourth winner in as many races this season.
More impressive, however, were the Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean – a champion and a relative rookie – who took second and third, respectively, to round out the podium and show that the Enstone team that won world championships under the Benetton and Renault banners is still a serious contender. Webber took fourth, followed by Rosberg in fifth, Paul di Resta in sixth for Force India, Alonso in seventh, Hamilton eighth, Massa ninth and Schumacher tenth.
Subsequently, Vettel and Red Bull are once again in the lead to defend their titles, Hamilton and McLaren in second in both standings as well as Webber and Button sit third and fourth. The next race (and the European stage of the championship) doesn't start again until the middle of May when the series sails for Barcelona to put the controversy of Bahrain behind it.