The sand, the wind, the penalties, the contact and the one crash – all of them collided to make the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix a surprise affair from day to day and lap to lap. Oh, and did we mention the tires? Pirelli made a last-minute swap after the amusement park ride that the Chinese Grand Prix turned into with the soft compound tire, and brought medium and hard compounds to the desert. That didn't stop things from falling apart for some teams – literally – and that didn't stop the one team that seems to love the hard compound Pirelli tire.
Related Gallery2013 Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg made it two pole positions in a row for Mercedes-AMG Petronas, taking the lead spot after Lewis Hamilton did the same in China three weeks ago. Sebastian Vettel put his Infiniti Red Bull right behind, but more than a quarter of a second off the pace, followed by Fernando Alonso in the first Ferrari. Then came the teammates, Hamilton in the second Mercedes in fourth, the second Red Bull of Mark Webber fifth and Massa in sixth. Paul di Resta showed that Force India's early season isn't a fluke by getting seventh on the grid ahead of teammate Adrian Sutil, but in fact Massa, di Resta and Sutil would move up two places because Hamilton and Weber had to serve penalties. Hamilton moved back five places to ninth for a gearbox change after a tire delaminated during qualifying and damaged his car, Webber slid back to seventh to fulfill a three-spot grid penalty after his crash into Jean-Eric Vergne in China. Lotus suffered setbacks with Kimi Räikkönen, who qualified in ninth but would start eighth ahead of Hamilton, ahead of Jenson Button in the still struggling McLaren in tenth.
Rosberg thought his pole position could be a new start for his season, but that wasn't to be – akin to Hamilton's race in China, pole pace didn't equate to race pace, but instead of merely dropping back two places from pole like Hamilton, he'd finish the race in ninth. Rosberg wasn't able to keep the tires in decent condition and ended up doing four pit stops, killing any chance of competing at the pointy end.
It didn't take long for him to start falling back, though. When the lights went green he lead into the first corner, while behind him Vettel was overtaken by Alonso going into the first turn. The Red Bull proved it's excellent on hard tires, however, and Vettel lined up Alonso on Lap 2 into the complex of curves starting at Turn 4, taking a wide line and diving underneath to make the pass. When Vettel did the same thing with Rosberg on the very next lap, the Championship-winning German paced himself to victory and the still-struggling German in the Silver Arrows began his race-long journey backward.
The mechanical bug didn't wait long to bite Alonso, his DRS flap sticking open when it swung above its hard stop and then wouldn't close. He pitted, the mechanics pushed it back down and it did the same thing again. He pitted again on the very next lap and came out in 17th, his DRS busted for good. He finished in eighth. Alonso says this year's Ferrari is the best car he's had in four years; he and the team will be hoping to make better use of it when the season moves to Europe in three weeks.
His teammate didn't fare much better, Massa plowing into Sutil on the first lap, damaging his wing and sending Sutil back to the pits with a puncture. Later in the race, Massa suffered two consecutive catastrophic right rear tire failures. Massa said he thought the first one was because of delamination – a word that came up a lot during the weekend – and the second might have been a puncture, but Pirelli said both of them were the result of cuts from debris. With so many trips to the pits, the best Massa could do was 15th at the finish. Also getting into antics on the first lap were Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso, who said he was hit by Williams' Valteri Bottas and sent into a spin, then clobbered the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde and destroyed his Toro Rosso's right rear tire. The damage to his car meant the end of his race, the only retirement.
More thrilling action came later in the event when McLaren driver Sergio Perez raised his battleaxe to pass Alonso and fight teammate Jenson Button. Perez, told by team principal Martin Whitmarsh to "toughen up" after it appeared mental hobgoblins affected his last race in China, went too far the other way and wouldn't let up in his fight with Alonso, running the Ferrari beyond the edge of the track while passing him through the Turn 4 complex. Catching up to teammate Button on the main straight, Perez simply would not give through the first sector, at one point running into the back of his teammate accelerating out of a turn. It was the kind of racing that could have ended both their races. Button called it "dirty," and there'll be some sit-down-and-chat sessions in Woking this week. Perez got his car home in sixth, ahead of Button in tenth.
Perez came in just after Lewis Hamilton who went the opposite way of his teammate, rediscovering the performance that he had in the last Free Practice but lost in qualifying, starting ninth and finishing fifth. Another driver with a turnaround performance was Grosjean, in a slump all season but given a new chassis and some set-up TLC by the team. He executed clean passes all race, stayed out of trouble and then hunted down the two-stopping Paul di Resta – who was doing a great job in the Force India – in the closing stages of the race to nab third place at the flag. His teammate Räikkönen had a quiet day, also doing a two-stop race to take second.
But it was Vettel's day, everyone else admitting they didn't have the pace to challenge the Red Bull – which does very well on hard tires. Mimicking the first three races of the season, the winner enjoys a 'quiet' day behind the wheel while everyone else dukes it out for runner-up positions. Webber looked good for a fifth place until his tires decided to go off, getting passed by Hamilton and Perez in one lap to finish seventh. At the front, Vettel took the flag by 9.1 seconds and set the fastest lap of the race on the penultimate tour. The podium of Vettel, Räikkönen and Grosjean also mimics last year's podium.
The victory gives Vettel 28 wins and puts him into fifth place on the all-time list ahead of Sir Jackie Stewart. It also increases his lead atop the Driver's Championship standings with 77 points, ahead of Räikkönen with 67 points, Hamilton with 50 and Alonso with 47. Grosjean's third place helped Lotus take two points out of Infiniti Red Bull's lead in the Constructor's Championship, the leaders on 109 points, Lotus with 93, Ferrari with 77 and Mercedes with 64.
Now that the flyaway races are gone, everyone is looking forward to what many still call "the real season." In the three weeks before the next race in Barcelona, Spain, there's meant to be a big meeting this Wednesday in which Pirelli will review the tire situation and a bunch of teams, from McLaren to Williams to Marussia, are planning big updates. We'll be back for all of the action then.