The desert sands of Bahrain provided another stunning backdrop to what is heating up to be one of the most exciting seasons in years.
There, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel secured his 44th career win – his third in Bahrain, to extend his championship lead over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to a slender 7-points.
Vettel got away well at the start, leapfrogging Hamilton off the line to slot in second behind polesitter Valtteri Bottas into Turn 1.
Up front, it was a close battle, with the top-10 on Lap 3 covered by just 8- seconds. Bottas ahead of Vettel, Hamilton – and the two Red Bull Racing cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel’s masterstroke was to pit early at the end of Lap 10 for more super soft tyres – giving him clean air for three laps, before Williams’ Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz clashed - bringing out the Safety Car.
That forced the Silver Arrows to double-stack their stop, but Hamilton held back Ricciardo on the way into the pits – forcing the race stewards to hand him a 5-second time penalty.
Verstappen’s race came to a dramatic end on Lap 12, just after his stop – his brakes failing on the run to Turn 4, pitching him into the barrier.
Vettel led after the safety car, while the two Silver Arrows swapped places with team orders on Lap 27. Hamilton with the potential to one-stop.
Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 33 for softs and set a string of fastest laps – before Hamilton again dropped behind Bottas in P3 with his second stop on Lap 41, a place he took back six laps later.
In the last 10 laps, Hamilton blazed his way through the desert, reducing a 12-second gap to Vettel to just six – but ran out of laps as the 4-time World Champion took his fifth win for the Scuderia, delighting Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne to no end - the SF70H again proving its strength.
“We are now completely confident that our victory in Melbourne wasn’t just a one-off and that we will be at the forefront of this World Championship until the last. We finally have a competitive car to count on,” Marchionne said.
As broadcast on the 18/04/2017.