The Kingdom of Bahrain was the first Middle Eastern nation to host an F1 race in 2004, its event becoming a night race from 2014 with this year’s fifth edition under lights proving to be a thrilling milestone.
There, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took his fourth win in Sakhir, the German again outfoxing the Silver Arrows with a switch to a one-stop strategy mid-race – and then making his soft tyres last for 39-laps despite huge pressure from Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas to the chequered flag.
At lights out, polesitter Vettel led into Turn 1, while Bottas passed Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen for second, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
On the following lap, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen passed Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton aggressively for ninth into Turn 1, but the pair touched – causing a puncture for the Dutchman, dropping him down the order.
It was a disaster for Red Bull, with Ricciardo retiring on the same lap with engine issues – forcing the Virtual Safety Car to be deployed.
The Virtual Safety Car ended on Lap 4, while Verstappen retired the next lap with damage extending to the differential. Hamilton, however, passed three cars into Turn 1 to move up to sixth.
Up-front, Vettel set a string of fastest laps and pitted on Lap 18 for soft tyres, as part of a then two-stop strategy. Two laps later, Bottas stopped for more durable mediums. Hamilton doing the same on Lap 26 after Vettel got past – a switch to a one-stop the only way for the German to win.
On Lap 35, Räikkönen pitted from P3 for his second stop, but was given the green light despite the left rear tyre not changed – the force injuring a mechanic. The Finn retired on the spot, promoting Hamilton to third.
The race was then a straight fight with both Silver Arrows on the durable mediums, Vettel increasingly struggling on the softs.
By the penultimate lap, Bottas was in DRS range. But Vettel held firm – and stayed ahead for victory, despite heavy vibration from the rubber. The German telling his team exactly how it was on the cooldown lap.
“These tyres were done, they were done for the last 10 laps!” said Vettel.