Sebastian Vettel Skates To 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix Win
After swapping tire strategies mid-race, Vettel drove to the win in Bahrain on what may as well have been slippers on ice.
The 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix opened with fireworks not unlike those fired at its end for Sebastian Vettel, race winner. While taking victory from pole sounds like the easy path to the top step of the podium, Vettel's journey was anything but.
The German and his teammate Kimi Räikkönen faced direct challenge from Valtteri Bottas in the first corner, with Kimi retreating from Valtteri's overtake, submitting to the charging Mercedes driver. Despite half his Mercedes and Red Bull competition starting the race well adrift of Vettel, his foes knifed their way through the field with Verstappen and Hamilton making up multiple positions in the first few laps.
When Verstappen and Hamilton found themselves fighting for position, however, Verstappen's elbows-out racing drove him to make minor contact with Hamilton, leaving the Dutchman with a puncture in his left rear tire. Verstappen would crawl past his stricken teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who retired from the race with an electrical failure around the same type that Verstappen burst his own tire. Despite arriving in the pit lane successfully for a tire swap, Verstappen too retired, on lap 5.
The focus of the Ferrari-Mercedes feud turned to race strategy from there with both Ferraris embarking on two-stop strategies, and the Mercedes, one-stop strategies, banking on taking track position ahead of Ferrari, whose cars would be handicapped by extra time spent in the pit lane and the dirty air generated by the leading cars. After his planned first pit stop, Vettel found himself behind Hamilton, and delayed by dirty air, could not get past the Brit until early on lap 26, after which Hamilton pitted for medium tires, on which he would finish the race.
In the wake of Kimi's botched second pit stop on lap 36, which retired the car and hospitalized a mechanic, all of Ferrari's eggs were in Vettel's basket. Fearing Mercedes' strategy would play out as predicted, Ferrari ditched Vettel's second stop, keeping him out on soft tires originally meant to survive a far shorter stint.
The Scuderia's gamble paid off, and despite challenge from a faster Bottas in the twilight laps of the evening race, Vettel maintained his footing in the race lead through the checkered flag, winning his second Grand Prix of the season in his 200th career Grand Prix start. Other drivers to have won their 200th race start include Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher, among others. The podium was completed by Bottas and Hamilton, in that order.
Elsewhere in the field, midfield and backmarker teams recorded their own successes. Marcus Ericsson of Alfa Romeo Sauber, who had not finished in the points for the last 50 Grands Prix, brought his Sauber home ninth to secure two points for the team.
Toro Rosso-Honda capitalized on its shocking Q3 results, posted by Pierre Gasly, and galloped to a fourth place finish, the best finish for a Honda-powered car in the V6 era. Gasly, for his heroism, was voted driver of the day.