Sebastian Vettel held off a thrilling late challenge from Valtteri Bottas to win the Bahrain Grand Prix and extend his lead over Lewis Hamilton at the World Championship summit.
Hamilton, who started only ninth, completed the podium places after Kimi Raikkonen retired following a nasty collision with one of his own mechanics during a pit stop.
The mechanic was knocked down and taken to the medical centre to be assessed in an incident which was not out of place during a chaotic race under the floodlights of the Sakhir circuit.
Vettel was on a different strategy to both the Mercedes cars but he masterfully managed his less durable tyres over the line to finish half a second clear of Bottas and claim his
second win in as many grands prix.
Pole-sitter Vettel was the fastest out of the blocks to retain his lead but Bottas got the jump on Raikkonen to split the Ferraris.
Hamilton, out of position on the grid following an unscheduled gearbox change, failed to make any ground on the opening lap before losing a place to a fast-starting Fernando Alonso.
It looked as though it could get even worse for Hamilton after Max Verstappen’s less than idyllic start to the season took another troubled turn following a collision with Hamilton
on lap two.
The 20-year-old Red Bull driver, who started 15th following his qualifying crash, sensed blood in his pursuit of the defending champion – but his no-holds barred move cost him dearly.
With his elbows firmly out, Verstappen lunged underneath Hamilton at the opening bend but did not account for Fernando Alonso who was hogging the apex.
In avoiding the McLaren driver, he inadvertently banged wheels with a helpless Hamilton. Hamilton avoided damage, but the same could not be said for Verstappen as he sustained an
ultimately terminal left-rear puncture.
He stopped for a new set of tyres but his race was over – like that of Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who stopped on the side of the track after an electrical shutdown meaning the virtual safety car had to be deployed.
On lap four the race resumed, and it was Hamilton who would take centre stage as he started his comeback. His moment of magic arrived moments later when he picked off three cars.
In a flurry of sparks, Hamilton swooped to the right at 220mph to take the inside line and overtake Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon in an utterly audacious move at turn
By lap six, he was running in fifth after sailing by Kevin Magnussen before repeating the same move on Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly two laps later. The race was on.
Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and Hamilton ran line astern before a strategic chess game ensued. Vettel stopped for the soft rubber on lap 19 with Raikkonen in a lap later for the same
Bottas was the next in, but in a surprise move he took on the medium compound – the slower but more durable of the three tyres available this weekend. It was a ploy by Mercedes to
get their man to the end of the race without having to stop again.
Hamilton now led but Vettel, on the fresher tyres, sailed past his rival on lap 26 with Hamilton immediately called into the pits. Like Bottas, Hamilton was put onto the more durable
With both Mercedes cars going until the end of the race, the question was whether both Vettel and Raikkonen would be able to make their tyres last. Had Mercedes pulled off a masterstroke?
The answer arrived with 21 laps to go when Raikkonen was called in for his second stop, but it would be the concluding action of his night.
Raikkonen was given the nod to leave his marks, but the Finn’s rear-left tyre was still being fitted and as he left his pit box he took one of his mechanics with him.
The mechanic was knocked flat on his back with Raikkonen stopping yards down the road. As the injured Ferrari man was taken to hospital, attention turned back to the track.
Bottas slowly started reeling Vettel in but despite a late lunge on the opening bend of the last lap, the Ferrari driver made his tyres last to hang on for yet another victory. Hamilton,
who had trouble with his radio, crossed the line six seconds further back.