Lewis Hamilton’s late charge was not enough to stop Sebastian Vettel from winning the Bahrain Grand Prix and taking overall lead of the championship.
Race result: Top three
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 33mins 53.373secs
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:34:00.033
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:34:13.770
Full race result below
Lewis Hamilton has apologised to his Mercedes team after he admitted he was at fault for the pit-lane blunder which cost him a shot at victory in Bahrain on Sunday.
Hamilton’s chief rival Sebastian Vettel is now the sole leader of a championship which has all the ingredients of becoming a classic after claiming his second win from the opening three rounds.
Vettel’s margin of victory over Hamilton under the floodlights of the Sakhir Circuit was 6.6 seconds. He should have been much closer to the Ferrari driver but for a rare moment of gamesmanship.
Knowing he would have to queue behind his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the first round of stops, Hamilton crawled into the pit lane, slowing down to just 35mph, in a ploy to prevent Daniel Ricciardo from getting past.
The stewards took a dim view of Hamilton’s actions – declaring he drove “unnecessarily slowly and erratically” and slapped him with a five-second timed penalty and latterly two points on his licence.
The punishment left Hamilton with too much work to do, and while his late salvo rescued second place, Vettel cruised to victory to move seven points clear of the Briton in the title race.
Hamilton accepted it was his mistake although he appeared confused as to why he had been penalised.
“It was completely my fault,” he said. “You are supposed to have a five-second gap to the safety car and I think I had a four-second gap so it was just a misjudgement from myself.
“I had very good pace in the second and last stint, and honestly believed that I would be able to catch Sebastian up. But with the five-second penalty, that made it twice as hard than it was already going to be.
“Apologies to the team, but I tried my best to recover it. We still got good points and we still have this great fight as Sebastian did a great job.”
Vettel and indeed his Ferrari team certainly did just that.
Firstly when the German, starting third on the grid, blasted out of his blocks and made up the nine-metre difference to Hamilton by the time the title protagonists reached turn one. Vettel was braver on the brakes and passed Hamilton around the outside.
Then Ferrari blinked first and pitted Vettel with Bottas, who led the opening phase of the race, slowing up the chasing pack. The undercut worked to perfection with Vettel taking charge of the race – even though the safety car was deployed moments later after hapless Canadian rookie Lance Stroll crashed into the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz – with 12 of the 57 laps gone.
The result rarely looked in doubt from that point on with Vettel punching the air as fireworks greeted the 44th victory of his career.
“It was a really great day,” Vettel said. “I don’t know what to say. The last half of the in-lap with all the fireworks and the track was all lit up – I just love what I do – and I can’t find any words.
“I am not really looking at the championship. I am really enjoying the car. I was a bit down yesterday because the gap to Mercedes was so big and we could have been a bit closer.
“But something inside me told me we had a good car and we can do well so right from the first lap I felt the car was there and the Easter hunt was on. They were hiding some eggs but it looks as though we found them today.
“After claiming the first pole position of his career, Bottas said the fight for the championship was now a three-way battle, but the Finn will be desperately disappointed here after he finished a distant third.
Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line in fourth with Red Bull’s Ricciardo fifth.
There was more misery for McLaren after Stoffel Vandoorne failed to start while Fernando Alonso failed to finish.
Meanwhile, Briton’s Jolyon Palmer started a career-high 10th, but finished 13th and last of those who got to the end.
Final positions after Race (57 laps):
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 33mins 53.373secs 2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:34:00.033 3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:34:13.770 4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:34:15.848 5 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:34:32.719 6 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:34:47.699 7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:34:55.979 8 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:35:08.238 9 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:35:13.561 10 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:35:29.084 11 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap 12 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap 13 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault at 1 Lap 14 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren at 3 Laps
Not classified: 15 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 50 Laps completed 16 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 12 Laps completed 17 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 12 Laps completed 18 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 11 Laps completed 19 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 8 Laps completed 20 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 0 Laps completed
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton 1min 32.798secs on Lap 46
World Championship standings after Bahrain Grand Prix
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 68pts 2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 61 3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 38 4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 34 5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 25 6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 22 7 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 16 8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 14 9 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 10 10 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 4 11 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 4 12 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 3 13 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 2 14 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2 15 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari 0 16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Sauber-Ferrari 0 17 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 0 18 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 0 19 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 0 20 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 0 21 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 0
1 Ferrari 102pts 2 Mercedes GP 99 3 Red Bull 47 4 Force India 17 5 Williams 16 6 Scuderia Toro Rosso 12 7 Haas F1 8 8 Renault 2 9 Sauber-Ferrari 0 10 McLaren 0