Lotus in historic return to podium in Bahrain desert

Despite the off-track controversy, the Bahrain Grand Prix provided lots of on-track excitement. TOM WILKINSON reports on all the action.

High-speed straights, and technical corners made for some exciting desert racing.

The desert sands of Bahrain provided an action-packed race from the start, it even throwing in the possibility of a rain storm. Thankfully that didn’t come to anything. However, the cool, breezy conditions were unexpected, but had a beneficial effect on tyre degradation.
As the cars lined up on the grid, it was Sebastian Vettel on pole after his brilliant qualifying lap in the Red Bull. But could he win the race today? The lights went out in the desert and the race was underway and immediately it was Romain Grosjean who got a flying start off the line in the Lotus. He overtook Rosberg and Button, he even looked on the inside of Webber, but couldn’t quite make it. Vettel got away very well and led the race into the first corner.  Fernando Alonso also had a good start in the Ferrari. He was just behind the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. The whole field were tussling for position, it was so close. Kimi Raikkonen was making good ground in the other Lotus, meanwhile Daniel Ricciardo was falling back down the field after a terrible start and Heikki Kovalainen was in trouble on the first lap after picking up a puncture.
As the race began to settle down, the pace of the Lotus was stunning. Grosjean was pulling in Webber and Hamilton ahead. Teammate Raikkonen was hauling in Felipe Massa in the Ferrari and made the move a few laps later in turn five. Grosjean passed Webber using DRS and set about chasing Hamilton in second place. The leader Vettel was on his own up front and pulling out a comfortable gap. As the race entered the pit stop phase, tyres were beginning to fall away, Hamilton lost position to Grosjean and Button lost out to Raikkonen. The McLarens were struggling. Button, Massa and Rosberg were the first of the top runners to pit for fresh tyres. They fed out into clear track to make the most of the fresh rubber. But on the next lap, Hamilton pitted – it was a disastrous stop after yet another sticky rear wheel gun. It was the same issue as last weekend in China. Lewis shook his head in frustration. It costs him valuable time and track position. That issue allowed Webber and Alonso to get comfortably ahead after they also pitted at the same time. On pit exit he lost another position to the struggling Rosberg who then shoved the McLaren off the track in a very aggressive defensive move. Hamilton got that place back, Rosberg was later investigated for the incident but was not penalised.
Hamilton was then fighting with Alonso while Raikkonen was looking at a move on Webber and he made it look easy at turn 13. Lotus, however, were lighting up the time screens with Grosjean in second and Raikkonen in third, it was a brilliant show from the Enstone-based team. Paul DiResta was flying too, he set his sights on Felipe Massa’s Ferrari in ninth place. The Force India team were having a difficult weekend for a number of reasons, Paul was hoping to give the team something to smile about, but Lewis Hamilton certainly wasn’t smiling, far from it as on his second stop, he suffered yet another problem on the rear left wheel. McLaren will need to sort this issue out as it’s costing them valuable time in the pits.
Rosberg ran it fine again with his defence against Fernando Alonso.  Although Alonso wasn’t fully alongside, the Ferrari took to the dust but didn’t get through. The Spaniard is furious at Rosberg, but really he should have pulled out of that move much sooner. But while all that was happening, Maldonado in the Williams took to the kerbs rather too aggressively and went spinning. This damaged the tyres and the Venezuelan had to retire just a few laps later.
As the race went on, Kimi Raikkonen was on a mission to catch the leader Vettel. By lap 34, he was within the DRS activation time. He caught Sebastian, but just couldn’t get past.. In the pit lane Michael Schumacher and Sergio Perez got up close and personal as they were side by side. But it was the more experienced Schumacher who took the position at the last moment. Then it was the leaders who pitted together. Vettel and Raikkonen pitted, they re-joined as they were, but the fresh set of rubber meant Vettel could maintain the gap. Raikkonen just couldn’t catch up as he did earlier in the race.
Paul Di Resta was continuing his great drive in fifth place holding back the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg with just seven laps to go. The Force India driver had driven a terrific race and a good haul of points would be on the cards. But the Mercedes eventually got past at turn four on the outside. It was a very good clean move from Nico Rosberg. But Di Resta quickly came under pressure from Button in the McLaren. The gap was less than half a second with just four laps to go, but then the McLaren dived into the pits with an unscheduled pit stop. A slow puncture on the left rear tyre ensured McLaren’s race went from bad to worse. To add insult to injury, a mechanical problem on Button’s car meant he had to retire from the race with just two laps to go. McLaren had a shocking race in Bahrain.
But it was a brilliant race for Sebastian Vettel as he crossed the line to win his first race in 2012 and claim the team’s first race win this season. It was a dominant performance from the German, who kept out of trouble throughout the race. But it was team Lotus who had the biggest smiles. Kimi Raikkonen finished in second and Romain Grosjean got his maiden F1 podium in third place, the first podium for a Frenchman since Jean Alesi back in 1998.
Bahrain delivered another great race this weekend with a fourth race winner this year, in as many races. Could it be any better as we head into Europe for the next round in Barcelona in three week’s time. We have a break from Formula 1 now, quite frankly we need it, what a wonderful start to this 2012 F1 season. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Catch up with all the latest F1 news by following me on Twitter @TomWilkinson89 #TWF1.
Until Barcelona in three weeks, its good bye.