2013 Bahrain GP: Sebastian Vettel in a race of his own ahead of 2012 podium repeat
Ferrari endure a day of disaster in the desert; Lewis Hamilton third in title standings as Di Resta narrowly misses out on a top-three finish
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 21/04/13 7:15pm
Sebastian Vettel has taken a firm - and familiar - grasp of the World Championship after a dominant victory in the Bahrain GP on a day of disaster for his sagging title rivals.
With Fernando Alonso undone by a DRS malfunction which resulted in two pit-stops in the opening ten laps and the Spaniard's luckless Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa suffering a pair of punctures, and neither the valiant Lewis Hamilton nor pole-sitter Nico Rosberg able to mount any sort of challenge in a Mercedes car totally unsuited to the demands of the Sakhir circuit, Vettel was a mere dot on the horizon in the desert as he claimed the 28th victory of his glittering F1 career ahead of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
Officially, the reigning champion's margin of victory will be recorded at just over nine seconds but it might as well have been written down as a country mile such was the scale of his total superiority.
Topped by a daring, opportunistic move past perennial nemesis Alonso on the opening lap at turn five, Vettel's performance thereafter was a masterclass of frontrunning to leave his rivals gasping for air in the Bahrain sauna. At the end of a race which amounted to a personal procession, he even threw yet another fastest lap into the mix just for good measure. Message received loud and clear: he had plenty still in reserve just in case.
"It was a beautiful race where we could push on every lap," enthused Vettel. "The pace was phenomenal, the car was very quick, it just seemed to get better and better towards the end."
If only Raikkonen had managed to extract some pace out of his E21 in qualifying then the Finn might have given Red Bull something substantial to think about on race day, but any disappointment at Lotus will have been tempered by a return to form for Romain Grosjean as the Frenchman snatched the final podium spot from Paul di Resta to deny the Scot what would have been his first top-three finish in F1 and deliver a repeat of last year's podium composition.
Not that it served to sour di Resta's weekend much. "I think you've got to be very happy with what we've achieved here," he told Sky Sports F1.
"Narrowly missing the podium but essentially what's caused us not finishing on the podium is someone [Grosjean] qualifying out of position and having four new sets of tyres to do a three-stop race.
"We maybe could have been a bit more aggressive with strategy but when you're in these positions these points are crucial to us at the end of the season. When you can beat the likes of McLaren, the Ferraris, pick up on their misfortunes, it's a big day."
The mystery of the race, meanwhile, was Webber's failure to extract anything like Vettel's level of searing performance in the sister Red Bull as the Australian lost not one but two places on the final lap to a battling Hamilton - now third in the World Championship standings ahead of Alonso - and Sergio Perez on a day of redemption for the young Mexican.
How Martin Whitmarsh must have regretted ordering Perez to "toughen up" at the start of the week as the Mexican threatened to unravel the team's unexpectedly-competitive afternoon by banging wheels with his irate McLaren team-mate Jenson Button at the midway stage of the race. And how Whitmarsh's risky plea was vindicated as the beefed-up youngster muscled his way past Alonso - devoid of straightline speed with his DRS flap bolted shut - on the penultimate lap before mugging Webber with the chequered line in sight.
Finishing where he started out, Button rounded off the top ten, five seconds down on the man who had started out front after the pole-sitting Rosberg went into reverse off the line. What a contrast as Hamilton bided his time before delivering a barnstorming second-half to pass both McLarens before finally winning a ding-dong battle with Webber. Even after just four races alongside Hamilton, the disappointing Rosberg is already in danger of being thoroughly eclipsed by his illustrious team-mate.
"A tough day for me," Rosberg later bemoaned. "As nice as it was to start from pole this afternoon, it was just as hard to finish in ninth place. I didn't feel comfortable in the car today and it wasn't much fun out there really.
"We switched to a four-stop strategy at the end of my third stint but it wasn't enough. We were using the rear tyres too much and at the end, I was really struggling and wasn't able to push hard enough."
This, though, was a day when Vettel put everyone else in the shade as he followed the most controversial victory in F1 with arguably his most accomplished.
"It was an impeccable performance from Sebastian," purred Red Bull boss Christian Horner to Sky Sports F1. "He was absolutely supreme. He had so much in hand and then he has to do the fastest lap at the end just to show he has plenty left in the tyres."
And after that, there was nothing more to be said.