Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel returned to the top of the standings on Sunday with Red Bull’s first victory of the season in a lively Bahrain Grand Prix that went ahead without incident despite protests against it.
The 24-year-old German’s 22nd career triumph, and first in the troubled Gulf kingdom, made him the fourth different winner in four races.
He was pushed hard in the closing laps by Finland’s 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who finished second ahead of Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean in the Frenchman’s first appearance on the F1 podium.
Australian Mark Webber was fourth in the other Red Bull for the fourth successive race.
“It was a difficult race, extremely tough,” said Vettel, who closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he stood on the podium.
With the main grandstand half empty, and few spectators to be seen elsewhere at a circuit with a maximum capacity of 45 000, the race was a far from normal affair after days dominated by talk of petrol bombs and teargas.
There have been almost nightly clashes elsewhere on the island between anti-government protesters and riot police, and teams and organisers could breathe a sigh of relief that the race went off without trouble on the track.
Vettel, who had started from pole position for the first time this season after a record 15 starts from the top slot last year, made his trademark single-finger salute for the first time since last year after taking the chequered flag.
With fuel running low, he was then told to pull over and stop immediately at the pit exit — which meant he had to run down the pit lane to embrace his mechanics.
Vettel now has 53 points, ousting McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton from the top. The Briton, who finished eighth after two nightmare pitstops, has 49.
Red Bull also overtook McLaren in the constructors’ championship.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg, winner of the previous race in China in the first victory by a Mercedes works team since 1955, finished fifth with a stewards’ inquiry hanging over him for moves on Hamilton and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Britain’s Paul Di Resta was sixth for Force India with Alonso seventh and Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa finally in the points in ninth ahead of Germany’s seven-times champion Michael Schumacher in a Mercedes.
McLaren’s Jenson Button retired on the penultimate lap. — Reuters