FERRARI’s Sebastian Vettel, who defended his Gulf Air Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit, was over the moon last night after having avoided Mercedes’ ‘checkmate’ move.
The four-time German champion won his fourth title at Sakhir pipping Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas by six-tenths of a second in a thrilling race right from the red lights to the chequered flag.
Many veterans, including yours truly, at the Media Centre at BIC yesterday, recalled the race of 2005 when Fernando Alonso, of the then Renault, ‘checkmated’ Michael Schumacher by emerging out of the pit lane ahead of the Ferrari legend and racing off to victory. It was the decisive and, of course, the defining moment of the second Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was Alonso’s first of three Bahrain titles as he repeated the feat the next year and later also won with Ferrari.
“Then going onto the medium tyre... I thought that was checkmate as we had to come in again,” he said.
“That was the original plan, but we diverted again and tried to make them last and to nurse them as much as I could. And it worked, but only just.
“There wasn’t much left! Valtteri (Bottas) had a bit of a sniff, but fortunately he ran out of laps so I am really happy.”
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen, however, stuck to the original two-stop plan and inadvertently paid dearly for it.
The Finn’s bungled pit-stop saw a Ferrari mechanic run over. The crew member was later taken to the medical centre and diagnosed with two fractures to his leg.
“It put us under a lot of stress and pressure, but we had nothing to lose trying, at that point, to stay out and to win, or finish third,” Vettel added.
“I feel really pleased. If you manage to get the win under these conditions, it tastes even better.
“I came on the radio with 10 laps to go and said I had everything under control – and that was a lie.
“There was nothing under control. When they told me the pace of Valtteri at that time, I said no way I can do that.
“So, I did the maths in the car and I thought he was going to catch me.”
On the other hand, Toto Wolff, Mercedes team boss, said his team’s success was a result of both Red Bulls and Raikkonen in the second Ferrari being forced to retire.
“I’m relieved more than satisfied. We need to stay humble,” he said. “We weren’t great Friday or Saturday, but we take P2 and P3, benefitting from Red Bull and Raikkonen. For me it’s just not great.
“I think it will vary from track to track. The heat is not something we like. We’ll come back strongly in China hopefully.
“Red Bull would have been there with us and Ferrari fighting. That is 100 percent clear in my opinion. Today it was two cars interacting with each other, but next time it could be six.”
Wolff also hailed the performance of his defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished third after having started from ninth following a five grid penalty for unscheduled gearbox change.
“I think it was a racing incident. Max dived on the inside, a good manoeuvre, but a bit aggressive,” he said. “I think anyone would have done it and it cost him the race.”
The Mercedes boss was referring to Hamilton’s early collision with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen that preceded the Dutchman’s retirement.