MANAMA, Bahrain, April 22 – Defending triple world champion Sebastian Vettel opened up a clear lead at the top of this year’s title race on Sunday when he cruised to victory for Red Bull in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The race finished without any disruption amid tight security and despite earlier clashes between police and Shiite protesters in villages in the troubled Gulf kingdom.
Vettel — who beat Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in a repeat of last year’s finishing order — proved himself as a master of the conditions in a hot and dusty desert contest.
It was the 25-year-old German’s second win in four races this year and the 28th of his career as he repeated his victory of 2012.
The victory saw him move into sixth on the all-time list of Grand Prix wins taking him past Jackie Stewart.
He now has 77 points as leader in pursuit of a fourth successive championship triumph, 10 more than nearest rival Raikkonen.
Starting second, Vettel took the lead on lap three and then controlled the 57-lap race as, making three brisk pit stops, he came home 9.1 seconds clear of Raikkonen.
“It was a fantastic race,” said Vettel.
“I have to give a big, big thank you to the team today — it was faultless from start to finish. The pace was phenomenal and the car was great. We took good care of the tyres and it all paid off.”
Raikkonen said: “Yesterday wasn’t ideal for me so we’d planned on Friday to try a two-stop and today it worked well.
“I didn’t have a strong first and second laps, but after the first stop I was able to come back stronger so we had a good race in the end.”
Grosjean finished third in the second Lotus, as the Renault powered team made the best of excellent tyre conservation, and denied fourth placed Briton Paul di Resta of Force India his first ever podium finish.
Grosjean said: “In the first three races, we were consistent, but not where we wanted to be. We have done a lot of work on the car and basically today we got it right.”
Vettel declined to be drawn on forecasting who will be his main rivals for the title this season and added: “We’re in a good position in the championship.
“It was a very straightforward race. We had incredible pace. We surely did not expect that. In the end, it was quite controlled. I managed the gap and still had enough tyres to push at the end.”
Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, fought hard to finish fifth for Mercedes after a late battle with Mark Webber who came home seventh in the second Red Bull, Sergio Perez smashing his way to sixth for McLaren.
Hamilton, who survived a car failure in practice on Saturday morning, said he was “very, very happy” with fifth because his “race started out so bad”.
He started from ninth, dropped to 11th and then found his way back. “All of a sudden, I could push after the second stop and the car was amazing,” he added.
Two time champion Fernando Alonso, who lost the use of his DRS on his Ferrari, came in eighth ahead of pole starting German Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes.
Like many, Rosberg struggled with serious rear tyre wear.
“A tough day for me,” Rosberg conceded. “As nice as it was to start from pole this afternoon, it was just as hard to finish in ninth place.”
Jenson Button finished 10th for McLaren after several clashes with team-mate Perez.
Afterwards, he said the Mexican had been “too aggressive” and added that “you don’t expect your team-mate to do that at 200 mph. I don’t think I’m the only one to feel like that.”
Perez said: “I was only as aggressive as he was with me. It was probably too much, but it is something we have to speak about.”