Scuderia Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, in his 200th career start in Formula One racing, managed to eke out a win at Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix after a tense, multi-lap battle with Mercedes-AMG driver Valtteri Bottas. The win was Vettel’s second consecutive victory after last month’s Australian Grand Prix, and it saw the German driver fighting to preserve his tires after an incident in pit lane involving his teammate, Kimi Räikkönen, forced him to stretch his Pirelli Soft tires out to the end of the race.
On lap 36, with Vettel in the lead and Räikkönen not far behind, the latter driver pitted for a routine tire change. Yet tragedy struck when Räikkönen’s car was somehow dropped from the jack before the left rear wheel had been changed, and unaware of the issue, the Finnish driver sped off. A Ferrari mechanic, still struggling with the wheel, was struck and injured by Räikkönen’s car. The mechanic was taken straight to hospital, and Kimi was forced to retire from the race.
The mishap meant that Sebastian Vettel had to skip his planned pit stop, leaving him with a set of Soft tires that went on in lap 18, which were rapidly deteriorating in the latter laps of the race. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were also working with old tires by the later stages of the race, but pitting for tires just once had been part of the team’s strategy all along; both drivers were on Pirelli Medium tires, which are generally able to hold up to more laps.
Hamilton, who started from ninth on the grid after being penalized for a gearbox change, worked his way up to third, but was unable to reel in Vettel. That left Bottas, in second, to make a play for the win. Over the final few laps, he closed the distance, attempting a pass in the first corner of the last lap. But Sebastian Vettel managed to hold him off, and nursed his tires around the course one final time to bring home the win.
“When they went onto the medium tyre I thought that was checkmate because we needed to come in again,” Vettel said after the race. “That was the original plan but then we diverted obviously and tried to make the tyres last. I nursed them as much as I can and it worked – but just.”
The Ferrari mechanic injured by Kimi Räikkönen’s car suffered a fracture of the shinbone and fibula. He is currently recovering.