Formula One again revealed its capacity to defy a prognosis of death by tedium with an incident-rich Bahrain Grand Prix won dramatically by Sebastian Vettel on tyres as thin as tissue.
It also threw up a wince-inducing injury to a Ferrari mechanic, prompted Lewis Hamilton to call Max Verstappen a ‘d***head’ and turned what was meant to be a one-team title procession into a blossoming contest.
Kimi Raikkonen ran over his unfortunate Ferrari team member and broke the mechanic’s leg after being released early from a pit stop.
The unfortunate tyre-fitter was holding the wheel in his hands, waiting for the old one to be taken off. His colleague could not free it, Raikkonen was sent on his way, and the mechanic in question, standing in front of the rear left tyre, was bowled over by the accelerating Ferrari.
The mechanic, named as Francesco Cigarini, was taken to the medical centre, where he was diagnosed with a broken shin bone and fibula. He was later moved to hospital for surgery. The FIA summoned Ferrari to hear their explanation for what had gone wrong and handed down a £44,000 fine.
In a statement, the FIA said: ‘The stewards determined that the car was released unsafely. The team released the car in a manner endangering team personnel and causing injury.’
Raikkonen, blameless for the incident, had been on target for a podium appearance and was bitterly disappointed to have to retire from the race.
The beneficiary of the Finn’s withdrawal was Hamilton, who moved up a place to finish third.But Hamilton was angry with Verstappen after they came together in an early skirmish that caused the gung-ho Dutchman a punctured tyre and led to his retirement.
Watching a replay of the incident in the green room pre-podium ceremony as he took off his balaclava, Hamilton turned to Vettel and said: ‘Such a d***head.’
The world champion was no more forgiving half an hour later, saying: ‘There has to be respect between drivers, and it didn’t feel as if he was showing any at that stage. It was a silly manoeuvre for him because he didn’t finish the race. He has made some mistakes recently. It was unnecessary.’
Verstappen, who spun in Melbourne a fortnight before, was certainly robust. But his Red Bull boss Christian Horner defended the 19-year-old’s aggressive driving as the reason people switch on their TVs, and, in a sanitised era, he has a point.
But while Verstappen probably fell out of the title reckoning before he had entered it, not so Vettel, whose second successive victory took him into an unexpected 17-point lead in the table. The German’s triumph in Melbourne had an element of luck to it; this one did not.
It was a nervy win and an expert one. Vettel was hanging on as Valtteri Bottas got his Mercedes right on the tail of the Ferrari on the final lap. Perhaps if it had been Verstappen or Hamilton, the pursuer would have passed the red machine in front. But, no, Vettel prevailed by half a second over Bottas. Hamilton was six seconds off the pace.
‘Fortunately, he ran out of laps,’ said Vettel of Bottas. ‘It worked, just.’
The ‘it’ that ‘worked’ was the gamble that he could make it to the end with just one change of tyres. Mercedes had moved Hamilton to the medium compound, the more durable if slightly slower selection than the softs that Vettel was put on.
The initial plan at Ferrari was to bring the German in again. But that could not have been accomplished without handing the win to Bottas. So Vettel, expertly driving a Ferrari that was lighter on its feet than the Mercedes, nursed his rubber home brilliantly for 40 long laps.
As for the move of the day, that accolade goes to Hamilton. Early on, he found himself alongside Fernando Alonso with Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon in front of him when he pulled out and powered down the right-hand side of the straight at 220mph, turning up at the first corner ahead of them all. Bravo.
Hamilton was up to fifth and about to pass Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso, which he did easily. After that, passing was impossible.
Gasly, it should be noted, distinguished himself with a fourth-place. It was a dreadful day for Red Bull. Both cars retired, with Daniel Ricciardo suffering an electrical shutdown to go with cavalier Max’s exit. ‘This sport can rip your heart out,’ said Ricciardo.