Vettel strikes Bahrain blow in burgeoning ding-dong battle with Hamilton

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Sebastian Vettel returned to the top step of the podium as Mercedes failed to make the most of a front-row lockout at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas claimed a maiden pole in qualifying on Saturday, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but it was the Ferrari driver - winner of the season-opener in Australia before finishing second to Hamilton in China - who took the chequered flag in first place.

The German overtook Hamilton around the outside heading into turn one on the opening lap but found himself frustratingly held up behind Bottas, the Finn struggling to cope with pressure issues in his tyres.

As the chasing pack grew impatient, Vettel was first to show his hand when he pitted on lap 10.

A period under the safety car, following incidents that ended the races of Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz, saw Ferrari make a significant return on their gamble.

Mercedes stacked their drivers in the pit lane but produced a pair of slow stops, sending Bottas back out behind the now leading Vettel, and Hamilton fourth behind Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

Hamilton swiftly moved into third as Ricciardo struggled on his new soft tyres but Bottas' attempts to reclaim the lead were short-lived.

The Briton overtook his team-mate on lap 27, released into clean air with Bottas continuing to struggle on the super soft tyre before the former Williams man switched to softs on lap 31.

The timing of Vettel's second stop was to be a big call and, after pitting on lap 33, the four-time champion re-emerged behind Ferrari colleague Kimi Raikkonen and - crucially - ahead of Ricciardo.

Raikkonen was soon picked off and Hamilton's second stop - which also included a five-second penalty for earlier holding up Ricciardo in the pit lane - allowed Vettel to re-take the lead.

Hamilton's pace after that stop saw him chase down Bottas to take second, but the gap to Vettel proved too big to bridge, with the Ferrari man now seven points clear at the top of the drivers' standings.

BOTTAS ON THE GO-SLOW

Despite retaining his lead from the start, it was soon clear that something was not right for Bottas.

Was he backing up the pack as Hamilton had done to Nico Rosberg at last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, or did he have a problem?

Bottas soon reported high pressure in his tyres and, despite finishing third, it turned into something of a disappointing race for the 27-year-old.

Subsequent reports that the tyres had been set to the wrong pressure in the first place will do little to cheer him up.


MAXED OUT

Verstappen actually dived into the pits a lap later than Vettel, looking to make similar gains to the eventual race winner.

However, shortly after re-joining the race, the brakes on the Dutchman's Red Bull failed, signalling the end of his involvement.

Team-mate Ricciardo crossed the line in fifth, with Red Bull still falling short of the standards set by Ferrari and Mercedes.


MCLAREN NIGHTMARE CONTINUES

Following the news this week that Fernando Alonso would sit out the Monaco Grand Prix to take part in the Indy 500, McLaren did little to prove that they could deliver a competitive F1 car on Sunday.

Stoffel Vandoorne did not even start the race due to another problem with the Honda power unit, while Alonso was not short of a complaint about his own car.

"I haven't raced with less power in my life," he said over team radio, before being forced to retire a few laps from the finish.