SAKHIR, Bahrain -- Sebastian Vettel took his second win of the season on Sunday night after holding off Valtteri Bottas for victory in a tense finish to the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The race boiled down to a strategic battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, with Bottas using a fresher set of tyres in the closing stages to attack the Ferrari which had led from the start. The Finn closed in on Vettel's tail on the final lap but despite looking to the inside at Turn 1, he couldn't make a move stick and had to settle for second. It is the first time Ferrari has won the opening two races of the season since 2004 and gives Vettel a 17 point lead in the championship.
Lewis Hamilton completed a solid recover driver to finish third after starting ninth on the grid due to a gearbox penalty. After a slow start, Hamilton picked his way back through the field, overtaking three cars at once on lap 6, before a one-stop strategy moved him up to third.
He would have faced a challenge from Kimi Raikkonen late in the race but the second Ferrari retired following an incident in the pit lane. During a routine pit stop, Raikkonen's car was released too early and hit one of the team's mechanics as he accelerated away. The mechanic was taken to hospital to treat a broken leg soon after.
The two Red Bulls retired from the race after Daniel Ricciardo stopped on track on lap two and Max Verstappen was forced to park his car three laps later. Verstappen had been involved in a collision with Hamilton on lap two as they battled for position at Turn 1, resulting in a puncture on the Red Bull that forced a pit stop before his retirement.
Pierre Gasly benefited from the issues among the top three teams to finish fourth in his Toro Rosso. The result was engine supplier Honda's best finish since returning to the sport in 2015 and, following their acrimonious split with McLaren last year, will have tasted even sweeter on the home turf of McLaren's Bahraini owners.
Kevin Magnussen took a solid fifth place finish for Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg's Renault and the two McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Marcus Ericsson secured Sauber's first points in the season with an impressive drive to ninth ahead of Force India's Esteban Ocon.
How the race unfolded
After starting from pole position, Vettel held the lead through the opening sequence of corners as Bottas managed to beat Raikkonen into Turn 1. Hamilton got a good getaway from ninth but backed off as he came up behind Magnussen's Haas, eventually dropping him to tenth behind Alonso.
Contact between Sergio Perez and Brendon Hartley at Turn 4 saw both drivers' races ruined as Perez was forced to pit on the first lap and Hartley was hit with a ten-second penalty for causing the collision. The race continued despite the contact but was interrupted by a Virtual Safety Car a lap later when Ricciardo's Red Bull stopped by the side of the track with a technical issue.
At the restart on lap four, Hamilton went on the attack and a lap later overtook Alonso, Hulkenberg and Ocon into Turn 1 with an impressive move up the inside. Soon after he moved past Magnussen and Gasly to take fourth.
Having started on soft tyres, Hamilton was always likely to consider a one-stop strategy, although the expectation was that Ferrari would opt for a two stop. The race appeared to be going to script when Vettel pitted from the lead on lap 18 for soft tyres, but as it transpired he stayed on that same set of tyres for 39 laps. Nobody in the paddock thought the soft tyres would be good for much more than 32 laps and as Vettel started his stint he still appeared to be setting a pace that was consistent with a two-stop.
Mercedes reacted by switching Bottas to a one-stop on lap 21, taking on medium tyres that he planned to run to the end of the race. Hamilton also stopped for mediums five laps later and retained fourth, now 17 seconds behind Raikkonen in third and 25 seconds behind Vettel in the lead.
Amid problems with the radio, Mercedes instructed Hamilton to push so that Vettel would come out behind him if Ferrari opted to make a second stop. Vettel would have been on fresher tyres and in a position to push had he done so, but in the end Ferrari felt it was better to keep their man out on track and attempt to retain the lead to the flag. When it became clear that was the plan, Bottas was given licence to push his Mercedes harder and in the closing stages he zoned in on the gearbox of the Ferrari.
Between lap 49 and lap 54 Bottas closed the gap to Vettel from five seconds to one and on the final lap had the use of the DRS on the pit straight. He closed in on Vettel but as they approached the braking zone he wasn't quite close enough to attempt a move without risking an accident. With an extra lap he may have made taken the position -- such was the state of Vettel's 39-lap old soft tyres -- but as the chequered flag flew the Ferrari held a margin of 0.7s over the Mercedes. Hamilton crossed the line another 5.8s behind.
The result means Vettel leads the championship on 50 points, 17 ahead of Hamilton and 28 ahead of Bottas. McLaren's Alonso is fourth in the standings with 16 points.