Vettel holds off late Hamilton charge to win Bahrain GP

With eventual victor Sebastian Vettel surging clear, Bottas was asked to let Hamilton pass to give Mercedes the best chance of reeling in the Ferrari driver.

Pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas finished third in his Mercedes, on a day when the Finn struggled.

The race restarted on lap 17 and Hamilton passed Ricciardo into turn one to claim back third place and despite being on the slower rubber was able to stay with his team-mate.

Hamilton, starting second, found himself in the role of the hunter after a slow getaway allowed Vettel to storm past around turn one.

While Bottas led he was not pulling away from the chasing pack.

"Supposed to have a five-second gap and I think I had a four-second gap".

Vettel admitted after qualifying that the gap to the Mercedes drivers left him feeling "down" as he was happy with his vehicle, and after taking victory he suspects the good handling of his auto played a part in his strong race performance. Verstappen managed to jump both Raikkonen and Ricciardo for fourth place behind Hamilton.

With Stoffel Vandoorne having failed to start due to a suspected MGU-H issue, Kevin Magnussen had already dropped out on lap 9 when Verstappen emerged from his pit stop and suffered brake failure at Turn 4.

"I got hit from the side", the Williams rookie exclaimed.

Stroll's auto was in a unsafe position at the exit of turn one and the safety vehicle was dispatched.

Both Mercedes drivers used the safety auto incident to pit for new tires, but Hamilton held up Ricciardo. Meanwhile, Hamilton had eaten away Vettel's gap to 3.9s by lap 32.

It dropped him to 12th, but by the time the rest of the pack had pitted behind the safety auto following a coming to gather between the Williams of Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz, he was sitting pretty at the front.

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Running in third, Hamilton then urged his Mercedes team to let him past Bottas with Vettel sailing off into the distance.

As Hamilton slowly gained on Vettel at the front, Mercedes brought Bottas in for his final stop at the end of Lap 31, fitting the Finn with a set of soft tires that would take him to the end of the race.

The former Williams driver duly obliged with Hamilton now in pursuit of Vettel and his lead.

Bottas came in for the soft rubber on lap 31 and came out in seventh by which point Vettel was just under five seconds ahead of Hamilton and with the British driver catching him Ferrari pitted the German on lap 34 for the soft tyres. Hamilton and Ricciardo were now on softs, they did not have to stop again unlike Vettel and Bottas. The answer arrived eight laps later as he stopped for a second time. He came in on lap 41, served his five-second penalty, and came out P3, 10s behind Bottas.

But on new rubber Hamilton, 10 seconds down on Bottas, began his fightback. "More importantly, however, we are now completely confident that our victory in Melbourne wasn't just a one-off and that we will be at the forefront of this world championship until the last (race)".

"Congratulations to Seb and thank you to Valtteri for being a gentleman out there", he said on the podium. Surely, Hamilton could not do the unthinkable with Vettel almost 14 seconds ahead? Marcus Ericsson and Fernando Alonso also broke down in the closing stages.

Briton's Jolyon Palmer started a career-high 10th but was 13th and last of those who finished.

"We lost a lot of points, especially at the moment with the state the auto is, we should have taken a lot of points, and a bit unfortunate", the Dutchman said. "It is a long year".

"I didn't have enough pace today and we have to find the reasons why", the Finnish driver said.

"Right from the first lap I felt the auto was there and the Easter hunt was on". It didn't start out the best, but the pit lane was really my fault and so apologies to the team for losing the time there. Of course the disappointment is there.

"It was a great team effort today and I felt like we are quick".

On the team's official Twitter feed, the Enstone outfit suggested that Mercedes should deploy "Hammertime" - a term used by Hamilton's race engineer to the Brit when they want him to go as fast as possible. I struggled with pace all through the race.

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