With the sun about to set in Bahrain, McLaren-Honda has more trouble on their hands as Vandoorne is not starting the race. This is engine three this weekend, after Alonso had to change his after qualifying yesterday and the problems both had in free practise on Friday.
Toro Rosso has to change Sainz engine also, this being a thing for Sainz during night races, given the last three night races he has suffered from engine problems that end in retirements.
So with only nineteen cars on the grid and sun setting as the race gets under way, Bottas leads the cars round the Sakhir Circuit for the parade lap and the cars line up for the start, Hamilton eager to get away cleanly from second place, while fighting of the Ferrari of Vettel in third place.
Lights out and we are racing in the desert night of Bahrain, Bottas gets a god start with Vettel ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen is up to fourth place ahead of Ricciardo and Massa is also ahead of the Ferrari of Raikkonen.
Lap two and Hamilton is behind Vettel who is pressurising Bottas and unable to shake the Ferrari from his gearbox.
All the cars are still in the race after the first two laps, with the Toro Rosso of Kvyat who is the biggest loser in the opening laps, dropping seven places after nearly collecting his teammate Sainz.
Hamilton is now one and half seconds behind Bottas, but unable to catch and overtake Vettel. Raikkonen is the driver on the move and closing the gap on the Williams, but goes wide on the final corner giving the Williams some breathing space.
Raikkonen finally gets passed Massa and on lap nine the first pit-stop with Stroll in to change tyres after flat spotting a tyre.
Magnussen in the Hass retires his car and we have yellow flags, but no need for a safety car as he parks up and wheeled back of the side of the track by the marshalls.
Bottas is running high tyre pressures due to the heat of his rear tyres and Vettel pits on lap eleven coming out in P12 in clear air. This is a reaction to Mercedes radio talk about Bottas rear tyres. Verstappen is now on the radio saying Red Bull should do something like Ferrari now and he pits on the next lap for tyres.
Gambling on tyres is this the only way win this race, as Verstappen now rejoins in P11, while Vettel is now up to P9.
Verstappen is out, brake failure as he fails to take make turn four. With double yellow flags now and Raikkonen is in the pits taking advantage of the yellow flags on lap twelve.
Stroll in the Williams is out stopped on track, hit in the side by Sainz in the Toro Rosso. Safety Car is out for only the third time in the Bahrain GP history.
Mercedes is in and double stack the cars in the pits, and Ricciardo is out ahead of the Hamilton, but Vettel is leading the race.
Sainz and Stroll disagree about who hit who, but Stroll was on the racing line, not looking at Sainz who was exiting the pit-lane. 50/50 racing incident, the stewards will decide this one, along with did Hamilton slow up Ricciardo entering the pit-lane, which is under investigation.
Replays clearly show that Hamilton did slow Ricciardo, but what penalty can be awarded as he lost the place during the pit stop.
Vettel is leading the cars with Bottas now in second place, can Vettel win from here as the race restarts with the safety car in on lap sixteen.
Hamilton overtakes Ricciardo in turn one, while Bottas attacks Vettel in turn two, but Massa is now up behind Hamilton overtaking Ricciardo and then Raikkonen is now overtaking Ricciardo. This F1 racing as all the cars are now overtaking as the race has restarted.
Even Alonso in the McLaren-Honda is able to overtake as he passes Palmer for twelfth place. Grosjean is on the radio about his Haas losing power, but in the bottom of the field, its Alonso who is on the move as he now up to eleventh place as he passes Ericsson in the Sauber.
Hamilton has been given a five second penalty at his next pit stop or added to his time at the end of the race for blocking Ricciardo in the pit-lane.
Twenty-one laps gone and Bottas has been asked to let Hamilton passed as he had the time penalty to take, but Bottas is not listening today, if Hamilton needs to get passed Bottas, he is going to have to catch him. Hamilton is on the radio, saying he can’t catch Bottas.
Raikkonen is pushing the Williams of Massa but cannot get passed him, the remaining Williams is going well in the experienced hands of Massa, but finally on lap twenty-four Raikkonen is passed Massa, who should have been sitting eating Easter eggs today enjoying his retirement, but was recalled by Williams to race for a final session.
Alonso is on the radio having now been overtaken by Palmer and Kvyat dropping down to thirteenth place “I have never raced with less power in my life” another stab at the Honda engine.
Mercedes has had enough and Bottas slows letting Hamilton passed on lap twenty-seven. Vettel is six and half seconds ahead of Hamilton and the Mercedes team made it clear to Bottas on the radio, “Please let Lewis through” clear instruction which Bottas followed immediately.
Raikkonen is informed over the radio that Bottas is now the car in front and has rear tyre issues. Raikkonen has six seconds to make up to catch Bottas.
Ricciardo now recovers a place from Massa as his Red Bull tyres now come back to him and the performance is up and they cars now on lap thirty, which is midpoint of the race, but Vettel and Bottas have to stop again for tyres as they have not run both tyre types yet.
Bottas makes his stop on lap thirty-one and re-joins in P7, but with everyone else not needing to stop, he has to overtake to make up the places. A podium place could be slipping away from him today.
Vettel, who has to stop again, is being caught by Hamilton and pits for tyres on lap thirty-four, returning in P3 behind Raikkonen, who will let Vettel passed as he has to stop for tyres, but can Hamilton make it to the end with the tyres he has on. It’s better to do it sooner than later and this could end up with Mercedes finishing second and third today behind Vettel.
Vettel passes Raikkonen on lap thirty-six with Hamilton only fifteen seconds in front, this is a very tense race and Mercedes has to react, but when?
Bottas overtakes Ricciardo on lap thirty-seven as Ocon in the Force India makes his tyre stop. Raikkonen is on the radio asking if he can do something with the car or tyres to help his race, but the Ferrari must has some sort of problem and he finally pits for tyres on lap thirty-eight along with Massa in the Williams.
Alonso on the radio again, “He was, what 300m behind us on the straight?” Team: “We’re considering Plan B. How are the tyres?” Alonso “Do what you want, man.” These radio messages are hurting McLaren-Honda so badly.
Hamilton finally pits on lap four-two, with a five second penalty before the team can touch the power, back out on track ahead of Raikkonen, but eleven seconds behind Vettel who is leading the race from Bottas with a nine second gap.
Mercedes on the radio to Hamilton telling him he has the pace to win the race, with Bottas just in front and Hamilton passes on lap forty-seven to close the gap to Vettel which is almost fourteen seconds.
With seven laps to go, Vettel has to pass the back markers, but so has Hamilton and this race is not over yet. Hamilton is closing in by half a second a lap and with the gap now nine seconds, Arrivabene goes walk about to relieve the tension from the Ferrari pit wall.
As Hamilton closes in on the Sauber of Ericsson it pulls to the side of the track with gearbox failure. Five laps to go and double yellow flags as they move the Sauber clear of the track.
Hamilton is not going to catch Vettel due to the five second penalty he had to take for blocking Ricciardo. Will he let Bottas back passed as he said earlier on the radio, it’s not in Hamilton’s nature to stop fighting to the end.
Alonso ends the day with another engine problem, both McLaren-Honda’s are out of the race. Renault have Hulkenberg in ninth place, while Force India have Perez in seventh and Oco in tenth, with Grosjean in eighth place. Good results for Force India and Renault, but it’s Wehrlein who brings the Sauber home in eleventh place in his first race of the season.
Vettel wins, with Hamilton in second place and Bottas in third, Raikkonen is home in fourth place with Ricciardo in fifth and Massa sixth.
A great race in the desert of Bahrain, a race which will be remembered for its overtaking and Vettel’s Ferrari beating the mighty Mercedes cars in a straight fight, but one which Hamilton lost by his stupid blocking of Ricciardo in the safety car period.
Two weeks until the Russian GP in Sochi, will Mercedes and Hamilton be able to stop the Ferrari revival or will Vettel stretch that lead for Ferrari?
Colin Logan for In2Motorsports.com