SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Sebastian Vettel just held on to win a dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday and extended his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton, who finished third behind teammate Valtteri Bottas despite starting from ninth.
Vettel was almost overtaken by Bottas on the last lap, but made a crucial blocking move and won by only 0.6 seconds.
Hamilton was gifted a podium spot after Ferrari botched Kimi Raikkonen’s second tire change. A rear wheel was not fitted properly and, in his haste to get back into the race, Raikkonen’s car hit a team mechanic. Ferrari said the mechanic was taken to the hospital for treatment. There was no immediate update on his condition or the nature of his injury.
Vettel made it two straight F1 wins after victory at the season-opening Australian GP two weeks ago, sealing his 49th career win on his 200th race start.
”A bit sad because one of our mechanics got injured,” Vettel said. ”A mixed day overall.”
Red Bull had an awful race, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen retiring early on. In an ironic twist, Red Bull’s feeder team Toro Rosso had arguably the result of the day – with French driver Pierre Gasly driving superbly to finish a career-best fourth.
But it was determined and astute defending from Vettel, who drove just like a four-time F1 champion. He was under serious pressure from the faster car of Bottas, who was on better tires, but did not crack.
Vettel whooped with joy as he crossed the finish line, although his team’s celebrations were more low-key than usual following the mechanic’s hospitalization.
Raikkonen came in for his second tire change of the race after 36 of 57 laps of the 5.4-kilometer (3.3-mile) desert circuit, but the left rear tire was not secured properly. Raikkonen was given the green light to go but it was an unsafe release and, as he pulled away, he hit one of the mechanics.
Raikkonen’s car came to a halt a few meters later and he took off the steering wheel and dejectedly threw it into the cockpit. As he walked back through the team garage, the Finnish driver swiped away a water bottle in frustration.
Ferrari said it was ”thinking about our man, waiting to know more after the treatment.”
It was a poor error from Ferrari, which was fined 5,000 euros ($6,140) for an unsafe pit release during practice on Friday.
As the sun set, tension rose on the grid as drivers prepared for their showdown under floodlights.
Vettel started on the front row with Raikkonen, and Bottas started third. Hamilton was ninth on the grid after incurring a five-place grid penalty for an unauthorized gearbox change.
A frantic start saw Vettel hold the lead but Raikkonen got passed in the first corner by Bottas.
Red Bull’s nightmare scenario made things easier for Hamilton, who no longer had two of the best drivers on the grid to contend with. But it was immensely frustrating for Verstappen. The Dutch driver had done brilliantly to jump from 15th on the grid, and fought with Hamilton on the inside heading into turn one. But he sustained too much damage after puncturing his left rear tire.
Moments later, there were heads on hands in the Red Bull garage as Ricciardo’s race was ended. He pulled over on the side of the track because of an electrical failure, prompting the safety car to come out. With the VSC on track, Verstappen managed to crawl back into the pits. He resumed the race but abandoned shortly after.