Fernando Alonso got his Ferrari career off to a glorious start by leading teammate Felipe Massa to a comfortable 1-2 sweep in the Bahrain Grand Prix – but only after Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull lost power while leading.
The German still managed to limp to the flag in fourth, with Lewis Hamilton benefiting from his problem to get on the podium for McLaren. The Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher completed the top six. Vettel had looked comfortable in the lead for most of the race, pulling out a five second advantage prior to the leaders' sole pit stops on laps 17 to 19.
Alonso had taken second from Massa through the first corners at the start, and then closed a little on Vettel by taking fresh tires one lap sooner. He continued to chip away at the gap in the second half of the race, getting to within 1.5sec and bringing Massa along with him, but Vettel seemed to have enough in hand to keep the Ferraris at bay.
That suddenly changed at the start of lap 34, though, as Vettel abruptly slowed on the pits straight, reporting a loss of power that the team later diagnosed as an exhaust problem. Alonso was soon all over the back of the hobbled Red Bull, blasting past and into the lead on the run into the final corner, with Massa followed him on the next straight to take second.
Just in case Massa had any thoughts of mounting a challenge for the lead, Alonso then fired off a string of new fastest race laps to build a 5sec margin and set himself up to take his first victory since the 2008 Japanese GP. He continued to set fastest laps in the closing stages to keep himself amused, eventually extending his lead over Massa into double figures.
Hamilton ran behind Rosberg at first, but jumped the Mercedes in the first pit stops. He picked up third from the slowing Vettel with 11 laps to go. After that, Vettel managed to get a little more speed from his car and held on to fourth, finishing just ahead of Rosberg.
Schumacher ran a few seconds behind his teammate throughout his comeback race, fending off World Champion Jenson Button (McLaren) and Mark Webber (Red Bull), who swapped places when they pitted in unison on lap 19.
Webber had a trouble-free run despite his Red Bull emitting huge plumes of white smoke on the opening lap. Unsighted in this cloud, Renault's Robert Kubica and Force India's Adrian Sutil touched and spun, although they recovered to 11th and 12th.
An early pit stop allowed Kubica to set some rapid times and vault a few midfield cars, but in the end he could not get close enough to 10th-placed Rubens Barrichello's Williams. Force India had the consolation of ninth position for Sutil's teammate Tonio Liuzzi.
Rookies Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hulkenberg had tough races, with the Williams spinning in the fast downhill corners following the new loop early on, and Petrov having to park in the pits with a suspension problem – which he felt he may have caused by hitting a curb too hard. Prior to that the Renault had run 11th thanks to a fast start.
Lotus managed to get both cars to the flag, with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli within 3sec of the pace at times on their way to 15th and 16th, although Trulli had to nurse a mechanical problem in the final laps.
The other two new teams did not last long. Karun Chandhok crashed his Hispania on lap two, and teammate Bruno Senna had a suspected hydraulic problem 16 laps later. Virgin also posted two early retirements, with hydraulic issues stopping Lucas di Grassi after two laps and Timo Glock hitting gearbox trouble just after passing Kovalainen for the lead of the unofficial newcomers' class.
Sauber was the other team forced to retire both cars, as Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi suffered hydraulic gremlins mid-race.
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PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Bahrain Grand Prix
Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain;
49 laps; 191.6 miles;
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h39:20.396
2. Massa Ferrari + 16.099
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 23.182
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 38.713
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 40.263
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 44.180
7. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 45.260
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 46.308
9. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes + 53.089
10. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:02.400
11. Kubica Renault + 1:09.093
12. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:22.958
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:32.656
14. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
15. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 1 lap
16. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 3 laps
17. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth + 3 laps
Fastest lap: Alonso, 1:58.287
Driver Team On lap
De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 30
Senna HRT-Cosworth 18
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 17
Petrov Renault 14
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 12
Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 3
Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 2
World Championship standings, round 1:
1. Alonso 25 1. Ferrari 43
2. Massa 18 2. McLaren-Mercedes 21
3. Hamilton 15 3. Mercedes 18
4. Vettel 12 4. Red Bull-Renault 16
5. Rosberg 10 5. Force India-Mercedes 2
6. Schumacher 8 6. Williams-Cosworth 1
7. Button 6
8. Webber 4
9. Liuzzi 2
10. Barrichello 1
All timing unofficial