The remorseless pace and reliability of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa destroyed the hopes of Sebastian Vettel in his fast but fragile Red Bull as the 2010 Formula One season opened in Bahrain with a 1-2 finish for Ferrari.
The young German defended his pole position at the start and seemed well-set to build a small but winning advantage over Alonso, who had jumped his team-mate in the opening seconds but could make no headway against the leader.
Even when the Spaniard drew close on lap 31 of 49 the hot turbulent air behind the Red Bull seemed to be affecting his car and he was forced to fall back into the clutches of Massa for fear of overheating and excess tyre wear.
But just a couple of laps later Vettel suffered a broken exhaust, and with it a performance drop-off that left him with no defence against the Ferraris, or McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton 30 seconds further back down the road.
Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo said: “I am delighted for our drivers – Alonso starts with a victory and Massa is still so fast in a tough race after last year’s terrible accident. A first and second place encourages us to look forward and keep up the hard work.”
Hamilton said the podium was more than McLaren thought possible: “It’s a strong result and definitely more than we expected. Unfortunately I was held up by Rosberg for most of the first half of the race. It’s very difficult to follow here and I think if I had got past him then I would have been able to keep up with the leaders’ train.”
Vettel said: “We had control of the race today and we were on top of the strategy – everything was running smoothly. Then you could see my lap times were getting slower. It seems something mechanical broke, luckily we could continue and finished fourth, but we should have won today.”
He clung on to finish ahead of a diffident Nico Rosberg – the Mercedes driver keeping safely clear of his more illustrious team-mate Michael Schumacher but rather surprisingly failing to hunt down the stricken Vettel.
Rosberg said: “I couldn’t quite get Sebastian at the end as I lost grip in the dirty air when I got close. However, fifth place is a good start for us and I am confident that we can develop well from here.”
Schumacher led home a short parade of the final drivers from the top four teams, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Red Bull’s Mark Webber, as the pre-season favourites locked out all eight of the top positions.
“Overtaking is basically impossible, other than if somebody makes a mistake – Lewis had a little one so Nico was able to pass him, but he got back past at the pitstop – that’s about it,” said Schumacher. “But anyway, it was good fun, especially the beginning, and now we are going to work forward in order to catch up what is in front of us.”
Button said he had driven too conservatively early on in order to protect his tyres: “Our car is a good car but there are definitely things I have to work on. I think we’ve shown that our race pace is definitely quicker than our qualifying pace. The Ferrari is definitely the car to beat. The Red Bull is a quick car but in race trim it’s nowhere near.”
Webber’s car had been engulfed in smoke at the start of the race, seemingly from oil burning off, and lost a couple of places from his qualifying position. Behind him Renault’s Robert Kubica and Force India’s Adrian Sutil were caught out by the loss of visibility, touched, and span on the circuit, ending up facing the on-coming backmarkers.
Both recovered, but their chances of hoovering up the minor points had gone. Instead, Vitantonio Liuzzi took ninth place for Force India and Williams’ Rubens Barrichello was 10th. Kubica and Sutil recovered to 11th and 12th, ahead of Jaime Alguersuari for Toro Rosso and Nico Hulkenburg for Williams who was forced into an extra pitstop for tyres after a spin.
Of the new teams, Lotus claimed the bragging rights by getting both cars classified while neither Virgin nor Hispania brought even one home. Jarno Trulli fell just short of taking the flag but was classified 17th, while Heikki Kovalainen finished 15th and was classified ahead of the beached Sebastian Buemi.