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By Alan Davies, Formula One correspondent
Sunday, April 22, 2012
THE controversial 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix was the pits for McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton as Sebastian Vettel took race victory for Red Bull.
The 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes star finished a disappointing eighth around the desert track at Sakhir after two disastrous pitstops.
He lost vital seconds in both of his opening stops for tyres, and even his third stop wasn’t that quick.
As a result, the Hertfordshire-born motor racer could only cross the line eighth.
The team apologised over the radio, telling Hamilton: “You were eighth. Vettel won. Sorry about those pitstops, mate.”
When asked afterwards whether there should be an inquest into the team’s poor pitstops, Hamilton said: “There should be.”
And a miserable day for the McLaren team saw Jenson Button need a late stop for a puncture and then having to retire with a lap to go.
Red Bull’s reigning F1 world champion Vettel took the chequered flag for his first victory of the season after starting from pole postion, becoming the fourth winner in four races so far in 2012.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen claimed second place for Lotus, with French team-mate Romain Grosjean completing the podium positions.
Mark Webber was fourth for Red Bull, with Nico Rosberg fifth for Mercedes and Paul di Resta sixth for Force India in the provisional results.
Then came the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and Hamilton’s McLaren.
Hamilton lined up on the front row of the Bahrain International Circuit grid alongside pole-sitter Vettel, but was overtaken on lap seven by the Lotus Renault of Romain Grosjean.
That pass into Turn One relegated the Stevenage-born motor racer down to third place with the McLaren’s rear tyres struggling.
Hamilton came in for fresh rubber after 10 laps, but lost serious time in the pitlane due to another problem changing his tyres.
Hamilton asked: “What happened there guys?”
The McLaren pitwall replied: “There was a problem with the left rear. There’s still a long way to go in this race.”
The 2008 F1 world champion found himself down in 12th place after the stop, and soon tussled with the Mercedes car of Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton overtook Rosberg off the track and both drivers found themselves under investigation by race stewards.
Rosberg also faces a post-race investigation for an incident with Alonso.
With positions changing all the time, Hamilton on a charge overtook the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso to move into eighth place.
The pitwall told him: “Great job. We have Kobayashi ahead, who’s yet to stop.”
With 18 laps gone, Vettel was leading from the Lotus cars of Grosjean and Raikkonen, with Button fifth behind fourth-placed Webber. Hamilton was running sixth.
Hamilton was stationary for a long time in his second pitstop, with another rear left wheelnut issue dogging the McLaren crew, the problem this time being a cross-thread.
With vital seconds lost, Hamilton found himself out of contention and he had to carve his way through the field again.
He was told over the team radio: “Lewis, P6 is still possible. You were the fastest car on the circuit on the last lap.”
Hamilton was still only 10th after 33 laps of 57, with the Ferrari cars of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa just ahead of him.
He said: “I can’t get close enough to these Ferraris.”
The McLaren pitwall reply was: “Stay in the DRS zone, Lewis. Mistakes are possible and there is still some strategy to play out yet.”
Hamilton’s third stop was better but not that slick. However, he clawed back a place with a brilliant overtaking manoeuvre on Massa into Turn One and then closed in on Alonso’s Ferrari.
Spurring Hamilton on, the team told him over the radio: “You were 0.4s faster than Alonso on the last lap. Nearly all of that came in the first sector.”
With tyre management becoming an issue in the closing laps, Hamilton was told: “Look after the tyres, there are still 11 laps to go.”
He replied: “I’m trying to!”
Hamilton couldn’t overtake Alonso but gained a place when team-mate Button retired.