Alonso wins F1 opener in Ferrari debut
Fernando Alonso won Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix to lead a Ferrari 1-2 on his debut for the Italian Formula One team.
The Spaniard passed teammate Felipe Massa at the second corner after the start before overtaking pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel on the 34th lap for a lead he would never relinquish.
After two frustrating years at Renault, Alonso pounded his chest after jumping on top of his car as Ferrari got off to its best start since 2004 – when Michael Schumacher led a 1-2 start. Alonso replaced Kimi Raikkonen, who also won on his Ferrari debut three years ago.
"A very special day for me, coming back to the top of the podium is always special, but also more special with Ferrari and the history of the team and the expectations," Alonso said. "There is no better way to start the relationship."
Affected by an exhaust failure, Vettel was soon after passed by Massa, who claimed second on his return to racing after a life-threatening crash last July in Hungary.
"We were lucky with the problems of Sebastian Vettel to pass," Massa said. "I’m very happy. It’s also the best start of my season. I rode through the race normal(ly), with very good pace. Thanks to God, I’m fine."
Lewis Hamilton overtook Vettel at the same spot as the McLaren driver finished third ahead of his Red Bull opponent.
"We had control of the race today and things we were on top of the strategy – everything was running smoothly," Vettel said. "We should have won today. It cost us a lot."
Nico Rosberg was more than 40 seconds behind Alonso in fifth place. Schumacher, his Mercedes teammate and a seven-time champion, came sixth in his first race in three years after starting seventh in his first race.
"All in all, I have a very positive feeling after my first race," Schumacher said through a translator. "We came in roughly where we expected to come in."
Alonso and Ferrari confirmed their preseason expectations as title favorites after the two-time champion’s 22nd career victory. It was Alonso’s third win at the Middle East track but first since 2006 – when he won his last title.
"There is always pressure with every race, every test you go into," Alonso said after earning the season’s first 25 points. "You live with stress on your shoulders."
Alonso worked his way up behind Vettel, who had won four of his six previous races from pole, to set up his pass at the final corner before the finish line straight.
"I was waiting for the time to attack Vettel – maybe the last 10 laps – but suddenly he had a car problem and we had a chance to overtake him earlier than we expected," Alonso said after his first victory since the 2008 Japanese GP. "(It’s) a fantastic sensation."
Massa pulled up to Vettel on the same stretch before going around last year’s championship runner-up at the first corner, where Hamilton passed the German driver four laps later.
Massa had to lay up over the last 30 laps to save fuel and his tires, and Hamilton said he just ran out of laps as he pushed to catch the Brazilian.
"We had a good day. Our race pace was a lot stronger (than expected)," Hamilton said. "If I wasn’t behind Nico for the first half of the race, I could have been closer to the front."
Schumacher’s new team, Mercedes, showed it still has some work to do to provide him with a car worthy of an eighth title. Schumacher finished 3.9 seconds behind Rosberg.
Defending champion Jenson Button finished seventh for McLaren, while Mark Webber of Red Bull was eighth.
Tonio Liuzzi of Force India and Rubens Barrichello of Williams rounded out the top 10 to finish in the points following a change in the scoring system.
Ferrari changed both of its engines without penalty before the start as a precaution, but there was little caution from Alonso as the Spaniard held the inside position to pass Massa into second after a relatively clean start from the 22 cars on the grid.
Rosberg jumped in front of Hamilton with Schumacher behind him after getting ahead of Webber, whose engine spewed smoke to blind Renault’s Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil of Force India. Those two spun out in the confusion to drop out of the top 10.
The leading drivers didn’t begin to pit until lap 16, when Russian driver Vitaly Petrov’s Renault retired with a front suspension problem.
Vettel was the last to change to hard tires – after 17 laps – in the hot desert heat for a 3.5-second gap over Alonso, who was four-seconds ahead of Massa.
Alonso steadily gained with the change of tires, narrowing Vettel’s lead to 2.6 seconds by the halfway point. Alonso eventually edged Massa by 16 seconds.
"We’ve done nothing so far, we’ve just won the first race," Alonso said.
Lotus was the only new team to finish as Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli filled the last two places after both Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing failed to classify.
Sauber driver Pedro De la Rosa’s return after three years as a McLaren test driver ended after when he retired after 29 laps.