|© AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
There was nothing controversial about Sebastian Vettel's victory this time, just a clear reminder of how dominant the Red Bull driver can be when he's at his best.
Vettel won his second straight Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, easily beating Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in a dominant display that will bolster his chances of winning a fourth consecutive championship.
Vettel started from second but grabbed the lead for good on the 17th lap and beat Raikkonen by nine seconds. Grosjean was nearly 20 seconds back in third. The Frenchman managed to pass Force India's Paul di Resta for third with five laps to go for his best finish this season. The fourth-place finish for di Resta matches his best-ever finish last year in Singapore.
"Fantastic race, it was seamless from start to finish," said Vettel, who was heavily criticised after ignoring team orders and passing teammate Mark Webber for the win in Malaysia last month. "I thought it was crucial to get into the lead from the start and go from there. It seemed to get better and better toward the end."
It was also a strong showing the year for and impressive, considering Raikkonen started the race ninth and Grosjean 11th. It was especially heartening for Grosjean, who a few days earlier complained about struggling with the softer tyres this season and not being able to challenge the leaders.
"The first three races have been consistent but not where we wanted," Grosjean said. "We worked hard, the whole team. It wasn't easy to find out what was missing to get the feeling back into the car basically we got it. ... Very pleased to be here."
Di Resta called this his "strongest" Grand Prix -- and comes a week after he ended up after colliding with his team Adrian Sutil.
"It's great to round off the fly-away races with a fourth place and a race that was probably my strongest Grand Prix," di Resta said. "The podium was very close, but with our strategy we were always going to be vulnerable at the end of the race - especially to Grosjean who had two new sets of medium tyres."
Vettel extended his lead in the championship standings to ten points ahead of Raikkonen after four of 19 races, while Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton moved up to third after finishing fifth.
It was a day to forget for Ferrari, with both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa encountering problems early on that dropped them out of contention. Alonso had to pit twice in the first few laps when his DRS system malfunctioned while Massa damaged a front wing in a collision with Sutil. Alonso finished eighth while Massa was 15th.
"This is definitely not the outcome we expected after showing all weekend long that we were capable of fighting for the top places," Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said. "Today's result needs to be put behind us in a hurry."
While the lead rarely changed hands, the race featured some of the best racing of the season down the grid. Teammates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez touched wheels at one point as the Mexican tried to pass him for fifth - prompting Button to demand the team calm his teammate down. Red Bull's Mark Webber was in the thick of much of the action in what was his 200th Grand Prix, colliding with Rosberg at one point and going wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton on the last lap as the two battled for sixth. Hamilton ultimate passed Webber, whose tyres were shot.
Webber was reprimanded afterward for his collision with the German driver, with race stewards saying he should have done more to avoid it.
"It was nice to have a clean battle like that. I can't remember fighting with someone so well for a long time," Hamilton said. "It felt similar to the old days in karting where you wait to the last lap. ... I had to kind of call his bluff. He was always defending into Turn 1 and the one lap I made think I was going to the left and went to right. Caught him napping."
Tyres seemed to be less of an issue this race, with most teams on three pit stops and strategy playing less of a role after Pirelli dropped the softest compounds for this race. Teams have complained this year that tyres are degrading too quickly, leading to more strategic races with a focus on preserving the rubber.
With his 28th career victory and second of the year, Vettel significantly boosted his chances of defending his title.
Having already joined greats Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher by winning three consecutive F1 titles and becoming the youngest triple champion in the sport's history, Vettel can match Fangio and Schumacher's feat of four straight crowns.
Red Bull -- which has won the last three constructors' titles -- goes to Europe leading Lotus by 16 points followed by Ferrari 32 points back.
"To be heading to Europe having won two out of the four races plus a second place has been strong start to the campaign for us," team principal Christian Horner said.