SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix Sunday, easily beating Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in a race that has been the target of rights groups and anti-government protesters in the divided nation.
It was a dominant performance for the Red Bull driver, who 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. Still, the fourth-place finish for di Resta matched his best ever. It was the exact same podium as last year.
Vettel retains the championship lead after four of 19 races, with his advantage over Raikkonen now 10 points while Mercedes is 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 saw them fall 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 Force India's Adrian Sutil. Alonso finished eighth while Massa was down in 15th.
With his 28th career victory and second of the year, Vettel looks like he might just be able defend his drivers title. As he crossed the line, the team said over the radio "Fantastic drive Seb. You deserve it." He responded with a hearty scream.
"Fantastic race. It was seamless race from start to finish," Vettel said. "I thought it was crucial to get into lead from the start and go from there. It seemed to get better and better toward the end."
It was a stunning showing for Lotus considering Raikkonen started ninth and Grosjean 11th. It was especially heartening for Grosjean, who a few days earlier complained about struggling with the softer tires this season and not being able to challenge the leaders.
The race has been the target of rights groups that contend it glosses over the country's political problems while anti-government protesters intensified their demonstrations against the Sunni-led government. While the race went off without incident, there were sporadic clashes in other parts of the Gulf country. Riot police fires tear gas and stun grenades and protesters trying to block a road and rights groups said authorities launched raids on houses of several protesters.