Alonso enjoys dream debut in Bahrain

Fernando Alonso has enjoyed the dream start to his career with Ferrari after securing victory in the opening race of the 2010 F1 season in Bahrain.

The Spaniard had qualified on the second row of the grid for the season-opener, but was able to get ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa into the first corner and then benefitted from problems for pole man Sebastian Vettel to join the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Nigel Mansell and Kimi Raikkonen as a winner on his Ferrari bow.

The early stages of the race had suggested that Vettel was going to follow up his pole winning performance in qualifying with a winning start for Red Bull, as the young German made the ideal getaway when the lights went out to lead into turn one. With Alonso getting ahead of Massa behind, Vettel made his move to pull away and established a two-second lead by the end of lap one.

Behind, Nico Rosberg jumped up to fourth for Mercedes ahead of Lewis Hamilton, but Mark Webber lost out as his car fired out plumes of smoke heading into turn one, with the Australian dropping down to seventh place. Unsighted in the smoke behind, Adrian Sutil and Robert Kubica touched, with both drivers dropping to the rear of the field.

Vettel pulled out a lead of five seconds during the early laps prior to the drivers making what would be their only pit stop – for the leaders at least – with the German retaining his advantage once the stops were completed.

Alonso was able to find more speed after his stop as fuel levels dropped, and a series of quick laps saw him close on Vettel with Massa following closely behind the Spaniard.

With concerns over the possibility of Alonso overheating behind Vettel, and with Massa told to save his engine by engineer Rob Smedley, Vettel’s hopes of a winning start to the year looked to be good until he suddenly slowed starting the 34th lap, reporting a loss of power with was later revealed to be an exhaust problem.

Vettel could do nothing to stop Alonso sweeping past into the final corner on the 34th lap, and then saw Massa take second on the run down to turn one, with his focus then turning to trying to get the stricken Red Bull to the finish.

Once Vettel was cleared, Alonso simply drove away at the front of the field, quickly extending his lead over Massa with a series of blistering laps and the Spaniard eventually took the flag with a winning margin of some 16 seconds over the Brazilian – who could still reflect on a solid return to racing for the first time since his accident in Hungary last year.

Behind the Ferrari pair, Hamilton was able to take third for McLaren after benefitting from the issues suffered by Vettel, although it was a far from straightforward race for the Briton. Having fallen behind Rosberg at the start, Hamilton ran fifth through the early stages but was able to get ahead of the Mercedes during the pit-stops, when Rosberg had to be held in his pit box as Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button arrived for make his stop.

Despite possible issues with his brakes, Hamilton was able to run in a solid fourth before Vettel’s issues allowed him to close on the Red Bull and he was able to make a move with ease to secure his place on the podium.

After a series of erratic laps, Vettel settled into more of a grove as the race headed towards its conclusion, which enabled him to hold on to fourth place, despite Rosberg closing on the rear of his countryman during the final stages of the race. Behind Rosberg, the returning Michael Schumacher had to settle for sixth place with defending champion Button and Webber rounding out the top eight. Webber had run ahead of the new McLaren man in the early stages of the race before Button got ahead during the pit-stops and the positions remained unchanged to the flag.

Sutil’s early race incident may have cost him any chance of points, but team-mate Tonio Liuzzi ensured a scoring start for Force India as he benefitted from the new scoring system for 2010 to open his account. The Italian ran as high as fourth after running a long opening stint and was rewarded with two points for a solid performance, with Rubens Barrichello picking up the final point for Williams.

For both Kubica and Sutil, it was very much a case of what might have been as the pair lapped quickly but had to settle for eleventh and twelfth, ahead of the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari and Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams. On his F1 bow, Hulkenberg saw his chances of a points finish end early when he suffered a spin on the new infield section of circuit on the third lap which forced him into an unscheduled stop.

The final man running at the finish was Heikki Kovalainen, as the Finn carried Lotus to a finish in its debut race. The battle between the new teams had been an interesting aside to the fight out front, with Kovalainen dicing for position with the Virgin of Timo Glock through the first third of the race.

Glock however would fail to make it to the finish after losing fourth gear, while team-mate Lucas di Grassi was an early retirement with apparent hydraulic issues – the problem to have plagued the Virgin squad during pre-season. The sister Lotus of Jarno Trulli looked set to make it a double finish before he was slowed by mechanical issues late on, with the Italian eventually grinding to a halt on the final lap.

Neither Hispania Racing car made it beyond the 17 lap mark, with Karun Chandhok going off on the second lap and Bruno Senna pulling off on lap 18 with a suspected hydraulic problem.

Virgin and Hispania weren’t the only teams to lose both cars, as Kamui Kobayahi and Pedro de la Rosa both failed to see the flag for Sauber, while Vitaly Petrov and Sebastien Buemi were also forced to retire.

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