Vettel's first win of 2012 focuses title fight

April, 25, 2012
04/25/12
12:15
PM ET

A familiar winner emerged in Bahrain, but the man on the top step had some unusual company in his mirrors throughout the race, and victory for Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel was far from certain until the very end, thanks to a remarkable effort from both Lotus pilots.

Both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean had reasonable chances to give Lotus a win, and for the third straight event, a relative dark horse constructor has reached the podium.

This season appears to be absolutely wide open. A year rife with surprises has yet to let up, and it has so far created some very intriguing storylines.

One of the prime stories has been the relative struggles of Vettel, but he looked to be on top form en route to his 22nd career F1 win. His drive was even more impressive considering he won from the pole while also recording the quickest lap (hat trick), something he did just twice a season ago. He managed his tires very well and was admirable in keeping the competition in check, and because of his sensational drive, he is now just one win shy of tying Nelson Piquet for 10th on the sport's all-time wins list.

It was an unusually long wait for a defending champion to earn their first win of the next season, however.

Since Fernando Alonso's championship in 2005, only one defending title holder took longer than Vettel to win the season after. That would be Lewis Hamilton, who did not win until the 10th event of 2009. In that span, every other champion up until this year won within the first two races in the season immediately following their title.

Vettel's win also means four different drivers have claimed the first four races of 2012, a phenomenon that hadn't occurred since 2003.

It very well could have been Raikkonen celebrating victory in Bahrain, as he looked every bit a former champion while battling for the lead. His ability to adapt has been sensational, and it appears that he, as well as Lotus, could be very close to victory.

It was a superior performance for Renault as an engine supplier, as well. The power plant occupied the top four places for only the third time, and for the first time since 1997.

One of the men behind that finish was Grosjean, who tallied his first career podium. His stellar effort brought France its first podium in more than a decade, a drought that is difficult to imagine for a nation that has had so much success in Formula One. With the likely return of the French Grand Prix in the near future, Grosjean's finish was certainly timed well.

Deeper in the field, Felipe Massa finally claimed points after enduring a trying start to the year.

It may have been a mere two points, but it likely was a step in the right direction for the veteran.

Bahrain has generally been a welcoming site for Massa. He's endured four seasons in his career in which he did not earn points until at least the third race, and on three of those occasions, Bahrain provided the first points haul.

Through four events, this season has played out remarkably different compared to last year, and the championship battle will likely be alive until the final grand prix. For the most part, the past several F1 seasons have provided memorable competition, and one can only hope that this year stacks up with the likes of 2007, 2008 and 2010. So far, it certainly looks as if it will.

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