Sakhir, Bahrain – Two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel claimed his and Red Bull's first win of the 2012 season by taking Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.
Vettel started on the pole and quickly pulled away from the field. The young German only relinquished the top spot when he made his first of three pit stops.
Kimi Raikkonen, who started 11th, chased down Vettel and challenged him for the lead at the halfway point of the 57-lap race. Both drivers made their final stops at the same time on lap 40, but Vettel's quicker stop allowed him to build a wide enough gap over Raikkonen to ensure the win.
"It was an incredible and extremely tough race," Vettel said. "Sometimes we had a decent gap. We had a good start to the race, which was crucial. I was able to pull away immediately. It turned out to be a big advantage because we had to go on a new set of tires, since we nearly used all of them yesterday in qualifying.
"I could see that Kimi was getting through, and he was very quick. It was a difficult race, but everything seemed to work out with the strategy. I can only say a big thanks to the whole team."
Vettel claimed his 22nd career F1 win, including his first one at the 5.411- kilometer Bahrain International Circuit.
Raikkonen finished 3.3 seconds behind Vettel in the runner-up spot, while his teammate, Romain Grosjean, finished a career-best third. It's the first time both Lotus drivers have been on the podium for a F1 grand prix since 2006.
"I think we gave ourselves a chance at least, but it's disappointing that I didn't manage to win it," said Raikkonen, whose last F1 win came in the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix when he drove for Ferrari. "At least we got the podium with both [Lotus] cars."
Raikkonen spent the past two years competing in the World Rally Championship before returning to F1 this season to drive for Lotus. Grosjean was also added to the team's driver lineup this year.
"I'm very proud of the team," Grosjean said. "We knew we had a good car, but I think we were a little surprised how quick we were. We tried a different strategy than Kimi, and it turned out to be not too bad."
Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, finished fourth, while Mercedes' Nico Rosberg took the fifth spot, one week after he captured his first F1 win in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Just after making his second pit stop, Rosberg forced Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso up the track while battling him for position. The incident with Rosberg and Alonso was being investigated by stewards after the race.
Paul di Resta from Force India capitalized on just a two pit-stop strategy to place sixth, which matched his best F1 finish. Alonso wound up in seventh.
It was a disastrous race for McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Starting second, Hamilton encountered two lengthy pit stops due to problems with the changing of his left-rear tire. He settled for an eighth-place finish.
Button suffered a punctured tire and had to pit unexpectedly with less than four laps remaining. He then retired from the event two laps short of the finish due to mechanical problems. Button finished 18th.
Felipe Massa from Ferrari and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher completed the top-10.
Vettel became the fourth different winner in as many grand prix this year. He also became the fourth different points leader. Vettel has accumulated 53 points for the season so far, which is four more than Hamilton. Webber is five markers out of the lead, compared to 10 for both Button and Alonso.
Heading into this race, Vettel trailed Hamilton for the lead by 17 points.
"It's a very tight season, and the cars are very close to each other," Vettel added.
The Bahrain GP was held amid very tight security. There continues to be civil unrest in this Middle Eastern country. Last year's race here was canceled due to the anti-government demonstrations.