Fernando Alonso believes he is in “the best team in the world” after spearheading a Ferrari one-two on his debut.
An element of luck played its part in Alonso’s 22nd career victory as Sebastian Vettel was poised to clinch a pole-to-flag triumph in Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix until an engine problem scuppered his cause.
In the space of 20 seconds Vettel’s race turned on its head as with the loss of power he dropped from first to third, initially passed into the final corner by Alonso at the end of lap 34, and then into the first corner of lap 35 by Felipe Massa.
With Vettel losing two to three seconds per lap, it was not too long before Lewis Hamilton also took advantage to claim third to at least give McLaren something to smile about.
For team-mate Jenson Button, seventh was not what he would have anticipated after switching teams, and on the start of the defence of his world title.
But then this grand prix was not what anybody was anticipating as it failed to live up to all the pre-season hype as the new regulations – a ban on refuelling and one tyre change – turned it into the procession many feared, a point even Alonso remarked upon.
But there was no hiding his smile after a maiden outing for his new team to remember, clinching his first win since the Japanese Grand Prix of 2008 by 16 seconds to Massa.
“It means a lot,” said Massa, signed by Ferrari a year earlier than they had planned after losing patience with Kimi Raikkonen.
“Obviously any victory means a lot, but this is a very special day for me.
“Returning to the top of the podium is always special, but this is even more so with Ferrari, with all the history behind the team and all the expectations a driver has when he drives for Ferrari.
“There is no better way to start the relationship. I am in the best team in the world.
“Arriving here on the Thursday there was a lot of stress, media attention et cetera, and then come today it was time to deliver.
“So this first win with Ferrari means so much. It will always be very special, one that will never be forgotten.”
Vettel was naturally gutted to have missed out on a win he seemed to have in his pocket as there was no way Alonso would otherwise have found a way past.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said it was “cruel luck” that robbed the 22-year-old of victory, and the German added: “It’s a pity but what can you do.
“From Saturday onwards, we were one of the quickest cars on track in all conditions, and then we had control of the race today and we were on top of the strategy. Everything was running smoothly.
“But then at some stage, I think about 15 to 20 laps from the end, you could see my lap times were getting slower.
“Luckily we could continue and finished fourth, but we should have won today. It cost us a lot.”
Massa, who eight months ago required life-saving surgery after an accident in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, thanked God for his return to the big stage.
Starting on the front row the Brazilian made one early mistake off the line to allow Alonso through to second, but aside from that he did not put a foot wrong.
There were kisses and hugs all round with wife Rafaella and father Luiz Antonio in the paddock afterwards, which appeared as much in relief as well as celebratory.
As for Hamilton, he has urged his team to push if they are to keep pace with the Ferraris and the Red Bulls.
“Third place was a very strong result for us,” said Hamilton.
“I feel we did a good job. Our reliability was great and the pace was pretty good, but we still need to push very hard to close the gap to the cars in front.”
On his return after three and a half years in retirement, Michael Schumacher had to be content with sixth, a place behind team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Behind Button, with the top 10 scoring points this season, Mark Webber was eighth in his Red Bull, followed by Vitantonio Liuzzi in his Force India and Williams’ Rubens Barrichello.
Of the newcomers, Lotus Racing made a dream start with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli finishing 15th and 17th.
As for Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing, their drivers all retired for one reason or another by lap 18.