Fernando Alonso led a Ferrari one-two on his debut for the team to make a stunning start to the new Formula One season.
Alonso produced the defining move of the Bahrain Grand Prix at the end of lap 34 of the 49-lap race, passing a backpedalling Sebastian Vettel at that stage, before going on to claim the 22nd win of his career, and third at the Sakhir circuit.
Suffering a loss of power, polesitter Vettel had led throughout up until that point, eventually finishing an unhappy fourth as Felipe Massa and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton also made their moves past the young German to stand on the podium.It was Ferrari’s first one-two since the French Grand Prix in June 2008, and Alonso’s first victory since Japan the same year when he was with Renault.
If omens are anything to go by, on the previous two occasions Alonso won this race he went on to win the title in 2005 and 2006 when he was in his first spell with the French manufacturer.
Behind the leading quartet, Mercedes’ return to F1 as a fully-fledged manufacturer for the first time in 55 years saw them finish fifth and sixth, with Nico Rosberg narrowly ahead of seven-times champion Michael Schumacher on his return to the sport after three-and-a-half years in retirement.
As for Jenson Button, it was not the performance he would have wanted on his debut for McLaren and on his first outing in defence of the title he won last year.
The 30-year-old finished just a second behind the 41-year-old German, with Mark Webber eighth in his Red Bull.
With the top 10 scoring points this year, Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi was ninth and Rubens Barrichello 10th in his debut for Williams.
Sadly, it was hardly the spectacle the Formula One-loving public had hoped for as the new rule changes appear to have done little for the show.
In the build-up to the race the drivers and team principals had all stated the sport was venturing into the unknown, that there would either be plenty of spills and thrills or it would be a procession.
No surprises for guessing it was primarily the latter, save for a handful of moves involving the lower-placed cars.
Many had also anticipated mayhem at the first corner, with all cars carrying large fuel loads following the decision to ban in-race refuelling.
Instead the field virtually tip-toed their way around the right-hander, led by Vettel.
But for team-mate Webber’s car experiencing a slosh of oil that spilled over onto his hot exhaust, sending plumes of smoke billowing behind him, the opening turn would have been incident-free.
Instead, blinded by white cloud, Renault’s Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil in his Force India both spun from their ninth and 10th positions, and remarkably neither were struck as the traffic found a way round.
Webber’s initial plight allowed the returning Schumacher to move up a place to sixth, while Rosberg had gained a spot on Hamilton to claim fourth.
The most significant move on that opening lap saw Alonso move past Massa into second, but beyond that little happened up until the first round of pit stops.
By then there had been a handful of retirements, notably the two Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing cars, as well as Kamui Kobayashi in his Sauber.
Up front the field barely altered, although Hamilton passed Rosberg and Button moved past Webber in that one-and-only pit-stop round that now lasts four to five seconds such is the excellence of the crews.
But nothing really happened until Vettel started to go backwards, allowing Alonso to pass him into the final corner of lap 34, and then 20 seconds later Massa eased past at the first corner of lap 35.
Hamilton followed a few laps later, and that was effectively it.
Credit, though, to the Lotus Racing team on their return after a 16-year absence as Heikki Kovalainen saw the chequered flag in 15th place.
Team-mate Jarno Trulli finished 17th, although he pulled over on the last lap, and ultimately three down on the celebratory Alonso who poured champagne all over team boss Stefano Domenicali amid the podium celebrations.
A smiling Alonso said it had been “a very special day”.
He added: “It’s special even more for Ferrari with the history of the team.
“There is no better way to start the relationship. It’s the best team in the world.
“But we’ve done nothing so far. It’s only the first race, but this is credit to the people in Italy, the mechanics and president (Luca) Di Montezemolo.
“This result is something very positive, and is great for the rest of the season.”
After claiming the 29th podium of his career, Massa thanked God for the result on his return to racing after eight months away following the life-saving surgery he required last July.
“It’s fantastic to be here, and thank God I’m here, that I’m fine and in a competitive car,” remarked Massa.
“Every driver has supported me, and I’ve received plenty of letters from all around the world which has given me plenty of motivation.”
Assessing the race he added: “I lost an important position to Fernando at the start.
“But then it was just great for me after that, the car was perfect until I started to lose temperature.
“It affected fuel consumption and I had to save fuel for the last 25 to 30 laps. After that it was quiet for me and I managed to hold position.”
Although happy with the 28th podium of his career, Hamilton knows he and his team face a hard fight if they are to keep pace with Ferrari.
“I had quite a good race,” said Hamilton.
“I lost ground at turn four (on the first lap) and Rosberg got past me. I was then held up for the first part of the race.
“It’s difficult to follow here whilst trying to look after your tyres, but then I got past him (in the pit stop).
“It’s a strong result for me and the team, more than I expected, but we need to push to keep up with these guys.”