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Sebastian Vettel moved clear at the top of the world championship on Sunday when he claimed a well-judged victory for Ferrari in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 29-year-old four-time champion came home seven seconds ahead of three-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who made a late charge for victory after collecting a five-seconds penalty for a pit-lane misdemeanour.
Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished third, after starting from his maiden pole position, ahead of compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and fifth-placed Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
It was Vettel’s third win in Bahrain and the 44th of his career.
After a year of disappointment, the McLaren Honda team unexpectedly had every reason to smile on Friday thanks to rookie Stoffel Vandoorne and former world champion Jenson Button.
In the absence of injured two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, reserve driver Vandoorne received a late call to fly overnight from Japan to take part in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was, he admitted, a daunting task and a major challenge -– and an unusual way to celebrate his birthday.
But after a flight spent reading and preparing for his Formula One debut, the Belgian rookie impressed by clocking the 11th best time in second free practice.
And if that was not enough, his mere presence in the garage had an uplifting affect on team-mate Button, the 2009 world champion speeding to third behind the two pace-setting Mercedes cars of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
“I turned 24 on Saturday,” said Vandoorne. “So, this is a very good birthday present! Today has been great. I wasn’t expecting to drive this weekend, but I’m very happy for this opportunity.
Alonso was ruled out of action after a medical examination on Thursday revealed he had damaged lungs and cracked ribs following his high-speed crash at the Australian Grand Prix.
“I got the call yesterday evening when I was about to leave Japan,” said Vandoorne.
“From then on things started to get a little bit hectic. I had a lot of calls with all engineers.
“They sent me all the files I had to know, with all the information about the steering wheel, operations before and during the race, what we can and cannot say and what we have to do.
“I’ve spent my time well on the plane. I think today went very well and after a night’s sleep, thinking about tomorrow, I feel very confident about it.”
Button, who revelled in driving a more competitive car, said: “He’s done a really good job today, his lap would’ve been a lot better than it looked.
“He’s fitted in, as you would expect of such a very talented driver. So, we’ll see what we can do as a team now.
“Truly, we don’t really know yet where we are. It’s only practice isn’t it? But, I must say, it was a lot more fun than normal.”