Bahrain, repeating the feat of Kimi Räikkönen in Melbourne in 2007. The Finn went on to win the title that year, so it may be a good omen for the Spaniard.
This was the first race under the new rules, with no refueling but a compulsory tire change. No one knew quite what to expect in terms of strategy or how competitive the race would be. In the end, the main excitement was created by someone having a technical problem, so the jury is still out on what the rules have really created.
The man in trouble was Sebastian Vettel. Having won the last race of 2009, he started this season in perfect style by taking pole and pulling away in the early stages. Alonso jumped up to second after passing teammate Felipe Massa at the start, but even he couldn’t stay with the Red Bull car.
All the top guys started on the softer option tire, and as expected, the stops were triggered by the guys a little farther back stopping first and causing everyone else ahead to defend their positions by making their own stops straight away.
Vettel stayed ahead after the stop sequence, but through the second and final stint on the harder tire, he was gradually reeled in by Alonso. The double champ got within striking distance when he had a massive break when Vettel suffered a loss of power because of a spark-plug problem. Initially, it was believed to be an exhaust issue. The German was unable to defend his lead and tumbled down to fourth as Massa and Lewis Hamilton got by. Alonso’s win was the perfect start to his relationship with Ferrari.
“A very special day for me as coming back to the top of the podium is always special,” he said. “But I think it is even more special 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. We have been working very hard all winter, the guys did a very good job in winter testing, so we arrive quite well-prepared for this first Grand Prix.
“But we did nothing so far. We only won the first race, but definitely to be first and second is the result that all the guys at Maranello and all the guys here at the track deserve . . . as they have been working day and night to give us this fantastic car. So this first victory is dedicated to all the people in Italy, all the mechanics here, to president [Luca] di Montezemolo, to everybody who did a huge effort to have this car at the first race, and this result is something very positive and very optimistic for the rest of the season.”
Massa’s run to second place was equally significant as this was his comeback race after last year’s accident, while Hamilton’s third place was a respectable start to the season. Somehow Vettel held on for fourth as he adjusted his driving and managed to find a bit more speed from the car.
He was followed across the line by Nico Rosberg, who gave the new Mercedes team its first points in fifth. Rosberg had outpaced teammate Michael Schumacher for most of the weekend, but the seven-time champ finished just four seconds behind in sixth and admitted that the car was not to his liking.
Jenson Button took seventh on his debut for McLaren, while Mark Webber, Tonio Liuzzi and Rubens Barrichello filled out the top 10 in the first race in which points were awarded down to 10th place.