Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won his second straight Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, easily beating Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in a dominant performance that will bolster his chances of winning a fourth consecutive championship.
Vettel started from second but grabbed the lead for good on the 17th lap and beat Raikkonen by nine seconds. Grosjean was nearly 20 seconds back in third. The Frenchman managed to pass Force India's Paul di Resta for third with five laps to go for his best finish this season. The fourth-place finish for Di Resta matched his best-ever finish.
Vettel extended his lead in the championship standings to 10 points ahead of Raikkonen after four of 19 races, while Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton moved up to third after finishing fifth.
It was a day to forget for Ferrari, with both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa encountering problems early on that dropped them out of contention. Alonso had to pit twice in the first few laps when his DRS system malfunctioned while Massa damaged a front wing in a collision with Force India's Adrian Sutil. Alonso finished eighth while Massa was 15th.
With his 28th career victory and second of the year, Vettel significantly boosted his chances of defending his title.
Having already joined greats Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher by winning three consecutive F1 titles and becoming the youngest triple champion in the sport's history, Vettel can match Fangio and Schumacher's feat of four straight crowns.
The victory also will help Vettel put to rest the controversy over his win in Malaysia where he ignored team orders and passed teammate Mark Webber for the win.
"Fantastic race, it was seamless from start to finish," Vettel said. "I thought it was crucial to get into the lead from the start and go from there. It seemed to get better and better toward the end."
Red Bull — which has won the last three constructors' titles — goes to Europe leading Lotus by 16 points followed by Ferrari 32 points back.
"To be heading to Europe having won two out of the four races plus a second place has been strong start to the campaign for us," Team Principal Christian Horner said.
It was also a strong showing for Lotus considering Raikkonen started the race ninth and Grosjean 11th. It was especially heartening for Grosjean, who a few days earlier complained about struggling with the softer tires this season and not being able to challenge the leaders.
The race has been the target of rights groups that contend it glosses over the country's political problems while anti-government protesters intensified their demonstrations against the Sunni-led government. While the race went off without incident, there were sporadic clashes in other parts of the Gulf country. Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades and rights groups said authorities launched raids on houses of several protesters.
Race organizers said they were thrilled to have an incident-free race, with security tight around the perimeter of the track to keep away protesters. The turnout was disappointing, however, with only about 28,000 spectators coming to the 45,000-seat circuit. The 10,500-seat grand stand was about a third full and the celebrities that are commonplace around the paddock were much fewer than usual in Bahrain.
"I feel very good, we were always confident we could hold this race," said Sheik Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit. "I think it's very important that racing stays above everything else that was talked about this week. The racing was unbelievable. That is the message that comes out. Racing is a fantastic sport."