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In Australia in 2015, Fernando Alonso was unable to participate after a huge testing shunt. Just one year later, a crash in Australia put Alonso out of the Bahrain Grand Prix with a collapsed lung and broken ribs. In his place, sooner than anticipated, GP2 champion and McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne debuted. Unfortunately, one thing that didn't change was qualifying.
Magnussen, having missed the weighbridge, would start from the pit lane.
Nasr fell first in Q1, followed by Haryanto. Palmer fell 20th which would become 19th with Magnussen's penalty. Magnussen beat his teammate to 19th, with Perez 18th, Ericsson 17th and Wehrlein calling it quits in 16th. Further up the order, Ricciardo managed to take 3rd behind the Mercedes pair and ahead of Vettel's Ferrari.
Kvyat opened eliminations in Q2, Button backing off on his second lap and pitting which left him 14th. Gutierrez followed the McLaren in and fell 13th. Vandoorne didn't have time to rejoin the track so took 12th – not a bad run in his first weekend in F1, to beat his teammate. Sainz was 11th, Verstappen 10th and Grosjean 9th.
Hamilton ruined his first lap in Q3, dropping behind both Ferrari drivers before Roserg went under the 90 second barrier for provisional pole. Ricciardo went 5th ahead of Williams and the outpaced Hulkenberg, who fell in 8th. The timing system glitched and counted the Force India out twice, but Massa was pushed out in 7th all the same. Bottas parked while his car was counted out as well, leaving Ricciardo in a safe 5th. Raikkonen dropped to 4th with Hamilton setting the fastest lap in the history of the Sakhir circuit. Vettel had to settle for 3rd. Rosberg failed to challenge the reigning champion's time, falling less than a tenth shy of his teammate.
The big winners of Saturday were Hamilton – though Rosberg played down the importance of pole in the press conference – Vandoorne beating Button, Wehrlein, putting the Manor where it should never have been, and the impressive performance from Grosjean who nearly made Q3 before Hulkenberg put in a second lap.
Vettel's engine detonated itself on the formation lap, leaving only Raikkonen to defend Ferrari's interests. Palmer pitted instead of lining up on the grid. The remaining 19 cars launched cleanly, until Bottas hit Hamilton in turn 1. Rosberg now led from the Williams pair, Massa leading the team. Hamilton was stuck behind Gutierrez. There were sparks coming from the right rear corner, although Bottas seemed unimpaired.
Hulkenberg pitted, while Palmer was out of his Renault. Sainz hit Perez on lap 2, the Toro Rosso taking a puncture. Nasr forced his way past Ericsson, causing yet more contact.
Perez pitted on lap 2, having lost out to Kvyat.
Raikkonen jumped Ricciardo, who had also lost half his wing, before the Red Bull pitted but didn't take a new nose. Bottas dropped to 4th behind his resurgent compatriot.
Button became the third retirement, no smoke but a very slow moving car which yielded 10th to Vandoorne, right before Raikkonen took 2nd from Massa. Hamilton managed to steal 4th from Bottas, as the pair went under investigation for their lap 1 crash. Massa pitting promoted him to 3rd, and the Haas pair to 5th and 6th.
Bottas was given a drive-through penalty for hitting Hamilton at the start, ruining a great start for the Williams driver.
Gutierrez had his second stop very early on, and retired the Haas for the second race in succession. In fairness, he was running a very strong race and had done nothing wrong so far in 2016. Something to think about for those who thought Grosjean would demolish the Mexican.
Romain Grosjean, having taken super-soft tyres for his second stint, clung onto the back of Massa's Williams and made a bold move to take 5th into turn 11. Massa's race got worse as Verstappen put a similarly bold move on him into turn 1.
Grosjean forced Ricciardo aside before the Red Bull pitted, while the Haas continued with the well-used super-soft tyres. Red Bull kept the Australian on the soft compound.
Sainz retired just past half-distance, giving up on a car that simply didn't want to turn right.
Nasr got on the radio, slamming his Sauber's handling as he trundled around in last place.
Bottas' pit stop baulked Vandoorne, giving Massa the jump to 7th.
A late stop for Hamilton pretty much ended his charge for 2nd place, Raikkonen now a lot safer. Behind them, Grosjean took 6th from Massa and Verstappen took 4th from Ricciardo. However, Verstappen promptly pitted for 11 laps on the super-softs, dropping to 7th behind Massa. For someone increasingly becoming a fan of Haas, Grosjean's now 5th place was fantastic to watch.
Kvyat put a commanding move on Bottas for 9th but the Williams fought back a bit too aggressively, lucky to find runoff on the outside of turn 4.
Talking of impressive driving, Wehrlein took 13th from Hulkenberg with only 5 laps to go, both the Mercedes reserve driver and the Haas team leader putting in fairly momentous performances.
Kvyat scythed past Massa, following Rosberg past as he lapped the Williams on his final lap.
Rosberg led pretty well the whole distance to win from Raikkonen and Hamilton. Behind them, Ricciardo led Grosjean, Verstappen, Kvyat, Massa, Bottas and Vandoorne. Magnussen led the non-scorers, from Ericsson, Wehrlein, Perez, Nasr, Hulkenberg and Haryanto. Sainz, Gutierrez, Button, Vettel and Palmer failed to finish.
Verstappen took the first ever points for Toro Rosso in Bahrain, while Vandoorne proved his worth by taking McLaren's first point of 2016.
Rosberg leads the championship with 50 points, from Hamilton's 33 and Ricciardo's 24. Raikkonen and Grosjean sat joint 4th with 18 points, 3 up on Vettel and 4 on Massa. Mercedes thus leave Bahrain with 83 points, a whopping 50 up on Ferrari. Dietrich Mateschitz would undoubtedly be happy to see Red Bull on 30 points, only 3 points behind Maranello's finest and some 10 up on Williams. Haas in 5th, just 2 points off the back of the Grove squad, were having a massively successful debut year, leading Force India by 2 points and Toro Rosso by 7. That McLaren were only beating Renault, Sauber and Manor wouldn't be impressing anyone in Woking, even with Vandoorne breaking them out of their points-free rut.