Lewis Hamilton has controlled the Bahrain Grand Prix after a fireball smash had Romain Grosjean sent to hospital and the race suspended on lap one.
Grosjean’s Haas car left the track at around 240 kilometres per hour after tangling with Daniil Kvyat at turn three and slammed into the steel barriers, breaking in two.
The front section of the car wedged itself among the rails and burst into flames, trapping the Frenchman inside for 20 seconds until he could undo his belts and climb from the burning wreckage.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
The medical car was immediately on site to receive the shocked 34-year-old, who was helicoptered to hospital with minor burns and suspect broken ribs.
Circuit authorities took more than 75 minutes to clear the charred remains of the Formula One car and repair the barriers before racing could resume.
But racing was underway for less than a lap before the grand prix was neutralised again, this time to rescue Lance Stroll from his overturned Racing Point, flipped by an errant Daniil Kvyat, who was penalised for the error.
By lap nine the car was cleared and racing was able to continue, with Hamilton leading the field away in a largely subdued restart.
Max Verstappen was his chief challenger in second, and Red Bull Racing, unable to match Mercedes on pure performance rolled the dice with an early pit stop for the hard tyre in an attempt to make it to the end of the race with only one stop.
But the move was too ambitious, and by lap 35 of 57 Verstappen was forced into a second stop, his tyres worn by the abrasive desert circuit, allowing Hamilton to easily cover him without losing the lead.
The Briton was untroubled thereafter to record his 11th win of the year.
“I was flat out the whole way trying to keep them at bay,” Hamilton insisted. “It really was physically very demanding … this track has always been physical … so I was definitely feeling it.”
Verstappen was forced to settle for second, consoling himself with a late third pit stop to snatch a bonus point for fastest lap with fresh tyres, taking him to 12 points Valtteri Bottas’s second place in the championship standings.
“We were just lacking a bit,” he said. “I tried to keep it close, but they always had an answer.
“It is what it is. Second is not bad.”
He was joined on the podium by teammate Alex Albon for Red Bull Racing’s first double rostrum finish of the year.
The Thai driver had a solid race but was undoubtedly lucky to score his second podium of the year when Sergio Perez, who had jumped him for third on the first lap, suffered a power unit failure with two laps to go.
The result was vital tonic for Albon, who is so far still without a contract for 2021, the team giving him until the end of the year to justify his position.
“It felt like the last few races have been getting better and better,” he said. “The results haven’t really been showing it.
“It just feels good — it feels good obviously, a double podium for us. I’m happy.”
McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz finished fourth and fifth to capitalise on Racing Point’s failure to score and move to third in the constructors standings with a 17-point advantage.
Pierre Gasly was superb in sixth, having stopped only once after the first lap and scraping over the finish line with badly worn tyres on his AlphaTauri.
Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Renault ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, the Finn recovering from a puncture early in the race that dropped him to 16th.
Esteban Ocon scored an extra two points for Renault in ninth ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in 10th.