Vettel revving up with revived Ferrari

"It was definitely costly - the pit lane incident", said Hamilton. "I would have had to defend hard and that could have meant some risky situations, but like I said the team thought he had the chance to catch Sebastian possibly, and we tried it".

Vettel admitted he was slightly concerned trailing Mercedes by nearly half a second in qualifying Saturday but added that "something deep down told me that we have a good auto and we can do well".

Hamilton was running second between team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull on lap 13 when a Safety Car was deployed after a collision.

Vettel took the lead in the absence of Bottas and Hamilton. Hamilton was making inroads on fresher tyres during the back-end of the race and was catching Vettel, but went on to finish just over six seconds behind the German and his main rival for the title in second.

Asked if he expected the rest of the season, and his battle with Sebastian Vettel, to be decided by such fine margins, Hamilton said: "Yes, ultimately that is what it's going to be this year".

"Right from the fist lap I felt the auto was there", Vettel said on the podium.

Vettel's 44th win lifted him to 68 points, with Hamilton second on 61.

The victory was Vettel's second of the season after the four-times world champion won the opener in Australia.

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"They did a great job and we have to make improvements".

In previous years Mercedes has let its drivers race, confident in the knowledge it was unchallenged for either championship, but the emergence of Ferrari this year has complicated matters - Vettel's win in Bahrain helped put Ferrari in the lead of both championships.

"I don't know what happened to them but I was expecting them to be faster in the race", said Vettel. But a slow stop for the Finn forced Hamilton to back off to buy himself some time, in the process baulking Red Bull's Ricciardo for which the triple champion collected a five place time penalty.

"But that's how it is and although I didn't like it for my personal race, I am a team player and I understand".

It is the first time Ferrari has won two of the first three races of the season since Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008.

Wolff said he did not favour abandoning the team policy of giving the drivers' equality and rejected the idea of backing the driver who took pole position, or was most advanced on the grid.

Mexican Sergio Perez finished seventh for Force India, his 13th successive points finish, with Frenchman Romain Grosjean eighth for USA -owned Haas.

The next round takes place in Russian Federation on April 30 in what is shaping up to be one of the fiercest duals in F1 for many seasons.

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