Alonso marks Ferrari debut with Bahrain victory

SAKHIR: Fernando Alonso won the Bahrain Grand Prix in his debut for Ferrari, leading the team to a 1-2 finish in Formula One's season-opening race on Sunday.

Alonso passed teammate Felipe Massa at the second corner after the start. He then overtook pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel on the 34th lap for a lead he would never relinquish.

After two frustrating years at Renault, Alonso pounded his chest after jumping on top of his car in celebration as Ferrari got off to its best start since 2004 — when Michael Schumacher led a 1-2 start. Alonso replaced Kimi Raikkonen, who also won on his Ferrari debut three years ago.

"A very special day for me, coming back to the top of the podium is always special, but also more special with Ferrari and the history of the team and the expectations," Alonso said. "There is no better way to start the relationship."

Massa passed Vettel soon after to claim second on his return to racing after a life-threatening crash last July in Hungary.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton overtook Vettel at the same spot to finish third ahead of the Red Bull driver.

Nico Rosberg was more than 40 seconds behind Alonso in fifth place. Mercedes teammate Schumacher, who started seventh, was sixth in his first race in three years.

Alonso and Ferrari confirmed their preseason expectations as title favorites after the two-time champion's 22nd career victory and first since the 2008 Japanese GP. It was Alonso's third win at the Middle East track but first since 2006 — when he won his last title.

Alonso worked his way up behind Vettel, who had won four of his six previous races from the pole, to set up his pass at the final corner before the finish line straight.

"I was waiting for the time to attack Vettel — maybe the last 10 laps — but suddenly he had a car problem and we had a chance to overtake him earlier than we expected," Alonso said after his first victory since the 2008 Japanese GP. "(It's) a fantastic sensation."

Massa pulled up to Vettel on the same stretch before going around last year's championship runner-up at the first corner, where Hamilton passed the German driver four laps later. Massa had to lay up over the last 30 laps to save fuel and his tires.

"I'm very happy. It's also the best start of my season," Massa said. "I rode through the race normal, with very good pace. Thanks to God, I'm fine — and very happy."

Schumacher's new team, Mercedes, showed it still has some work to do to provide him with a car worthy of an eighth title. Schumacher finished 3.9 seconds behind Rosberg.

Defending champion Jenson Button finished seventh for McLaren, while Mark Webber of Red Bull was eighth.

Tonio Liuzzi of Force India and Rubens Barrichello of Williams rounded out the top 10 to finish in the points following a change in the scoring system.

Ferrari changed both of its engines without penalty before the start as a precaution, but there was little caution from Alonso as the Spaniard held the inside position to pass Massa into second after a relatively clean start from the 22 cars on the grid.

Rosberg jumped in front of Hamilton with Schumacher behind him after getting ahead of Webber, whose engine spewed smoke to blind Renault's Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil of Force India. Those two spun out in the confusion to drop out of the top 10.

Karun Chandhok's debut ended two laps after he and Hispania Racing teammate Bruno Senna started from pit lane. Virgin Racing's Lucas Di Grassi was out one lap later soon after Williams' Nico Hulkenberg recovered from a wild spin across the track.

Virgin Racing failed to finish after Timo Glock also retired.

The leading drivers didn't begin to pit until lap 16, when Russian driver Vitaly Petrov's Renault retired with a front suspension problem.

Vettel was the last to change to hard tires — after 17 laps — in the hot desert heat for a 3.5-second gap over Alonso, who was four-seconds ahead of Massa. Vettel's lead narrowed to 2.6 seconds by the halfway point. Alonso eventually edged Massa by 16 seconds.

Senna's HRT car lasted 18 laps before its Cosworth engine blew out with the Spanish team failing to complete the race after almost not making the starting grid. Lotus was the only new team to finish with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli filling the last two places.

Sauber driver Pedro De la Rosa's return after three years as a McLaren test driver ended after when he retired after 29 laps.