It required a refined level of tunnel vision to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday, to separate the actual event from the circus that surrounded it, of politicians, PR people, royals, police, security staff and activists.
This, after all, is the most politicised of the Gulf nations. Some miles from the circuit, according to agency reports, terrible things were going on, as police clashed with Shia demonstrators.
The race was won by the world champion, Sebastian Vettel, just as it was last year. He became the first double winner of the season, extending his lead in the championship to 10 points over Kimi Raikkonen, who was again second.
Vettel’s sauntering victory, by almost 10 seconds, was not what caught the imagination of racing folk.
The real action came in a series of compelling duels that took place in Vettel's rear-view mirror. There was a wonderful battle between Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber, and between Sergio Perez and Alonso.
The best of all, though, was that between Jenson Button and Perez, the Mexican whose form in the first three races had been a little underwhelming.
On the 30th lap Perez, his tyres in better shape than Button’s, got too close and hit his team-mate from behind.
“He just hit me! Calm him down,” Button told the McLaren pitwall.
Then, halfway through the race, they clashed again, this time wheel to wheel, and Button – angry or rattled or perhaps both – edged him off the track.
Most golden of rules
Most people like to see racers race but avoiding clattering into your own partner is one of the most golden of rules.
It could have ended badly for McLaren, who surprised even themselves with their raised competitiveness; ultimately Perez finished a feisty sixth and Button 10th, though that was not enough to prevent Force India pushing the Woking team back to sixth in the constructors’ championship following Paul di Resta’s fine fourth.
Button said: “Today wasn’t brilliant for me. Okay, the race was a lot of fun, but I didn’t get the result I wanted because I used up my tyres fending off Checo (Perez).
“I was so angry. Being in Formula One for so long, you learn how to control your anger but you still get close to your limit and today was one of those days.”
Perez, who went on to pass Alonso and Webber in his best race for McLaren, said: “I guess I was a little aggressive on track today; banging wheels with Jenson was perhaps a little too risky, a little too hard, but the team never came on the radio to tell us to stop racing. There were no team orders.”
The Mexican had been told to lift his game after scoring just two points in the previous three races. This was a response that pleased McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh.
Hamilton, who qualified fourth and was pushed back to ninth because of a gearbox change, was the beneficiary of some late race pace following a pit-stop, and finished fifth, four ahead of team-mate and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg.
Vettel’s victory, his 28th, puts him 30 points ahead of Alonso, and the Spaniard will be anxious to see the gap does not get any wider than that.
But there were other, more serious losers yesterday. Early in the morning masked youths set alight tyres in the villages. Overnight, police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who chanted against the “race of blood”, according to witnesses. Birdshot was also used while protesters threw petrol bombs.
The Bahrain International Circuit can claim a victory, of sorts. There were no breaches of security at the track.