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Vettel back in Grand Prix winner's circle

SAKHIR, Bahrain, April 22 (UPI) -- Two-time Formula 1 defending driving champion Sebastian Vettel collected his first race victory of the year at Sunday's Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.

Vettel, who drives for Red Bull Racing-Renault, piled up 11 Grand Prix wins in winning the driving titles in 2010 and 2011, but only had second-, 11th- and fifth-place finishes in 2012 before Bahrain.

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He won the pole position this week and led Sunday's race throughout. Kimi Raikkonen, starting in the No. 11 spot in a Lotus-Renault, moved up to second by the halfway mark but Vettel was able to keep ahead and pick up his 22nd overall Grand Prix title.

Vettel completed the 57-lap race around the 3.36-mile Bahrain International Circuit course in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 10.99 seconds.

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Raikkonen was second, 3.3 seconds off the pace and his teammate Romain Grosjean was third, 10.2 seconds behind Vettel. Mark Weber, a Red Bull-Renault teammate of Vettel's, was well back in fourth.

The win boosted Vettel into the lead of the drivers' competition with 53 points. McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (49) is second and Webber (48) is third. Jenson Button, also of McLaren-Mercedes, and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso are tied for fourth with 43 points.

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The next stop on the 2012 Formula 1 schedule is May 13 for the Spanish Grand Prix. Vettel is the defending champion in that race.

Sunday's race was run against a background of continuing protests against the ruling regime in Bahrain. The violent political situation led to the cancellation of last year's Bahrain Grand Prix. Authorities stationed police in armored vehicles around the race site to keep protesters back this year.

The uprising is basically sectarian with the majority Shiite community claiming discrimination by the ruling Sunni. Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has promised political reform.

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