Bahrain GP - Sunday - Race Report
Lewis Hamilton beat out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg after a hard-fought duel in the Grand Prix of Bahrain that saw fabulous fights throughout the field and throughout the 57 lap race.
The bare facts are that Rosberg started from the pole but lost the lead to Hamilton in the first turns. Hamilton would then lead every lap except for the three when Rosberg was out in front during the pit stops.
"It was exciting!" Hamilton said. "Nico drove fantastically well throughout the race; very fair and it was very, very hard to keep him behind, particularly at the end. I had built a gap, that was OK, but he was very fast on the option time so I was on the knife edge the whole time and a real relief when I got across the line."
Hamilton had about a 10 second lead with 17 laps to go when Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) speared Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber into a terrifying series of flips. Fortunately both drivers were okay, and the safety car came out from laps 42 to 46.
That allowed the whole field to bunch up behind Hamilton. He was on the medium compound Pirelli slick while Rosberg was on the faster soft compound tire. Rosberg attacked. The duo went wheel-to-wheel but finally Hamilton prevailed and went on to win by 1.085 seconds.
"I strongly dislike coming second to Lewis, that's really not something I enjoy doing," Rosberg said, "but on the other hand it was definitely the most exciting race I've ever done in my whole career. I hope we were able to give all of you fantastic racing in front of the TV. Today was a day for the sport. We put on a massive show as team Silver Arrows."
The Mercedes cars were far superior in this race just as they had been in the previous two rounds. But this was a very entertaining race. Besides the fight at the front there were fights, many between teammates, has a long line of cars rocketed around in the closing laps.
Sergio Perez did a great job to work his way up to third in his Force India. It was his first podium since Italy 2012.
"It's been a while since my last podium," said Perez. "This podium is very special. This is only my third race for the team and it was a really, really good one. The strategy was really close for us. It was looking a lot easier until the safety car came because when the safety car came in we were going on two stops so the people behind, the Red Bulls, they were on their stops but we managed to keep it just to the end; one more lap I couldn't manage to keep him back."
A 10-place grid penalty for an unsafe release from a pitstop in Malaysia had dropped Daniel Ricciardo down to 13th in the starting line-up in Bahrain. He charged up to fourth in his Red Bull, passing drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, and was just 0.442 of a second behind Perez at the finish line.
"Today was a real race," he said. "The race I had was what all of us racers enjoy. Battles all throughout. Pretty even pace amongst a lot of cars, so you really had to work hard to make a move. The battles were a lot of fun. It was good to charge from 13th to fourth. I was really close to the podium at the end, but I will take fourth place, I am really pleased with the job the team and I did."
The Mercedes-powered Force India cars were fast all weekend, as Nico Hulkenberg proved by coming home fifth.
"The battle with (my teammate) Checo was very clean and fair," Hulkenberg said, "and when you're fighting for the podium you give everything but always stay within the lines. It was good fun. The end of the race was hard because I had to battle from the moment the safety car came in until the end of the race. I was behind Checo and I felt I had a little more pace, but I was in dirty air and that caused me to struggle towards the end. I held back Ricciardo for as long as I could and I managed to stay ahead of Vettel."
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel had his own series of battles and finished sixth.
"It was a busy race today, especially at the end after the safety car, but it's a shame we couldn't get further up," Vettel said. "Daniel (Ricciardo) proved that there was a little bit more to get from the car today, I couldn't really get to that bit, so I'm not so happy with my day.
"For some reason we seemed to be really slow on the straights, and not just against the Mercedes. Merc has a stronger package, so there's work ahead of us. It was straight forward with Daniel today, we worked well together as a team and we raced well, but surely I would like to have finished higher up."
Williams teammates Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas certainly had hoped to finishes higher up than seventh and eighth. They, too, had an inter-team battle albeit with no team orders this time as had happened in Malaysia.
"The start was fantastic," Massa said. "I did everything right and I had good grip and it all went well. We were in a good position and fighting but sadly the tire degradation was worse than we expected. The safety car didn't help the strategy as I think we should have been up with the Force Indias rather than behind the Red Bulls so that is a shame. Other than that it was a good race, with some good battles and to finish with both cars in the points is really positive."
Bottas said that after a poor start his race strategy was compromised.
"I had too much wheel spin and that lost me a few positions which is frustrating," he related. "We had issues with the tires that were worse than expected but on a positive note we got some good points from both cars."
Ferrari teammates Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen lagged home in ninth and tenth.
The fact that Romain Grosjean finished 12th while his teammate Maldonado was classed 14th was significant for Team Lotus. Just over five weeks previously Lotus could barely run a dozen laps during preseason testing at the same circuit.
Just why Maldonado managed to ram Gutierrez was a mystery.
"As we expected the pace was much better in the race than it was in qualifying," Maldonado said. "We were using quite an interesting strategy and were running on two stops which was working well until the incident.
"We will need to have a look again at what happened as Esteban seemed to be off his line coming into turn one - maybe he missed his braking point, I don't know - and by then I was in the corner with nowhere to go. For sure it's difficult to understand and I was coming out from the pits and with cold tires. I think he was very unlucky and its good he jumped straight out of the car."
Gutierrez's high-flying view: "First of all, the most important is that I am ok. They did all the checks at the hospital and everything is fine. Concerning the accident, I was completely surprised that Pastor who came out of the pits, ran into me. I was clearly in front of him. I turned into the corner and I was suddenly hit and I rolled over. There was nothing much I could do."
Officials gave Maldonado a 10 second stop-and-go penalty in this race and a five-grid place penalty for the next race.
The accident, as stated previously, set up the mega duel between Hamilton and Rosberg. The Mercedes team issued both drivers the same instruction: bring both cars home.
"Nico drove fantastically well," Hamilton said. "When you're with your team-mate it's very, very hard to make the right decisions of where to put your car, where to brake, all these different things, it was great."
Rosberg's alternative tire strategy nearly paid off.
"I tried to keep a good pace on the Prime (medium compound), knowing that I'll have a shot again at the end with the Option (soft compound.) It was a good battle again but unfortunately couldn't make it happen today," he said. "Lewis did a good job defending but, y'know, it was a massive fight out there and that's what I'm here for. For racing like that. I think it was a good day for the sport, which is important, because of recent little bits of criticism. I think they're all going to be rather quiet tomorrow - which is a very good thing."
There had indeed been a lot of criticism about the new Formula 1 regulations after the first two races in Australia and Malaysia, but there was nothing at all to criticize about the Bahrain Grand Prix.