The new Formula 1 era delivered entertainment at the highest level, as Lewis Hamilton fended off Nico Rosberg after the pair spent most of the race slugging it out for top spot in thrilling fashion during the Bahrain Grand Prix, while behind them the racing was equally fast and furious.
Under 5,000 the light bulbs that lined Sakhir, the Mercedes team, aptly known as the Silver Arrows, were in a class of their own, totally trouncing their rivals in a manner which bordered on cruelty. But this did not stop the two self professed buddies from going wheel-to-wheel on several occasions to deliver a thrilling battle for victory which in the end went to Hamilton by the narrowest of margins.
Afterwards the two, who have been rivals since childhood, hugged and joked about it all – Formula 1 is in a good place no matter what the critics say….
The duel actually started 24 hours earlier when from out the blue Rosberg trumped Hamilton in Qualifying, and it was clear that the sprint to Turn 1 when the lights went out would be crucial. Thus credit to Hamilton for getting off the line quickly and duck into the lead, with Rosberg having to tuck in behind.
It was riveting stuff as they tussled for that all important early lead, until Hamilton finally got a slight edge with Rosberg holding station and in pouncing distance,, where he remained throughout the race.
The pair renewed hostilities shortly before the first pitstop window and again gave the Mercedes gantry some anxious moments. Hamilton was the first to peel in and came out on the softer yellow band Pirelli tyres. A couple of laps later Rosberg swapped for the harder white band tyres and emerged around five seconds adrift of the leader.
At this point the difference in lap times between the two compounds was far less than expected – around half a second – Hamilton’s lead was never more than ten seconds, and it appeared that the Englishman was fully in control at that stage.
But then on lap 41 the Safety Car was deployed after a bizarre incident when Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado T-boned Esteban Gutierrez in Turn 1, which flipped the Sauber before it came to a stop on the exit of the newly renamed Michael Schumacher corner.
Immediately Hamilton and Rosberg pitted, Hamilton emerged on the harder tyres and Rosberg with the softer compound which appeared to put the ball firmly in his court.
After a long period behind the Safety Car, the field was unleashed for the final dozen or so laps, with Rosberg immediately on the attack from all angles as Hamilton defended for all he was worth. It was riveting stuff, not seen at this level of the sport for ages. Pure racing, and in this instance between teammates!
With a few laps to go Rosberg, on the supposedly quicker rubber could do little to reel in Hamilton, who took his second victory in a row but not before being urged by technical head Paddy Lowe to “just make sure we bring both cars home”,which they did, but not without some heart-stopping moments in the process.
Ominously for their rivals, as they battled for the last ten laps the Mercedes pair still managed to pull away at a rate of around two seconds per lap!
A friendly rugby tackle in parc ferme as they emerged from their cars, and several hugs and handshakes later made it clear that there was no animosity between the two Silver Arrows boys.
Hamilton said afterwards, “It’s great to see that we have such a great following here, I am so grateful to the team for getting us up here – this is my first win here in Bahrain which is nice. It was really exciting, Nico drove fantastically well, it was so fair but it was so hard to keep him behind me, I was on a real knife edge at the end but just managed to take it.”
Rosberg summed up his sentiments and perhaps those of many genuine F1 fans, “I strongly dislike coming second to Lewis, I have to say that but it was definitely the most exciting race I have ever raced in my whole career. I think today was a day for the sport, we put on a fantastic show and I will be back to win here next season.”
Behind them, admittedly in a lesser league, it was equally frenetic as the night seemed to bring out battle between team mates. We had the Red Bull chaps at it, the Williams duo slugging it out, the Force India pair going wheel to wheel with one another, and the Ferrari drivers also doing the team mate tango.
In the end third place went to Sergio Perez and with it scoring Force India’s second ever grand prix podium finish (the first at Spa in 2009 with Giancarlo Fisichella) and delivering a just reward for the team who along with Nico Hulkenberg had been at the sharp end of proceedings all year, the German adding to the delight with fifth place on the night.
Perez was beaming from ear to ear after a strong showing for his new team, and summed up his feelings, “It has been a while since my last podium, it is very special for me. It is only my third race with the team but a very good one.”
GP247 Driver of The Day goes to Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull new recruit was again stellar despite having to start 13th after qualifying third the previous day.
He showed true grit in a race which did his shares the world of good, slugging it out with the best of the best, including teammate Sebastian Vettel and coming out on top. His charge through the field was audacious, and very nearly ended up on the podium, but fourth place was a remarkable achievement under the circumstances. Vettel was sixth.
Ricciardo said with his trademark grin, “It was an awesome race. The car came to me as the race went on and I was happy with how I moved up through the pack, so a good day. It was good fun to race Sebastian, it was hard but fair and we left each other room. That’s what we want from each other and we discussed it beforehand, we’re racers and that’s what we enjoy doing.”
Smart money would have been on either Williams driver ending up on the podium at Sakhir, but alas for the Grove based outfit it was not to be. Instead Felipe Massa crossed the line seventh, with Valtteri Bottas eighth – the two involved in several major skirmishes during the course of the evening. However it would be fair to safe to say that the FW36 was not kind to its tyres, and perhaps the Safety Car played against them too.
Massa reported afterwards, “The biggest problem we had in the race was the Safety Car, it destroyed our strategy. It was not great. The start was amazing, I managed to get past a lot of cars, the pace was OK and I was fighting [well] but the result at the end was not the right one. I think we need to analyse where we were supposed to finish. We were fighting until the end which is good for us.”
Before the race Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo declared that the current era had turned grand prix drivers into “taxi drivers”, but on the night, the only drivers who looked like taxi drivers were Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.
Two of the sport’s most respected drivers have been reduced to also-rans, as yet again the technical team of heavy hitters, second to none in reputation it would seem, have simply delivered a woeful car or a dud of an engine or probably both combined.
Montezemolo is quite simply wrong in his declaration, and should probably focus on getting his under-performing and under-delivering race team to up their game across the board. Alonso finished ninth and Raikkonen rounded out the top ten.
Subbed by AJN.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir – Sunday, 6 April 2014
|2||6||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||57||+1.0 secs||1||18|
|3||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||57||+24.0 secs||4||15|
|4||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||57||+24.4 secs||13||12|
|5||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||57||+28.6 secs||11||10|
|6||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||57||+29.8 secs||10||8|
|7||19||Felipe Massa||Williams-Mercedes||57||+31.2 secs||7||6|
|8||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams-Mercedes||57||+31.8 secs||3||4|
|9||14||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||57||+32.5 secs||9||2|
|10||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Ferrari||57||+33.4 secs||5||1|
|11||26||Daniil Kvyat||STR-Renault||57||+41.3 secs||12|
|12||8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus-Renault||57||+43.1 secs||16|
|13||4||Max Chilton||Marussia-Ferrari||57||+59.9 secs||21|
|14||13||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus-Renault||57||+62.8 secs||17|
|15||10||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham-Renault||57||+87.9 secs||18|
|16||17||Jules Bianchi||Marussia-Ferrari||56||+1 Lap||19|
|17||22||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||55||+2 Laps||6|
|Ret||20||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren-Mercedes||40||+17 Laps||8|
|Ret||9||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham-Renault||33||+24 Laps||20|
|Ret||25||Jean-Eric Vergne||STR-Renault||18||+39 Laps||14|
|Ret||99||Adrian Sutil||Sauber-Ferrari||17||+40 Laps||22|
Note – Ricciardo qualified third, penalised 10 grid places for unsafe release at previous round. Sutil qualified 18th, penalised 5 grid places for forcing Grosjean off track in Q1.