Only five days after Lewis Hamilton lifted his winner’s trophy in Malaysia, the drivers were back in their cars in Bahrain, the teams still getting to grips with the new technology and precious race information.
One team not having to worry too much in that respect were Mercedes – with Rosberg and Hamilton both taking a win each this season, they had time to take a few relaxed breaths over the following few days of practice.
Hamilton topped the time sheets in the first practice session with his teammate Rosberg snapping at his heals. Unbelievably, Vettel once again endured another uninspired session by managing only 10th fastest.
Ferrari fans had something to smile about as Alonso managed to take third fastest, only two-tenths behind Rosberg. Raikkonen slotted into sixth, splitting the McLarens of Button and rookie Kevin Magnussen.
The top three spots in the second practise session remained the same. Daniel Ricciardo managed to take forth for Red Bull, with Vettel improving to seventh. Felipe Massa put in a good lap for fifth in his Williams, six places ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas – after the in-team bickering last week, Massa will have no doubt enjoyed that.
Qualifying also seemed like déjà with both Mercedes trading punches. In Q1, Rosberg managed to clip Hamilton’s best time by a tenth of second, but it was Force India’s Hulkenberg who finished on top. Williams’ divers Bottas and Massa also proved faster than both of the Ferraris, finishing in 2nd and 4th, respectively.
Q2 saw the same drivers with the same pace, although Ricciardo started to come alive and stamp his authority over teammate Vettel, who once again failed to make Q3 in 11th place.
Although the final shootout was going to be another Hamilton/Rosberg battle, the remaining places were not so hard to predict thanks to very close performances. Rosberg ended up getting the better of his teammate with Mercedes locking out the front row. Ricciardo raised Red Bull’s hopes with third, and the remainder of the grid was a mix of McLarens, Ferraris, and Williams.
Top 10 Results:
1. Rosberg (Mercedes)
2. Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
4. Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Perez (Force India)
6. Raikkonen (Ferrari)
7. Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
8. Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
9. Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
10. Alonso (Ferrari)
*Ricciardo to take a 10-place grid penalty for a pit-lane infringement in Malaysia last week.
As the cars lined up for the start of the race, both Mercedes positioned themselves pointing towards the middle of the track, both knowing exactly what was going through each other’s minds. Although it was Hamilton who managed a better start than his teammate, it was Felipe Massa who burst through the pack from seventh and into third.
By turn four Rosberg tried to go around the outside of Hamilton, but the Brit closed the door and remained race leader.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg climbed from 11th to eighth and even managed to take Alonso by Lap 4. Sebastian Vettel proved his world champion status by hassling the cars in front him despite being on much slower tyres. The German was 10th and right up Raikkonen’s gearbox.
F1’s new rules and regulations started to prove successful as the laps ticked down. Jenson Button threw his McLaren down the inside of Bottas and took fifth, whilst Hulkenberg also took a chance and managed to slip past the Williams. Ricciardo managed to pass a defending Magnussen for 11th, and a lap later Sergio Perez passed Massa for third – great racing so far.
Lap 14 saw some drama with Adrian Sutil pulling his Sauber off the track after two clashes with Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. Unlucky for Red Bull, Vettel came on the radio with: “My DRS is not working.” With former teammate Mark Webber now gone, is it the German’s turn for being the unluckiest driver in F1? It seemed so as he had to obey team orders and let teammate Ricciardo through.
More drama unfolded just four laps later when Hamilton started to struggle on old tyres. Rosberg made a move into turn one but Hamilton managed to make the cut back stick. Rosberg patiently waited until trying the same move again a lap on – this time he made it stick, but Hamilton slipped in behind the German and made an attack into turn four. Looking like they were going to make contact, side by side, Hamilton finally stole the inside line and retook the lead.
The first pit stops took place around lap 20, with Hamilton in first, followed by Rosberg two laps later. Hamilton remained race leader with Massa hassling his teammate Bottas for third.
During seasons of past, most races by midway have settled into a marathon won only by pit stop strategy and the snipping away of fractions of time lap after lap. Bahrain 2014 was anything but – more overtaking saw Massa and Perez go side-by-side through turn five on lap 28, with Perez coming out the winner. Meanwhile Hulkenberg deployed his DRS to sneak into Massa’s slipstream. Massa defended well but the Force India was just too fast.
Lap 30 saw Alonso, Romain Grosjean and Massa pit. Whilst they received fresh rubber, Bottas passed Ricciardo for eighth, and after nearly hitting Raikkonen’s Ferrari and having to take avoiding action, Bottas took the place back.
On lap 41 Esteban Gutierrez got T-boned by Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus coming out of the pits. Gutierrez took off, spun upside down, bounced off the top of the air box but landed the right way up. For the second time in history at Bahrain, the safety car was deployed.
Whilst the safety car circulated and the lapped cars caught up, the top 10 run down was: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Felipe Massa, Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso.
The safety car came in on lap 47 and both Mercedes ran side-by-side until Hamilton again shut the door on his teammate. Vettel and Ricciardo both passed Button for fifth and sixth, whilst Massa took seventh and Bottas eighth – apart from the total dominance of Mercedes so far this season, no one can complain about F1 being boring.
During the final handful of laps, with Rosberg on faster tyres, the race really came alive. The German started to eat into Hamilton’s lead and into DRS territory. Meanwhile another German was going backwards as Red Bull teammate Ricciardo passed the current world champion for fifth.
Lap 52 saw incredible race scenes as Rosberg launched an attack on Hamilton. Hamilton defended well, and after yet more side-by-side action, the Brit squeezed Rosberg wide. A lap later and an angry Rosberg lunged at Hamilton into turn one but out-braked himself and the Brit regained his position.
By lap 56 Hamilton had managed to gain a few tenths and eventually scamper out of DRS range. Another fantastic battle took place in the from of Massa and Vettel – the two seasoned drivers slugged it out, and after the Brazilian got through, the German managed to make the cutback work.
Hamilton took the chequered flag, with Rosberg close behind, making it another 1-2 for the silver arrows. After a superb and solid drive, Perez took the final spot of the podium.
1. Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Perez (Force India)
4. Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
5. Hulkenberg (Force India)
6. Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
7. Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
8. Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
9. Alonso (Ferrari)
10. Raikkonen (Ferrari)
11. Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
12. Grosjean (Lotus)
13. Chilton (Marussia)
14. Maldonado (Lotus)
15. Kobayashi (Catherham)
16. Bianchi (Marussia)
17. Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
DNF: Magnussen, Gutierrez, Ericsson, Vergne and Sutil.
1. Rosberg – 61 Points
2. Hamilton – 50
3. Hulkenberg – 28
4. Alonso – 26
5. Vettel – 23
6. Button – 23
7. Magnussen – 20
8. Bottas – 18
9. Perez – 16
10. Ricciardo – 12
With a race full of side-by-side action and plenty of overtaking, I think we can safely say the Chinese GP in two weeks is going to be a highly anticipated one.