Let’s be honest, Bahrain has never been a famous circuit for overtaking or awe-inspiring racing. Whenever F1 goes racing in there a touch of dissatisfaction tends to prevail – be it for the lack of enthusiasm or even the circuit layout despite showcasing a world-class infrastructure for teams and fans alike. When the season calendar was revealed, I was wondering why would we want a night race in Bahrain? As it turned out today, even the dullest of tracks could be made spectacular if the scenarios come handy – Valencia 2012 for instance. The qualifying would have been a stunner if Hamilton laid down the gauntlet on his final run, nevertheless, the run down to Turn 1 clearly was the focus for many as lights went out for the 57 lap race.
Lewis Hamilton got off to a great start – braking late into Turn 1 and taking the lead from Rosberg. At Turn 4 the German fought back to regain control going around the outside but Lewis held on to his position firmly. Early shower for Vergne as he endured a right-rear puncture from Maldonado’s Lotus and was furious on the radio calling him “Absolutely mental”. Behind the Mercs, Felipe Massa made a great start and moved up to third while Hulkenberg waited until lap 4 to pounce on Alonso’s Ferrari for 7th and made it stick. Lewis extended his advantage to more than a second by setting the fastest lap – in aware of DRS threat from his team-mate.
As laps went by, it was clear that Rosberg was on a different strategy – going for a longer first stint as informed on his team-radio. Adrian Sutil pitted first for softs after starting from the back of the grid(5-place grid penalty for nearly causing a collision with Grosjean in qualifying). Button dived down the inside of Bottas and took fifth; the opportunist Hulkenberg continued his surge and made the most of the Finn. Meanwhile, the other Force India of Perez fancied a podium after overtaking Massa’s Williams. Vettel complained about the disfunctioning DRS and a while later came under pressure from his young Australian team-mate. He obeyed team orders and let Ricciardo through on lap 16 for sixth as the reigning champion urged his team to make a pitstop as he felt no grip on his rear tyres.
Perez pitted along with Massa but the Brazilian joined the track only behind his team-mate. Up front Hamilton started to struggle with his soft tyres as Rosberg, with the DRS assistance, launched down the inside into Turn 1 but Hamilton made the cutback next corner to regain the lead. Rosberg wasn’t giving up without a fight apparently as he put forth all his effort and took the position at the same corner on the next lap. Hamilton slipstreamed the German and by Turn 4 they were tussling side-by-side but again Hamilton struck back and recovered the lead back before pitting at the end of that lap.The yellow-banded tyres were bolted on to the Briton denoting a three-stopper in contrast to the mediums for Rosberg two laps later.
Far behind the Silver Arrows a battle was brewing for the final podium position as the two Force Indias closed the gap on the two Williams. Bottas was under tremendous pressure from team-mate Massa who was quicker in that particular stint, however, the Finn pitted and let Hulkenberg through to have a go at his experienced team-mate with Perez waiting behind while vettel blast past Raikkonen but only for ninth. As Massa defended boldly, the door was left open for Perez who judged a perfect move for fourth on Hulk and then flew past Massa in the DRS zone. Felipe Massa had had enough and pitted when fellow Williams driver Valtteri Bottas got past Daniel Ricciardo for eighth but then had to take avoiding action to stop running into the back of Kimi Raikkonen.
As a consequence Ricciardo regained eighth ahead of Raikkonen who ultimately yielded to the Finn – the Ferraris were down on power to the superior Mercedes-engined rivals. Rosberg was insisted that the pace difference hard and soft compounds tyres were closer than expected in the meantime. Perez pitted on lap 35 and by the next lap overtook Alonso for 8th quite comfortably. As the final pitstops came rushing in, Hamilton led Rosberg by 9.7 seconds in front of Bottas and the Force India pair.
The intense moment in the race came about when Gutierrez got T-boned by Maldonado and rolled his car and landed right way up. Luckily he was unhurt and the incident brought out the safety car period that changed the landscape of the race. Both Mercs pitted under SC for the last time – Lewis on prime and Nico on optional compound tyres for a final scrap. In the meantime, Maldonado was handed a 5-place grid drop for causing that collision. At the end of safety car period the leading pack resumed as follows: Hamilton led from Rosberg with Hulkenberg and Perez behind. Button came up next ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo and the Williams pair of Massa and Bottas. With 11 laps remaining the safety car came in and cut loose the play field as Hamilton and Rosberg went wheel-to-wheel.
The feisty Briton left no room for error and clung on to the lead with some brave defense. Rosberg wasn’t quitting though as he late-braked down the inside at the first corner again but Hamilton did cutback and extended the lead to more than a second at the finish line to taste champagne for the 24th time equalling the late great Juan-Manuel Fangio’s record. Perez made the most out of the restart and swung past Hulkenberg for third while Button slumped down the field with clutch issues on his McLaren.
The Red Bulls found some speed from nowhere and chased down the Force India of Perez but it was too little too late for Ricciardo who stunned his team-mate with a spectacular launch down the inside on approach to Turn 1 for fifth. That’s not over as he caught Hulkenberg and stormed past the German for fourth in the closing laps to sum up his brilliant drive. A relief of a podium for Perez who was running superbly all weekend for only the second podium in Force India’s history – 25 seconds down on Hamilton.
It’s been a while since such an intense battle for top honours has been fought so this Grand Prix will be remembered for seasons to come. Moreover, the critics of F1 would’ve had a hard time in contemplating how good the racing was!!
BAHRAIN GP RESULT:
1. Hamilton 2. Rosberg 3. Perez 4. Ricciardo 5. Hulkenberg 6. Vettel 7. Massa 8. Bottas 9. Alonso 10. Raikkonen
11. Kvyat 12. Grosjean 13. Chilton 14. Maldonado 15. Kobayashi 16. Bianchi 17. Button
DNF: Magnussen (clutch issue), Gutierrez(accident with Maldonado), Ericsson(oil leak), Vergne(accident) and Sutil(retired of accident with Bianchi).