April 6, 2014 — official release — Mercedes photo — SAKHIR, Bahrain — Silver Arrows? More like silver bullets.
Regardless of whatever it is that Mercedes has in their arsenal, it’s proving deadly to their competition on the race track after Lewis Hamilton beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to victory under the Bahrain floodlights on Sunday.
The pair staged an epic race-long battle and traded places on numerous occasions, with Hamilton ultimately crossing the line just one second ahead of his German compatriot.
Hamilton’s hard fought victory — his 24th career triumph in what was the 900th Formula One Grand Prix — not only tied him with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio for 10th on the all-time wins list, but also enabled him to close the gap to Rosberg in the world championship standings by seven points. The German now holds a narrow 11-point advantage in the early stages of the title race.
Hamilton pushed his way into the lead at the start and defended it robustly from Rosberg, and the two Silver Arrows quickly left their opposition for dead. But while Hamilton resisted further attacks from Rosberg at the end of the first stint and then opted for another set of Pirelli’s soft tyres on the 19th lap, Rosberg went for mediums two laps later and planned to do a longer middle stint and to attack again on soft tyres when Hamilton switched to mediums at the end.
The difference between the two compounds was surprisingly small, around two-tenths of a second a lap, but by the 40th lap Hamilton had opened a lead of 9.7s when Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado drove out of the pits and straight into the side of Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber at Turn 1. The Mexican’s car was spectacularly inverted, and as Gutierrez extracted himself the eventual safety car deployment looked like ruining Hamilton’s race. Maldonado was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty for the incident and a subsequent five-place grid drop for the next race.
For five laps the field bunched back together behind the safety car, and the vast 45.5s gap to Force India’s Sergio Perez in third place was instantly eradicated. But the real focus was on the upcoming battle between the two Mercedes, with the advantage apparently now Rosberg’s after he had taken another set of softs as planned on the 41st lap.
Mercedes chief Paddy Lowe advised both drivers over the radio that there were 10 laps left and reminded them that the team wanted both cars brought home, but they were otherwise left to fight it out. And they did just that.
Several times it seemed that Rosberg had nosed ahead, only for Hamilton to salvage the situation either on the cutback or simply by hanging tough. Rosberg had the gap down to half a second on the 51st and 52nd laps, but all of his attacks were repelled by Hamilton’s spirited yet fair defense.
The safety car also skewed the race for many other drivers. Sergio Perez had driven a blinder for Force India to outpace teammate Nico Hulkenberg, as they scrapped for much of the race with Williams duo Felipe Massa and Bottas, but the three-stoppers were disadvantaged by the two Red Bull entries, who were on a two-stop strategy and were on softer rubber when it mattered.
Daniel Ricciardo blew past his team mate after a tremendous tussle, and just failed to grab the final podium slot from Perez. The Mexican crossed the line 0.4s ahead of the Australian to give Force India their first podium finish since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.
Behind them, Vettel was unable to unseat Hulkenberg, and had to settle for sixth as the bright weaving crocodile of cars ran beneath the floodlights. Seventh and eighth places were poor reward for Massa and Bottas, who arguably lost out the most under the safety car and just couldn’t pull in the Red Bulls, while the best that Ferrari could muster was ninth for Fernando Alonso and 10th for Kimi Raikkonen.
In his 250th Grand Prix Jenson Button had been in the running for a top six placing, but the safety car hampered him and then his McLaren ran into reliability problems. He was eventually classified 16th despite parking his car in the garage before the checkered flag.
Just as the safety car had come out, teammate Kevin Magnussen’s sister MP4-29 had retired with suspected gearbox trouble, so it was a tough day for the McLaren team.
This time Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat didn’t score a point but he was Toro Rosso’s only finisher in 11th ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, while Max Chilton’s three-stop strategy enabled his Marussia to best Maldonado’s E22, Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham and the other Marussia of Jules Bianchi, who lost a massive amount of time after being penalized for an early collision with Adrian Sutil’s Sauber. Sutil retired from the race as a result.
Besides Magnussen, Gutierrez and Sutil, Marcus Ericsson retired his Caterham with mechanical issues and Jean-Eric Vergne suffered from a tire-destroying collision on the opening lap and retired with associated complications.
In addition to Rosberg’s 11-point driver’s world championship lead over Hamilton, Mercedes continues to race away with the constructor’s lead as well, with 111 points scored overall and a 67-point margin over Force India after three races. Four-time defending constructor’s champions Red Bull sit fourth in the standings, 76 points in arrears.
The FIA Formula One World Championship returns to action in two weeks’ time with the UBS Chinese Grand Prix on April 20th in Shanghai.