Sheikhs, Battles and Roll - Bahrain GP review

By on Sunday, April 6, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Apparently Formula 1 in 2014 is boring and causing millions to switch off the television and throw their remote controls to the ground in disgust. But anyone who sat through a couple of indifferent races in Australia and Malaysia were richly rewarded with a thrilling race under the lights as the Bahrain Grand Prix celebrated its 10th anniversary in some style.

Lewis Hamilton held the advantage over team-mate Nico Rosberg during practice but in qualifying it was the German driver who snatched top spot. The race wasn’t a question of whether Mercedes would win, but by how much and which one would come home first.

Hamilton got the jump on Rosberg at the start and despite the German’s attempts to edge his team-mate out; Hamilton kept his foot in and led exiting the first corner. Rosberg jinked to the outside under braking for turn four but Hamilton prevailed and led at the end of the opening lap.

Hamilton and Rosberg duly led, ahead of the fast-starting Felipe Massa, Sergio Pérez and the other Williams of Valtteri Bottas. The Mercedes drivers began pulling away at over a second a lap while Massa’s tyres began to cry and Pérez simply slipped up the inside of his rival into turn four.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Suddenly Rosberg had eaten away at Hamilton’s advantage and dived up the inside of turn one, but Hamilton wasn’t settling for second. Oh no. Hamilton fought back and reclaimed the lead exiting turn four, before pulling into the pits for a fresh set of rubber. Mercedes, at this point, split the strategies. Hamilton emerged from the pits on another set of options, while Rosberg was put on the primes. This would have a greater relevance later on in the race…

The battle behind the Mercedes was for the final step on the podium. The Williams duo led the way while the Force India duo of Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg were sweeping all away before them, most notably the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, who was struggling with a car that was reluctant to hit an apex and down on top speed. Bottas pitted early while Massa followed suit a few laps later, allowing the Force India drivers to stretch their legs in third and fourth. But then came a moment which turned the race, and more specifically one driver, on its head.

Pastor Maldonado emerged from the pit lane and stumbled into the path of Sauber’s Esteban Gutiérrez. Maldonado’s Lotus clipped Gutiérrez and the Mexican driver was tipped into a flip at the first corner. Gutiérrez came to a rest just off of the circuit but the safety car was deployed to clear the wreckage. Gutiérrez was taken to a nearby hospital for checks while Maldonado was slapped with a 10 second stop and go penalty, a five place grid drop for the Chinese Grand Prix and three penalty points on his license. However, even that seemed quite a let-off for a driver with an inability to avoid an accident. A more pressing issue for the FIA should be the amount of time it took for any assistance to reach Gutiérrez, especially after such a frightening accident. It is a matter which must be looked at.

Hamilton’s 9.5 second lead was wiped out in one swoop and while both Mercedes drivers pitted, Rosberg was now on the faster option tyres, compared to Hamilton on the primes. Behind them, Daniel Ricciardo was also on options, while the Force India duo stayed out on primes.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

The race restarted and Hamilton tried to bolt, but Rosberg was having none of it. They both locked up, Rosberg took the inside line but again Hamilton battled back and stamped his authority as they entered the Esses. Again Rosberg tried, but again he ran too deep and Hamilton reclaimed the lead of the race. The gap between the two stabilised at just under a second but Rosberg’s challenge ultimately fizzled out when his options began to wear. It was nonetheless a thrilling battle between two drivers operating at the top of their game, racing a dominant car produced by a team unafraid to put full trust in the talents of the men behind the wheel.

Such was their advantage that in the 11 lap sprint to the flag the Mercedes pairing were over 20 seconds ahead of Pérez, who claimed his first podium since 2012 and Force India’s first since Spa in 2009. The Mexican narrowly fended off a rampaging Daniel Ricciardo, who had started the race from the middle of the pack. The Australian driver was let through by team-mate Sebastian Vettel early on in the race as their two strategies diverged but when it was hell to leather during the closing stages, Ricciardo caught Vettel napping and dived up the inside into the first corner. If ever there was an example of a driver showing his arrival at a top team, it was that. Ricciardo also got through on Hülkenberg but the Force India driver held the Australian at bay long enough to allow Pérez an easier run through to third place.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

Vettel settled for sixth place while the Williams of Massa and Bottas were a disappointing seventh and eighth after they again failed to capitalise on their ultimate pace.

Rounding out the top 10 were Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen, who suffered a miserable race in a recalcitrant Ferrari F14T. Enzo Ferrari once said that aerodynamics were for people who couldn’t build engines but Ferrari has managed to do neither properly on the evidence of a miserable time in Bahrain. The engine was down on power, leaving the drivers helpless to defend against faster rivals, while it was reluctant to hit many apexes. Luca di Montezemolo will rail against the sport, but it’s his team that is once again lacking in ability.

Daniil Kvyat just finished outside of the points for Toro Rosso, while Romain Grosjean again finished for Lotus, with Max Chilton collecting a fine 13th place for Marussia.

Maldonado came home in 14th, ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Jules Bianchi. The Marussia driver twice clashed with Sauber’s Adrian Sutil within the space of a lap and was deemed to have been the guilty party. Bianchi was slapped with a drive through penalty and given two more penalty points to bring his tally up to four.

Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen had pace in the McLaren MP4-29 but both cars retired late on with a clutch problem, while Marcus Ericsson and Jean-Éric Vergne also failed to make the flag. Ericsson’s Caterham stopped trackside while Vergne was hit by a Lotus at the start and sustained damage to his Toro Rosso STR9.

But up front there were no such worries for the dominant Mercedes team. Even if they’re half a minute ahead of the rest, few will complain if they let Hamilton and Rosberg battle it out.

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