Lewis Hamilton produced some fine defensive driving to hold off Nico Rosberg and win the Bahrain Grand Prix. Rosberg had the advantage of quicker tyres in the closing stages and the pair had a terrific ten lap battle for the win. It is looking increasingly likely that the Mercedes drivers will have their own personal fight for the championship this season and on the evidence of today, it looks set to be a cracker.
Hamilton and Rosberg were joined on the podium by Sergio Pérez, who held off an inspired Daniel Ricciardo to claim third. The battle for the final podium spot was an intense fight between Force India, Red Bull and Williams. Jenson Button, in his 250th grands prix, retired along with his team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
At the start, Hamilton immediately took control and he barged his way past Rosberg into the first corner. However, unlike in Malaysia where he drove away, Hamilton found it difficult to keep Rosberg behind. Time and again Rosberg would overtake Hamilton into the first corner before losing momentum going into the next straight. The Brit would position his car expertly and retake the lead.
Different strategies meant they saw less of each other during the middle of the race but a safety car, caused by the somersaulting Esteban Gutierrez, was the catalyst for the thrilling finale. Hamilton just managed to hold on and take his second successive win. More importantly perhaps is the psychological advantage he now holds over Rosberg.
Behind, it was a crazy fight for third place. Felipe Massa blasted from eighth to third at the beginning but it was clear that he and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas couldn’t match the pace of Force India. Hulkenberg and Perez had the quicker cars but Williams’s different strategy meant that they were regularly swapping positions. Perez had the upper hand over Hulkenberg all weekend and re-emphasised his racing ability with an impressive display. His podium is only the second in Force India’s short history.
Hulkenberg was unfortunate that he finished fifth behind a rampant Daniel Ricciardo. Both Red Bulls struggled all afternoon but when the fuel continued to burn off they found more and more speed. Ricciardo stormed through in the final stages to grab fourth, and sent an emphatic message to Sebastian Vettel, by ruthlessly overtaking him in the dying laps. This weekend clearly showed how behind Red Bull are but a big upgrade is expected for the Spanish grands prix, where they could be fighting with Mercedes. Vettel finished behind Hulkenberg in sixth and just ahead of Massa and Bottas.
It was an anonymous afternoon for Ferrari, who will be the most concerned team on the grid. Their lack of pace is clear as Alonso crawled to 9th and Raikkonen 10th. McLaren had a more dismal afternoon as both cars retired with mechanical problems. Button was looking good for some points but his milestone race ended in disappointment. He will hope to redeem himself in China, the destination of the next race in two weeks’ time.
Despite leading the championship, it is Rosberg who will feel the most pressure to get revenge on Hamilton. It will be fascinating.