Quicksilver Hamilton shines in Singapore

The result couldn’t have been much better for Lewis Hamilton in Singapore. Pole position on Saturday was followed by a race win on Sunday. That win, coupled with his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s retirement, meant that Hamilton also took the lead in the world drivers’ championship; for only the second time this season.

Last time out in Italy it was Hamilton who had electronic problems at the start of the race, but in Singapore it was Rosberg who had his own electrical problem, a problem far more severe than the one his team-mate experienced in Monza. Rosberg’s issue started before he even left the pit lane and once he made it to the grid the team worked frantically on the steering column of his car, switching steering wheels and hoping for the best.

Rosberg's stricken Mercedes is pushed away from the grid

Rosberg’s stricken Mercedes is pushed away from the grid

As it turned out, despite all the team’s efforts, Rosberg’s problem was far from fixed. The German couldn’t pull away on the parade lap and although he did manage to start from the pit lane, the problem with his car was far from resolved. Rosberg had no control over his car’s systems. No ERS, no engine mode control, no DRS. Indeed, nothing at all other than the ability to change gears, and even that was severely hampered.

Rosberg struggled at the back of the field

Rosberg struggled at the back of the field

As Hamilton streaked into the lead from pole position, Rosberg struggled to pick his way through the Marussias and Caterhams at the tail of the field. When his first pit-stop came on lap 14 of the race, he didn’t even have an operational pit lane speed limiter, meaning he was forced to crawl into his pit box at a snail’s pace.

As it turned out, he couldn’t even manage to pull back out again. Even gear selection finally failed and as a result Rosberg was going absolutely nowhere. The team was forced to retire the car and Rosberg was forced to watch on while Hamilton took complete control of the race, pursued, at an ever-increasing distance by Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

Despite Hamilton’s iron grip of the race in the opening 32 laps, his victory turned out to be far from plain sailing in the end. Reliability was not the problem for Hamilton, though, the safety car was. Force India’s Sergio Perez suffered a front wing failure after contact with Adrian Sutil’s Sauber on lap 31.

The safety car disrupted the race in Singapore

The safety car disrupted the race in Singapore

The resulting debris triggered the safety car and put Hamilton and Mercedes in a difficult position. Both Red Bulls and Williams cars had already used both tyre compounds and would not stop again. Alonso decided to stop under safety car conditions and switch on to the softer compound tyre, meaning that he, too, had run both compounds. Hamilton and Mercedes, though, didn’t, meaning that they would have to stop again in the closing stages of the race.

The safety car finally returned to the pit lane on lap 38. Hamilton would have to build a gap of around 30 seconds over his rivals to be able to pit again and emerge in the lead. It was a massive ask, but Hamilton set about his task with relish, building a 3.3 second lead after just one lap. By lap 51 the gap was over 25 seconds, but his super soft tyres had had enough. He pitted on lap 52, emerging from the pits on fresh soft tyres behind Vettel, but crucially ahead of Ricciardo in third and Alonso in fourth.

A clearly delighted Hamilton celebrates his win

A clearly delighted Hamilton celebrates his win

Just two laps later, Hamilton wasn’t even behind Vettel. The Briton took maximum advantage of his far fresher tyres to make the move on the reigning world drivers’ champion at turn seven, with DRS assistance. And that was pretty much that. Hamilton once again pulled away from his rivals at a staggering rate of knots. In the remaining few laps – one less than the scheduled 61 due to the safety car period – Hamilton built an impressive lead over Vettel, with Ricciardo and Alonso close behind. The Stevenage-born racer eventually finished 13.5 seconds clear as he took his seventh victory of the season.

Second was a great result for Vettel in the end.  The quadruple world drivers’ champion has endured a miserable 2014  so far, watching on as Ricciardo managed three wins and usurped the German as the lead Red Bull driver.  In Singapore, though, Vettel beat Ricciardo fair and square.  It’ll be interesting to see whether this marks a shift in the Red Bull pecking order this year.  Ferrari were also much improved at Marina Bay, with Kimi Raikkonen looking fast all weekend and unlucky not to supplement Alonso’s fourth place finish with more than an eighth place finish.  But behind Hamilton the star of the race was undoubtedly Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso.  The Frenchman has lost his drive for next season to rising star Max Verstappen, but he made a great case for a drive elsewhere with sixth place in Singapore, matching his best ever result in Formula 1.

The man of the moment was definitely Hamilton, though.  His 25 point haul in Singapore means that he wiped out his 22 point deficit in the world drivers’ championship in one fell swoop. He now takes a three-point lead into Japan and, with two consecutive wins from pole position, the momentum is very much behind him. There are still five races to go, though, and with double points in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton, and for that matter Rosberg, will need no reminding that the championship battle is far from over.

The championship is as close as it’s ever been, though. It looks like it’s going to be a thrilling climax to the season. I suspect that there are twists and turns yet to come…

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Pitlane to podium for Hamilton in Hungary

A dejected looking Lewis Hamilton walks away from his smoking Mercedes in qualifying

A dejected looking Lewis Hamilton walks away
from his smoking Mercedes in qualifying

After another dreadful qualifying session for Lewis Hamilton in 2014, the Briton looked certain to lose even more ground to Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the fight for the world drivers’ championship. Hamilton failed to set a time in Saturday qualifying, after a fuel leak on his Mercedes caused a huge fire putting Hamilton out and giving his Mercedes team a gigantic task to rebuild a car that was almost a total loss.

In contrast, as we’ve seen so many times this season, Rosberg had a trouble-free qualifying session. The German cruised to pole position by around half a second from the Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel. It looked very much set fair for another win for the world drivers’ championship leader.

Sadly for Rosberg, though, the weather certainly wasn’t set fair. A huge downpour around 40 minutes before the start of the race threw a spanner in the works and added a huge amount of spice into the race mix. Nevertheless, though, Hamilton started the race in the worst possible position – the pitlane – and Rosberg in the very best starting spot. It would need a mighty drive from Hamilton, and some of the luck that had been so sorely missing from his season so far, if he was not to fall further behind in the championship race.

The race didn't start well for Hamilton, either, as he spun on the opening lap

The race didn’t start well for Hamilton,
either, as he spun on the opening lap

It certainly looked like luck was against Hamilton in the opening laps. The 2008 world drivers’ champion spun on the very first lap, on just the second corner of his race. Hamilton scraped the barrier, but crucially didn’t cause much damage to his car. Rosberg meanwhile, serenely streaked clear in the lead of the race. By lap eight, though, Hamilton had clawed his way up to 13th position, ahead of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, and then the safety car came out after Marcus Ericsson slammed his Caterham into the wall at turn three – a 20G impact.

Not only did the safety car wipe out Rosberg’s substantial lead over the second placed Williams of Valtteri Bottas, but it fell at an awful time for the German. Rosberg was unable to pit immediately as he’d already passed the pitlane meaning he, as well as Bottas, Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari all had to do another lap while the rest of the field streamed in to change from intermediate tyres to, for the most part, soft option slick tyres.

Still, though, Rosberg was in fourth position while Hamilton was 13th as the restart was further delayed by Romain Grosjean crashing his Lotus with the safety car about to release the cars. All was not well with Rosberg, however. Smoke was coming from the left rear brake on his Mercedes and as the race restarted on lap 14 Rosberg fell like a stone.

Perez climbs from his wrecked Force India

Perez climbs from his wrecked Force India

Hamilton on the other hand, was going very much in the opposite direction. By lap 17 the two Mercedes cars were running fifth and seventh, with just the Red Bull of Vettel separating the two Silver Arrows. Another safety car came out on lap 23, however, as Sergio Perez slammed his Force India into the pit wall after spinning coming out of the final turn.

As the safety car came in on lap 27, Alonso led, while Rosberg was up to third and Hamilton fifth. There was no further progress for either driver until Rosberg pitted on lap 33. Almost immediately, Sebastian Vettel had an almost identical accident to Sergio Perez, but managing not to hit the pit wall as he spun out of the final corner. That let Hamilton through and straight onto the back of the out of position Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, who had done a tremendous job to hold up Rosberg before the latter pitted.

He couldn’t do the same up against Lewis Hamilton, though, with the Englishman executing the pass of the race on lap 34 to pass the Frenchman around the outside of turn four. Hamilton was now second, with Rosberg 13th, but moving swiftly back up the field after his pit stop. Crucially, though, Hamilton was now a full pit stop ahead of his team-mate. When he eventually made his second stop on lap 40 – from the lead – and fitted the slower, but more durable medium compound slick tyres, we was able to emerge ahead of his team-mate in fifth position.

Rosberg was able to close up to Hamilton, but not close enough to make an overtaking manoeuvre. The team-mates were on different strategies. Rosberg was on the fast option tyres and due to stop once more, while Hamilton was on primes and due to run until the end of the race. Hamilton was asked by the team to let his team-mate through, but Rosberg was simply not close enough and Hamilton was unwilling to lose a significant amount of time to wave his championship rival through.

Ultimately, the decision to put Hamilton on an alternate strategy cost both him and Rosberg the chance to win the race. Hamilton was unable to close in on Alonso and Rosberg was unable to pass Hamilton, with Daniel Ricciardo leading the race by a significant distance from the Spaniard. Ricciardo pitted again for Fresh option on lap 54, rejoining behind Rosberg, with the latter making the same change on lap 56, emerging in seventh.

Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo battled for victory in the closing laps

Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo
battled for Victory in the closing laps

Alonso – on soft option tyres – led from Hamilton, but Ricciardo was closing rapidly on them both with his new rubber. Similarly Rosberg was catching the leaders at an alarming rate on his fresh tyres, but it was Ricciardo who was in the best position to win the race, and he duly did.

First of all he moved ahead of Hamilton around the outside of turn two on lap 67 and just a lap later overtook Alonso in turn one. The Australian was gone, but Rosberg was now on Hamilton’s tail. The Englishman was just able to hold his team-mate off to claim the final podium position and reduce the championship deficit to 11 points. An almost unthinkable result after their contrasting fortunes in qualifying.

It was Ricciardo who took his second win of the season, though. The Australian will be hugely satisfied with his performances at Red Bull, which have put his four-time world championship winning team-mate, Vettel, in the shade. As we head into the mid-season break, though, it’s Rosberg with the championship lead, albeit slightly reduced. Hamilton, though, may well think that the luck may now be turning in his favour.

Bulldog Lewis bites back in Britain

With a 29 point lead in the world drivers’ championship Nico Rosberg went in to the British grand prix very much on a high. The momentum, and the luck, was with him and his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, had the pressure on him to turn it around.

That pressure only increased after qualifying on Saturday. After looking to have the edge in tricky wet/dry qualifying conditions, Hamilton aborted his final lap when on provisional pole position, thinking that no-one would beat his time. However, that decision proved disastrous for the Briton. The final few corners of the lap were dry, and several drivers were able to beat Hamilton’s time. Rosberg snatched pole and Hamilton found himself having to start in sixth.

Hamilton was desperate to win his home race, but it looked like the odds were against him. However, just as in the last race in Austria, Hamilton started well from his lowly grid slot. After just a handful of corners the 2008 world drivers’ champion was up to fourth after passing Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India off the line and the Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.

Raikkonen's crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

Raikkonen’s crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

That was the limit of Hamilton’s progress for around an hour, though. The race was red flagged on the opening lap after a very heavy crash for Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, who ran wide, rejoined the track but was pitched into a spin after hitting a bump. It was an extremely heavy impact – registered at 47G – as the Ferrari speared into the metal Armco barrier and bounced back across the track and was then hit by Felipe Massa’s Williams. It was the end of the race for both drivers, and particularly saddening for Massa on his 200th Formula 1 race.

After the barriers were repaired and the race was restarted behind the safety car, Hamilton quickly picked up where he left off, dispatching the McLaren’s of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button on laps three and four and setting about closing the five second gap to his team-mate. The Mercedes cars were, once again, in a race of their own, lapping around 2.5 seconds faster than anyone else, With Hamilton reeling in Rosberg. The gap between the Silver Arrows as Rosberg pitted was just 2.7 seconds.

Nevertheless, the advantage was still with Rosberg, who had track position and the first choice of race strategies. But then Hamilton’s luck started to change. Despite another slow stop for the Englishman on lap 24 – 5 laps after Rosberg’s – which meant that he emerged from the pits over five seconds behind his team-mate, all was not well with Rosberg’s car.

Rosberg suffered his first retirement of the season at Silverstone

Rosberg suffered his first
retirement of the season at Silverstone

The German had reported gearbox trouble on lap 21, but his pace was still good on the softer option tyres; the supposedly faster race tyre. Hamilton had changed onto the hard prime tyres as he attempted an alternate strategy to beat his team-mate. On the ‘slower’ tyres Hamilton was on fire, though. He was catching his team-mate hand over fist before Rosberg again reported gearbox problems, before losing gears as he lapped Max Chilton’s Marussia and Hamilton blasted through into the lead.

Rosberg was briefly able to get going again before the gearbox failed completely, resulting in his first retirement of 2014, compared to his team-mate’s two. Hamilton didn’t look back. He was some 25 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas’s Williams in second place, with the Finn having driven a fantastic race to claw his way up from his 14th place starting position. When Bottas stopped for fresh rubber the gap ballooned to over 40 seconds and it looked like Hamilton could continue without bothering to stop again.

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

As it was, Mercedes decided to pit the race leader for a second stop, but such was Hamilton’s margin over Bottas that he still emerged from the pits leading by over 20 seconds. All that was left for Hamilton to do was to bring his Mercedes home in one piece which he did with ease, winning the race by over 30 seconds from Bottas, with Daniel Ricciardo bring his Red Bull home in third, just ahead of a charging Jenson Button, a further 16 seconds adrift.

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

For a variety of reasons, it was a thrilling race. The British crowd got almost exactly what they wanted: Some fantastic racing – including some brilliant overtaking from Bottas and a thrilling fight between the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the second Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel (the latter beat the former to fifth place) – a win for Hamilton and a retirement for Rosberg, which reignited the championship fight, with the gap between the two Mercedes team-mates now just four points.

Indeed, the only thing that was missing was a podium finish for Jenson Button. The 2009 world drivers’ champion has never stood on the Silverstone podium, but he came awfully close this time. The Frome-born driver finished under a second behind Ricciardo. I guess the fans can’t quite have it all.

Having won his home race, though, Hamilton will hope that the momentum has now swung back in his direction. He’d like nothing more than to drive home his advantage at the next race at Hockenheim; a home race for both Mercedes and Rosberg.

Mercedes master the Ring

This sculpture clearly indicates that Spielberg is Red Bull territory

This sculpture clearly indicates that
Spielberg is Red Bull territory

After what was, by their incredibly high standards, a disastrous Canadian grand prix, Mercedes were looking to reassert their authority in Austria. The omens weren’t all that positive, however. Having been beaten by Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo in Montreal they now had to visit the Milton Keynes based team’s ‘home’ track; the old A1 ring which, under the new ownership of Dietrich Mateschitz has now been renamed the Red Bull Ring.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes didn’t have qualifying their own way and fans could have been forgiven for thinking that their domination might have been on the slide. For the first time this season Mercedes were not on pole position. Indeed, neither championship leader Nico Rosberg nor his team-mate Lewis Hamilton were even on the front row following Saturday qualifying. Instead, it was Williams who locked out the front row of the grid. Rosberg at least managed third, but Hamilton had a disaster, failing to set a time after making two mistakes in Q3 and starting down in ninth place, despite looking like he had the ultimate pace.

Going into the race it was clear that Mercedes were not going to have things all their own way. The Williams cars, using the Mercedes power units, were extremely fast in a straight line. On a track that is all about straight-line speed passing them would be a challenge, and with Hamilton starting in the middle of the pack his chances didn’t look all that promising.

Both Mercedes cars started well.

Both Mercedes cars started well

Hamilton soon put his starting disadvantage behind him, though. The Briton made a lightning start and made up a hatful of positions on the opening lap. By the time that he overtook Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari into turn eight he was fourth, just a place behind Rosberg. The German, despite passing Valtteri Bottas off the line was immediately re-passed by the Finn on the run down to turn two, again highlighting the straight-line speed advantage of the Martini liveried Williams cars.

As we have seen so often in modern formula 1 the race hinged on the pit stops. Williams didn’t seem to make the right calls, allowing Mercedes to gain an advantage by stopping first and not reacting to those pit stops immediately. Rosberg was able to jump ahead of both Williams at the first stop and while Hamilton only managed to pass pole-sitter Felipe Massa, he was able to get the job done on Bottas at the second round of pit stops as Williams again fell victim to the undercut.

Hamilton lost nearly two seconds to Rosberg through slower pit stops

Hamilton lost nearly two seconds to
Rosberg through slower pit stops

While Hamilton secured the advantage over the Williams cars through the pit stops, though, he lost out badly to his team-mate. The 2008 world drivers’ champion’s pit stops were a total of 1.9 seconds slower than Rosberg’s. Considering that Rosberg won the race by exactly 1.9 seconds, and that Hamilton backed off in the last couple of corners after being just half a second behind his team-mate earlier on the final lap, those slower pit stops proved to be the difference between a win and second place.

Truth be told, Hamilton was the faster of the two Mercedes drivers this weekend. Despite his stunning start to the race, he was never able to recover from the mistakes in the final part of qualifying, though. Those mistakes ultimately cost him the pole position he almost certainly would have secured. He was a huge four tenths of a second faster than Bottas after two sectors of his first run, and given that Massa only beat his team-mate’s time by under a tenth of a second you can see for yourself who had the true pace.

Instead, of pole and a likely victory Hamilton instead had to watch his team-mate win and extend his lead in the world drivers’ championship to 29 points; the biggest that it’s been all season. Even a win for Hamilton at his home race in two week’s time and a first DNF of the season for Rosberg would not be enough for the former to overhaul the latter in the standings. Hamilton certainly has his work cut out for him.

Perhaps not as much as Red Bull Racing, however. The world constructors’ champions headed to their home race on a high after Ricciardo’s opportunistic win in Canada, but they were quite simply nowhere in Austria. Sebastian Vettel didn’t even make it into the pole position shoot out in qualifying, and although Ricciardo did, he could only manage fifth on the grid, nearly three-quarters of a second slower than Massa’s pace-setting Williams.

Vettel retired from the race on lap 35

Vettel retired from the race on lap 35

Things went from bad to worse for the Austrian owned team in the race. Vettel, starting down in 12th place, suddenly slowed on the opening lap reporting to his team on the radio that he “lost drive”. Although the German was able to get back up to speed again, he lost a lap. Vettel continued, but then retired his car on lap 35 saying “We stopped because we wanted to save some mileage. We were hoping to get a safety car but it didn’t happen and there is no point continuing when you are a lap behind…I just hope Daniel [Ricciardo] can keep moving through the field and get some points.”

Perez drove impressively to finish sixth for Force India

Perez drove impressively
to finish sixth for Force India

As it happened, Ricciardo did score points, but only a paltry four after finishing eighth thanks to a stunning last lap move on the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. The highly-rated German is being outshone by his team-mate Sergio Perez at the moment. Despite starting 16th thanks to a five place grid penalty for his collision with Massa at the last race, Perez showed great pace and led the race at one point after running a very long first stint of the race on the harder prime tyres. The Mexican eventually finished sixth to Hulkenberg’s ninth, but still trails his team-mate by just over 30 championship points.

There doesn’t seem to be any catching the Mercedes cars, though. Yes, Bottas finished just 8.1 seconds behind Rosberg in his Williams, but I don’t think that’s truly representative of the actual speed of Mercedes and Williams. Don’t forget that both Mercedes cars were held up by the Williams cars at various stages of the race. Had the Silver Arrows showed their true pace in qualifying, the gap to the rest may well have been a mammoth one.

As it was, Mercedes will be happy with a smaller margin of victory. They have reasserted themselves at the front of the pack, and with Red Bull faltering and Mercedes engines occupying the first four positions in Spielberg, and seven of the top ten places, the team are justifying the investment of the board in Stuttgart.

Dan’s the man in Montreal

Mercedes dominated qualifying yet again, with Nico Rosberg surprisingly beating Lewis Hamilton to pole position. With the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve seemingly designed to suit the strengths of the Mercedes W05, it looked like the Canadian grand prix would be another straight fight between the two Mercedes team-mates.

The Mercedes cars battle into turn one

The Mercedes cars battle into turn one

And so it proved, but only for the first 37 laps or so of the race. Rosberg was actually beaten off the line by Hamilton, but managed to squeeze the Briton into turn one and maintain the lead. As it turned out Sebastian Vettel managed to manoeuvre his Red Bull ahead of Hamilton, too, as the Mercedes driver was forced onto the grass by his team-mate as he took action to avoid a collision.

Bianchi's wrecked Marussia following his 1st lap crash with Chilton

Bianchi’s wrecked Marussia
following his 1st lap crash with Chilton

Hamilton had to wait a while to re-pass Vettel, until lap 10 in fact.  The reason for that was a lengthy safety car period caused after the Marussias of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton collided on the opening lap, putting both out of the race. It was a swift return to earth for the team after they’d been on a high after scoring their first formula 1 points with Bianchi’s ninth place finish in Monaco.

It proved to be a return to earth for Mercedes, too. With Hamilton trailing Rosberg we suddenly heard reports of a loss of power on Hamilton’s car, swiftly followed with team radio indicating an identical issue on Rosberg’s car. The rest of the field were suddenly catching both Mercedes cars hand over fist.

Even before we got to that point there was controversy as Rosberg escaped a penalty, despite gaining an advantage, by cutting the final chicane when under pressure from a charging Hamilton. It proved to be immaterial however. While the Mercedes toiled the rest of the pack continued to close in. It was time for the second stops for Mercedes, and a slow stop for Rosberg allowed Hamilton to overtake him, although both were now behind the Williams of Felipe Massa.

Hamilton pulls into the pits to retire

Hamilton pulls into the pits to retire

Hamilton, finally had the advantage over his team-mate, but it wasn’t to last. The Englishman emerged from the pits on lap 46 just ahead of his German team-mate, but later the same lap he ran wide at the hairpin allowing Rosberg through. Hamilton then himself cut the final chicane as we saw his right rear wheel smoking. It turned out that in addition to the loss of power his brakes had failed, forcing him into his second retirement of the reason.

It soon emerged that Rosberg had trouble with his brakes, too. As Massa made his second pit stop on lap 49 the remaining Mercedes retook the lead of the race, but was being chased down by a pack of three cars led by the Force India of Sergio Perez, with the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Vettel close behind. Amazingly, though, Rosberg was able to hold on with Perez closing rapidly down the straights, but unable to make his move as Rosberg kept pulling out enough of a gap through the corners.

The Force India just wasn’t going to get the job done, but as it turned out a Red Bull could. Perez started suffering from brake issues himself allowing Ricciardo to pass on lap 66, just five laps from home. Even though the Red Bull isn’t as quick in a straight line as the Mercedes powered Force India, it was quicker through the corners, meaning that Rosberg was unable to pull away from Ricciardo through the first and second sectors.

Ricciardo takes the chequered flag to win his first Formula 1 race

Ricciardo takes the chequered
flag to win his first Formula 1 race

On the penultimate lap of the race Ricciardo made his move and took the lead. There was no opportunity for Rosberg to fight back as Massa and Perez crashed very heavily at the start of the final lap, bringing out the second safety car of the race. The race finished under the safety car, with victory for Ricciardo – his first in Formula 1 – with his team-mate Vettel in third and Rosberg in second.

It’s a massive achievement for Ricciardo and thoroughly deserved after a stellar start to his career at Red Bull Racing. You can’t help but feel, though, that despite not taking the race win, the biggest winner was Rosberg. A retirement for Hamilton and a second place finish means that the German’s world drivers’ championship lead has ballooned to a daunting 22 points over his team-mate.

Hamilton will be hoping for a change in fortunes next time out in Austria. It’s Red Bull’s home race, though, and they’ll certainly be heading there in high spirits.

F1 dazzles in the desert

After two easy victories, one for each of the Mercedes drivers, in the opening two races of the season many were writing off Formula 1. Quieter engines, fuel efficiency and the same big margins of victory; no battles at the front – F1 had lost the plot, right? Wrong. The Bahrain grand prix was full of thrills and spills and featured a titanic battle for victory between the Mercedes drivers – easily the best race in recent years; a real thriller that had you on the edge of your seat right until the chequered flag.

In the end, just like a week ago in Malaysia, it was Lewis Hamilton that came out on top in Bahrain, although his margin of victory over team-mate Nico Rosberg was dramatically reduced from 17.3 seconds last time out to a whisker over a single second this time. As reflected by the narrow margin of victory, we had a real fight between the Mercedes drivers in Bahrain, not only in the final grandstand finish over the last 10 laps, but also, crucially, in the run up to the first round of pit stops.

Hamilton beat Rosberg off the line and took the lead into turn 1

Hamilton beat Rosberg off the
line and took the lead into turn 1

Unlike in the last two races, in Bahrain Rosberg beat Hamilton in qualifying to take his first pole position of the season, with his team-mate qualifying second, giving the Silver Arrows their first front row lock-out of the season. Rosberg had clearly raised his game after being dominated by Hamilton at Sepang and looked to have the edge over the 2008 world drivers’ champion this time. The German, the race winner in Australia, might have been able to streak clear in the same way that Hamilton managed in Malaysia, but he was beaten off the line, and into turn one, by his team-mate.

Having gotten the drop on Rosberg, Hamilton couldn’t pull away, though. The gap hovered around a second to a second and a half in the opening stint of the race allowing our first round of fireworks to take place as we approached the first pit stops. Knowing that the driver who stopped first would enjoy the advantage of the undercut – the advantage of fresher tyres for a lap or so – Rosberg pushed hard to overtake Hamilton and closed to within DRS range of his team-mate.

Rosberg squeezed ahead of Hamilton several times, but couldn't make the pass stick

Rosberg squeezed ahead of Hamilton several times, but couldn’t make the pass stick

On lap 18 Rosberg made his move, diving down the inside of Hamilton at turn one before conceding the lead again as the Englishman fought back. On the next lap Rosberg tried again. This time it looked like he might have made the pass stick, but Hamilton wasn’t giving up and re-passed Rosberg into turn four. It was a truly brilliant counter-attack from Hamilton and it looked critical as at the end of the lap he made his pit stop. He had secured the advantage of the undercut.

Once both of the Mercedes drivers had stopped – Hamilton for another set of option tyres, while Rosberg had switched to primes – things seemed to settle down. The undercut had given Hamilton a six second advantage, which steadily increased eventually reaching 9.7 seconds on lap 40. While it was never quite a case of ‘race over’ given that Hamilton would use the slower prime tyre in the final stint while Rosberg would use the faster options, things did look reasonably comfortable up front.

Maldonado's Lotus flips Gutierrez’s Sauber into a dramatic somersault

Maldonado’s Lotus flips Gutierrez’s
Sauber into a dramatic somersault

But then along came Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus. On lap 41 the Venezuelan exited the pits and T-boned Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber, launching the Mexican’s car into a somersault at turn one – an incident which resulted in Maldonado receiving a five place grid penalty after the race, plus three points on his super-licence. Unsurprisingly, out came the safety car and away went Hamilton’s lead.

With Hamilton now on the slower tyres and Rosberg on the faster options, it looked to be advantage Rosberg. Just before the safety car pulled in with 10 laps to go, though, both Mercedes drivers received identical radio messages from Mercedes technical director Paddy Lowe “With 10 laps left to race, can we just make sure we bring both cars home.” Team orders, I thought. I was wrong! Rosberg attacked Hamilton immediately and while he couldn’t get the pass done he stayed close enough to Hamilton to receive the advantage of DRS when it became available two laps after the re-start.

Rosberg attacked again on laps 52 and 53, squeezing ahead of Hamilton only to be swiftly re-passed by his team-mate. It was thrilling stuff, but with better tyres and the edge in terms of outright speed I thought it was only a matter of time before Rosberg made the move stick. I was wrong again! Hamilton was told that he could use the overtake button on the exit of corners to aid in his defence and he was able to pull out a gap of around a second to Rosberg in the final couple of laps.

Perez celebrates his third place

Perez celebrates his third place

The second display of on-track fireworks between the Mercedes drivers was finally over as Hamilton took a brilliant victory, different in so many different ways to the win just a week earlier at Sepang. I haven’t even mentioned the other brilliant battles throughout the field during the race. Sergio Perez claimed third place to give Force India only their second ever podium finish and we saw on track fireworks from a whole host of other drivers. It was a tremendous race and a brilliant advert for the new era of Formula 1.

Not only did the battle between the Silver Arrows prove a thrilling spectacle, it also finally showed us the extent of the pace that the Brackley-based team have in their pocket. In just 10 laps they built up a 24 second advantage over Perez in third place; an advantage of some 2.4 seconds per lap. Something that will surely send shivers down the spines of the rest of the paddock.

Hamilton takes the checquered flag in Bahrain, just ahead of Rosberg

Hamilton takes the checquered flag
in Bahrain, just ahead of Rosberg

The championships look like Mercedes’s to lose, but we’re highly unlikely to get the sort of cakewalk that we’ve seen at times from Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel in recent seasons. The Mercedes drivers seem pretty closely matched and the team seem determined to let them race. That’s great for the sport. While Hamilton has two victories to Rosberg’s one, it’s the German that so far holds the championship advantage thanks to Hamilton’s unfortunate retirement in Australia.

There were more fireworks after the race, this time in the night sky as the organisers brought the curtain down on the 900th grand prix and the 10th at the Sakhir circuit. The next race in China has a lot to live up to.