The 900. Formula 1 grand prix has confirmed Mercedes as the team to beat in 2014 as the duo held an unrelenting grip on the Sakhir podium. But while the Silver Arrows seem to have the competition in the bag in terms of speed and reliability, the tensions in its internal works is what made the Bahrain Grand Prix the most exciting race in a long time.
From free practice to qualifying there was no question about which team would be at the front of the Sakhir grid, for the third race under the whole new Formula 1 regulations, as Mercedes topped the timesheets session after session. But it was not clear which one of its drivers would take the laurels on Sunday, up until the very last lap of the race.
The result of the qualifying had already been debated as a slightly contentious one for Mercedes, as it was Nico Rosberg who took the pole position, despite Lewis Hamilton claiming the Malaysian trophy just one week earlier. The Brit seemed a bit subdued by his second place grid start when he congratulated his team-mate, but his desire to win was very much alive, as he proved on the first corner of the race by overtaking Rosberg for the lead.
Keeping his Malaysian performance in mind, one would have expected the matter to be settled then – but it was far from it. The two battled in spectacular style at different times that evening, swapping places in tight fights on the corners, with no one else behind to challenge them. It might have seem miraculous that at no point did they touch – the team’s executive director Paddy Lowe even felt the need to plead for both cars to cross the finish line – but more likely the Bahrain performance was simply a showcase of the superiority of the Mercedes package over its 2014 competition – as well as the different characters and driving skills of its drivers.
Hamilton did eventually manage to claim the win, despite a late threat from Rosberg who got tenths of a second close to the Brit in a final-stint push following the levelling out of the field during a safety car period between laps 41 -46 out of a total of 57. While he had claimed the chequered flag in a calm and collected manner, the relief and self-satisfaction were obvious on Hamilton’s face in his post-race interviews. But Rosberg was not going to let this one go easily.
“I strongly dislike coming second to Lewis,” Rosberg said off the podium.
“Today was a day for the sport, we put on a massive show. I’ll be back the next race to take the win.”
Mercedes-powered cars were certainly dominating in Bahrain, securing six out of the eight front finishes. Most notably Force India had their breakthrough with their second ever podium – a double-whammy for Sergio Perez who didn’t even start in Malaysia due to hydraulics issues. His team-mate Nico Hulkenberg impressed once more, progressing from 11. to 5. , having successfully fought Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in the course of the afternoon. The result has bumped the Force India driver to third place in the drivers’ standings – and his team to second in the constructors’ classification.
Both Williams have again made it into the top eight – finishing, in fact, in the same positions as they did in Malaysia: 7. for Felipe Massa and 8. for Valtteri Bottas; which was, however, below the team’s expectations as earlier in the race they were realistically challenging for the podium, but eventually had to give into resurfacing Red Bull power.
In the third race of the season the champion outfit finally delivered both cars across the finish line and this time Daniel Ricciardo took credit for his top-notch performance so far in 2014. Not only did he claim his first points of the season – he also finished ahead of his four-time champion team-mate – who had to deal with the fact that “Daniel is faster than you”.
McLaren were the only Mercedes-powered team not to have scored points, with both cars failing to finish the race. Firstly Kevin Magnussen stopped off the track during the safety car period due to suspected gearbox issues while his team-mate Jenson Button parked his car in the garage on the penultimate lap, called in due to similar problems – and that on his 250 career grand prix.
They joined Sauber in the double-DNF pool, whose Adrian Sutil retired on lap 23 and was joined by Esteban Gutierrez who was knocked out of the race on lap 41 in a dangerous-looking collision which sparked the safety car release. Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus exited the pits right into the young Mexican’s side, launching him into a somersault – and granting himself a ten-place grid penalty for the next race.
With a spectacular crash, masterpiece overtaking, surprise point-scorers and presence of a safety car at the least inconvenient time for the race leader, the paddock agreed Bahrain GP 2014 was the most exciting event Formula 1 has produced in a long time.
And with the circus now moving to China, where Rosberg claimed his first victory in 2012, there is a promise of plenty more good stuff where it came from.