Lewis Hamilton was made to fight for victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix thanks to a concerted attack from team-mate and polesitter Nico Rosberg almost from the very beginning of the race.
Hamilton jumped Rosberg off the line and despite some questionable defensive moves retained the lead to the fury of Rosberg, who set the airwaves between the pitwall and his cockpit buzzing when Hamilton appeared to straighten his steering wheel mid-corner in order to push the German off the racetrack when he attacked.
A late safety car after Pastor Maldonado flipped the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez bunched the field up, and after building a lead during the middle stint Hamilton found himself directly in front of Rosberg who was now on the faster Pirelli tyre. Several determined moves by the German were repulsed and it appeared Rosberg had been called off by the end, allowing Hamilton to cruise to the line. Tellingly, the duo had amassed a pit-stop sized gap over 3rd place Sergio Perez in just ten laps, a crushing margin that sets the tone for a uniform season of dominance by the Silver Arrows.
Perez had climbed to 3rd place following a superb battle between with the two Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas and Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, both teams competing for the podium on merit following difficult campaigns in 2013. By the finish the safety car had allowed Red Bull to get in on the act and on the soft Pirelli tyres Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel battered their way through to 4th and 6th places respectively, while Hulkenberg claimed 5th; Massa beat Bottas – who struggled with tyre degradation all race – to 7th and 8th. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen pitted under the safety car for fresh rubber and took 9th and 10th places.
McLaren had a dismal evening; a hard fought race by Jenson Button came to nought when the Briton retired with a mechanical failure three laps from home. The Englishman spent the Grand Prix being compromised by another bizarre McLaren strategy and had won bouts with both Ferraris and Valtteri Bottas to run 5th by the time the safety car came out; McLaren missed their chance again and failed to pit for fresh rubber, causing Button to be swamped when the race restarted before he broke down altogether. It was seemingly the same problem that had eliminated team-mate Kevin Magnussen a few laps before.
Max Chilton won the battle of the ‘new boys’ by finishing 13th, but team-mate Jules Bianchi was caught up in a strange erly race clash with Adrian Sutil that saw the Sauber man retire with apparent accident damage after the Frenchman dived down the inside at turn one.
Rosberg maintains his championship lead 11 points ahead of Hamilton in 2nd.
More to follow.
CLASSIFICATION – RACE – 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix