April 6th, 2014 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg provided some of the closest wheel-to-wheel racing you'll ever see in Formula 1 during today's Bahrain Grand Prix. For the final ten laps of the race it was never clear who would win the race. In the end, Hamilton just edged out Rosberg to take the win. Sergio Perez finished a distant, but still impressive, third for Force India.
Rosberg was on pole, but Hamilton made a determined start to take the lead into the first corner. For the next few corners, there was a frantic battle between the team-mates, which included Hamilton squeezing Rosberg wide in turn 4 to keep his lead. After that the two Mercedes drivers settled into their positions for a few laps, but battle was resumed shortly before Hamilton made his first pit stop.
On lap 18, Rosberg took a dive down the inside of Hamilton into turn one, but Hamilton kept his head and re-took the position on the exit of the corner. The next lap saw an almost identical move from Rosberg, and this time it stuck, but Hamilton again held his nerve and re-took the lead in a skillful overtaking move out of turn four and through turns five and six.
The battle for the lead ended at the end of that lap when Hamilton pitted for a new set of soft tyres. Rosberg stayed out two laps longer than Hamilton, and when he pitted he put on a set of the medium tyres as Mercedes slit their strategy. Hamilton had built up a comfortable cushion on his fresh tyres, and it looked like Rosberg might struggle to compete for the race victory.
Hamilton's lead was abruptly nullified by the appearance of the safety car on lap 41. Esteban Gutierrez had stopped on the exit of turn one after clearly having an accident, but it was not immediately clear what had happened. When the television replays appeared, they showed a scary incident in which Gutierrez had his Sauber flipped by Pastor Maldonado, who had just come out of the pits and attempted to pass Gutierrez down the inside into turn one.
Gutierrez appeared not to see Maldonado coming at all, as he took his regular line into the first corner. Maldonado was already committed to the corner, and the two cars came together at the apex. Maldonado's left front tyre hit the side of Gutierrez's car, flipping the Sauber into the air. A couple of somersaults later, Gutierrez came to rest just off the track on the exit of the first corner. He sat in his car for a while, obviously a bit shaken, but eventually climbed out of the cockpit without assistance.
There was a surprising delay before the marshals and medics reached Gutierrez's car. There was also quite a delay before the safety car came out. But Gutierrez was able to walk away from the accident. Maldonado received a 10-second stop and go penalty for causing the incident and after the race was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next race and three penalty points were applied to his licence.
When the incident occurred, both Mercedes drivers pitted as they expected a safety car. Hamilton put on the medium compound tyres while Rosberg went back to the softs for his final stint. That set up a thrilling battle for the end of the race, as Hamilton in front was on the slower of the two tyres.
When racing resumed, Rosberg immediately attacked Hamilton. For a few laps, the two Mercedes drivers were virtually together, attacking and defending through turn one, turn four and again at the end of the shorter DRS zone on the back straight. But ultimately, Hamilton was able to hold on to his lead, and took victory in the second consecutive Mercedes 1-2.
Behind the two Mercedes drivers, there was a gap. A big gap. In the 11 laps between the end of the safety car period and the chequered flag, Hamilto npulled out a gap of 24 seconds to third-placed Sergio Perez. That's over two seconds per lap on average. It's even more clear than it was at the first two races of the season that Mercedes are streets ahead of the rest of the field, perhaps to the extent that Williams were in the 1992 season when they were untouchable.
The race for best-of-the-rest was won by Force India on a two-stop strategy. Most of the other teams employed a three-stop strategy, which meant the Force Indias had older tyres on their cars after the safety car. But Sergio Perez managed to hold off all opposition, including a determined attack from Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages of the race.
Nico Hulkenberg would likely have finished fourth and perhaps challenged Perez for the podium, but a problem with his electrical energy harvesting after the safety car put him out of contention. He nonetheless managed to finish fifth, holding off a late challenge from Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull.
Behind Vettel was the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. Both Williams drivers had been very quick in the first half of the race, so it was quite surprising that they were unable to challenge the Red Bulls in the final ten laps. Nonetheless, a double points finish for the Williams team is valuable at this stage of the season.
Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth and tenth, which will not have been what the team was aiming for. Ferrari boss Luca Di Montezemolo was present, which is not an everyday occurence, and he was visibly displeased with the performance shown by the Ferrari F14 T.
Hamilton and Rosberg look completely unbeatable at this stage of the season. Unless the other teams can find a significant chunk of performance in the near future, Mercedes look set to run away with both championships in quite short order.