Winners and Losers at the Bahrain Grand Prix
7 April 2014 – The 2014 edition of the Bahrain Grand Prix yielded one of the most thrilling lead battles in recent seasons, with Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg going wheel to wheel in their respective quests for intra-team supremacy. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from Formula 1's 900th race.
But for a faulty piece of rubber tubing in Australia – which retails for about a pound – Lewis Hamilton would be in a commanding position in the championship. He's still playing catch-up to Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, but this was a crushing performance by the 2008 World Champion. Hamilton dominated the three practice sessions but the car went away from him as the weekend progressed and he ultimately fell short in qualifying. At the start he made the marginally better start and kept his foot in it when Rosberg edged him towards the boundary of the track. The duo squabbled on the first lap but still Hamilton fended off the advances of Rosberg. Every time Rosberg attacked, Hamilton demonstrated a masterclass in the defensive skills – and when he needed to he pounced, pressing home his advantage as the Mercedes pairing swept into the esses. Late on in the race, he simply should not have been able to defend against a driver with DRS and faster tyres, yet he did. This was one of Hamilton's best drives and there could be many more to come. Once Mercedes were told they could push, the gap to third-placed Sergio Pérez just grew and grew. It was 1.7s when the safety car came in, 4.4s a lap later, then 7.1, 9.8, 12.0, 14.1. Two seconds a lap, at least. They'll take some catching.
Bahrain was to be a huge weekend for Sergio Pérez. The young Mexican went well in Bahrain in 2013 during his difficult season for McLaren, while Force India team-mate Nico Hülkenberg had taken the plaudits so far in 2014 after a fabulous couple of races. Pérez, meanwhile, had been on the receiving end of a dose of bad luck. His race in Australia was compromised after compatriot Esteban Gutiérrez punctured his tyre, while he didn't even make the start last weekend in Malaysia. Pérez, not known for his qualifying skills, comfortably saw off Hülkenberg and despite an enormous lock-up at the start, he managed to maintain his position. From there he managed the gap to the Williams of Felipe Massa and swept by when the Brazilian began to struggle with his tyres. The timing of his pit stop left Pérez behind team-mate Hülkenberg, but he remained calm and took advantage of a couple of battles ahead to scythe past the German. When the safety car was deployed, Pérez's grip in third place was loosened, yet he kept his composure and thanks to a little help from Hülkenberg, claimed a well-deserved podium.
Daniel Ricciardo had endured a miserable start to the season despite showing excellent pace, so in Bahrain it was pleasing to see the Australian having a trouble-free run to fourth place. He started way down the order, a hangover from his pit stop from hell in Malaysia. He was hindered early on by Red Bull's lack of straight line speed but in order to compensate for their deficit, they went for a short-gear meaning only Red Bull regularly reached eighth gear. Allied to a high downforce set-up it allowed Ricciardo to pass his rivals at places where only the Red Bull could go, most notably up the inside of Turn 11 or, in one instance, around the outside of Kevin Magnussen at Turn 12. On options late in the race, Ricciardo charged up the inside of team-mate Sebastian Vettel to prove that he'll be no pushover at the team and while his run to the podium came up just short, this was an exemplary race by the Australian.
A week ago, Nico Rosberg knew he was outclassed by team-mate Hamilton around the sweeping turns of Sepang. In Bahrain, it was a different story. Rosberg claimed his second successive pole at the track and was the more comfortable of the Mercedes driver with the handling of the W05. But he lost his main advantage at the very start and from there on; he was tactically inferior to Hamilton. This was the circuit where, two years ago, Rosberg announced his arrival as no pushover by edging Hamilton and Fernando Alonso onto the artificial sand, prompting the Spaniard's infamous 'you have to leave a space' rant. Hamilton is frequently labelled as an unintelligent driver compared to Rosberg – in itself a grossly unfair and lazy stereotype – but in Bahrain it was the German who should have pressed him his advantage. The timing of the safety car was a gift for Rosberg yet he tried the same approach several times to no avail. This was his race to lose and he lost it. With Mercedes having produced one of the most dominant cars in the history of Formula 1, he can't squander many more chances if he is to stop Hamilton from winning the crown.
The Sauber drivers didn't have a very good time in Bahrain. As if the fact that the car was reluctant to turn and not exactly rapid in a straight line wasn't bad enough, both drivers were taken out by errant drivers. While Adrian Sutil's clash with Jules Bianchi was more of a racing incident, Esteban Gutiérrez was the passenger in the latest antics of perennial miscreant Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan driver stumbled out of the pit lane and just went straight into Gutiérrez, tipping the Sauber driver into a flip. Maldonado typically shirked responsibility for the accident and hinted that Gutiérrez outbraked himself. The Mexican's baffled reaction while still in his car, 'what was that' suggested otherwise. Last week, we lamented the harshness of the ste wards for not allowing collisions to happen, but there is a difference. Maldonado's actions were simply clumsy and dangerous. He has been penalised, but the question is whether he has the capability to change. It's doubtful.
Luca di Montezemolo has been urging the sport to change but in reality it's not for the interests of Formula 1, it's in the interests of his Ferrari team, which has yet again come up short. Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen were sitting ducks on the straight, while the F14T was hardly handy around the corners either. Alonso conceded after the race that while Bahrain was a weak circuit for Ferrari, ninth and tenth is where they are on pure pace alone. Despite having two of the best drivers, a huge budget courtesy of their position in the sport and having re-opened their wind tunnel, the F14T looks the fifth quickest package at best. Alonso was quick to emphasise how good a job the team had done in terms of pit stops and strategy, but conceded that work has to be done with the F14T. That's an understatement. Barring a huge upturn in fortune, they can wave goodbye to any hopes of a win in 2014, let alone a shot at the world title.