Like a thief in the night
Nico Rosberg had the faster car, but Lewis Hamilton stole this one from under his team-mate’s nose
The 900th world championship Formula 1 race was a thriller. Held for the rst time under oodlights on the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, this grand prix will live long in the memory – for many reasons. At its heart was a classic cat-and-mouse dice between two drivers who have spent their careers racing wheel-to-wheel against each other.
For much of the weekend, Nico Rosberg seemed to have put his defeat in Sepang behind him and looked to have the advantage over Lewis Hamilton. From the trackside on Friday morning at the notoriously tricky Turn 10, he was smooth and unhurried into the long left-hander, getting excellent traction for the following straight. His rivals, meanwhile, were locking up their frontlefts as they scrabbled for grip.
Sakhir is a track on which Rosberg has always excelled. He won the GP2 title here, scored a point and set the fastest lap on his F1 debut here in 2006; he has been on pole here for the past two years. Nico downplayed the signicance of this form in his press brieng on Saturday night but post-race, Lewis said that the combination of the track and the research the Mercedes engineers had accumulated in the previous week had helped his team-mate.
“When I arrived here this weekend there was this big document with all the reasons why I was so quick [in Malaysia], and he used that to his advantage,” said Lewis, incredibly relaxed after his titanic scrap from a few hours earlier. “I’ve worked so hard this weekend,” he added. “I stayed extra long last night to try to nd out every little detail because I knew I didn’t have the ultimate pace this week, as I did in Malaysia. And you can’t be the quickest at every single track. There are going to be circuits where one gets it better than the other and Nico’s particularly strong here.”
This race hinged on who led the early stages and as the red lights went out, it was Hamilton who outgunned his team-mate into Turn 1. Although Rosberg got a run back at him into Turn 4, Lewis positioned his W05 astutely to repel any further attack on the rest of the lap.
As a result of being second at this stage of the race, Mercedes played out their pre-race plan and switched Rosberg to their alternative tyre strategy. The option-option-prime route was the optimal one (which Lewis took) and the optionprime-option was expected to shake out a couple of seconds slower. Rosberg was now placed on this strategy, which meant he would be on the faster tyre at the end of the race.
His goal became a whole lot easier thanks to Pastor Maldonado nerng Esteban Gutiérrez into a frightening-looking roll at Turn 1, which led to the deployment of the Safety Car. Suddenly, Lewis’s nine-second lead (which he had pulled out while Nico was lapping with the medium tyre) was nullied. The Hamilton vs Rosberg battle was on: everything to play for, winner takes all. Which driver would emerge on top?
At this stage of the race, Mercedes’ executive director (technical) Paddy Lowe took to the radio