Like a thief in the night

F1 Racing - - FINISHING STRAIGHT -

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 signicance of this form in his press brieng 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 nerng 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 nullied. 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

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