Nico Rosberg claimed victory in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, while title rivals Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen all suffered setbacks during the race. Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to suffer an issue, as his Ferrari V6 turbo engine expired during the formation lap. It was a career first DNS (Did Not Start) for Vettel, and was a harsh blow to the Ferrari driver’s aspirations of becoming world champion this season.
Hamilton started from pole for the second time in two races this season, with the familiar sight of his team-mate Rosberg joining him on the front row. Kimi Raikkonen lined up fourth, next to the now empty third place grid slot. Rosberg got the better start of the two Mercedes drivers and was comfortably ahead of Hamilton by the first corner. Raikkonen had made an atrocious start and was immediately swallowed up by the fast-starting Williams duo of Valterri Bottas and Felipe Massa, shortly followed by the opportunistic Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull. As they reached the first corner Hamilton to a wide line, opening the door for Bottas to attempt to squeeze his Williams onto the apex of the corner and try and claim the racing line from Hamilton. It was a foolhardy move from the very late-breaking Finn, and Hamilton was caught completely unaware. The result was Valterri Bottas’ left wheel clattering into the front wing and sidepod of the Mercedes. Hamilton was fortunate not to have been spun, but the loss of momentum meant that both cars were quickly overtaken by the following pack. Hamilton found himself in seventh by the end of the first lap, while his team-mate who had made a clean getaway had already opened a 6.5 second gap to his team mate. Rosberg was a further 1.6 seconds ahead of Massa, with the Williams well down on the pace of the Mercedes, Rosberg had only to comfortably extend his advantage over the rest of the field.
Further back, Hamilton was scything through the cars in front of him. Although his car had visible damage he still had a commanding pace advantage over the cars he found himself behind. Slightly further up the road Raikkonen made easy work of Daniel Ricciardo, passing him easily down the start-finish straight. Hamilton soon followed, passing Ricciardo on the following lap. After the first round of pit stops Raikkonen was in second, with Hamilton third.
The gap between the front three cars soon stabilised, with Raikkonen keeping pace with Rosberg but never making inroads into the German’s sizeable advantage. Hamilton too failed to challenge Raikkonen for second.
Behind the podium finishers, Daniel Ricciardo finished a quiet fourth, while Romain Grosjean and the fledgling Haas team went one better than their spectacular sixth place finish in their debut grand prix, finishing fifth. Max Verstappen brought home another impressive haul of points in sixth on a day when his team mate Carlos Sainz suffered a puncture and a botched slow pit stop before retiring. Daniil Kvyat battled to seventh in the other Red Bull, while the Williams cars failed to capitalise on their brilliant starts, Massa coming home eighth and Bottas ninth. Bottas was handed a drive through penalty for his incident with Hamilton. 2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne made his F1 debut for McLaren and finished in tenth, scoring McLaren’s first point of the season. Vandoorne was substituting for double world champion Fernando Alonso, who was sidelined due to injuries sustained in his violent crash at the Australian Grand Prix.
Rosberg took the chequered flag with ease, and in doing so has scored a perfect 50 points from the first two races of the season. It was the 16th victory of his career and it means he has now won five races in a row, becoming only the seventh driver in the history of the sport to score five or more consecutive wins. Sebastian Vettel currently holds the record with nine. Rosberg now has a seventeen point advantage over his team-mate in the championship, with Mercedes already with a cavernous fifty point gap to Ferrari in the constructors championship.
Of the race, Rosberg stated “it was a really good getaway on the dirty side of the grid and that really made my race in the end. And from then on the car was feeling great and just controlling the pace and playing it safe. That’s what we were trying to do. Also, in case the Safety Car comes and things like that. So we really went for the safest strategy, not the fastest strategy. Just to cover all eventualities.”
The F1 circus now heads east for the Chinese Grand Prix on April 17th.