2014 Bahrain GP: Lewis Hamilton beats Nico Rosberg to victory as F1 2014 comes alive
Hamilton claims conseuctive wins after wheel-to-wheel dices with team-mate; Perez takes Force India's second-ever podium; Gutierrez's Sauber flipped over after big clash with Pastor Maldonado
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 07/04/14 9:40am
Lewis Hamilton emerged on top in a riveting race-long duel with team-mate Nico Rosberg in an epic Bahrain GP to claim back-to-back wins as the gloves came off for the first time between the two championship favourites and F1 2014 definitively came alive.
After a build-up to the race dominated by debates and arguments in the paddock by some of F1's most influential figures over the sport's controversial new era of quieter engines and fuel efficiency, the thrilling action served up over the course over the 57 laps of racing around a floodlit Sakhir provided the first contrary evidence to suggest that perhaps not too much is wrong with the sport's 'rules reset' after all.
In a race characterised by wheel-to-wheel duels between team-mates, Hamilton seized the lead from polesitter Rosberg into the first corner and then just about held on for his first consecutive race wins since 2010 despite several periods of concerted pressure from the sister Mercedes.
The first came on laps 17-18 when Rosberg twice briefly retook the lead only for Hamilton to swipe back in front, and then again late on after a Safety Car had wiped out the nine-second advantage Hamilton had built up running the faster soft tyres while his team-mate was on the slower mediums.
With Rosberg now having the advantage of the quicker soft rubber, he briefly got ahead of Hamilton at the first corner, only to outbrake himself, as the Briton went on to give an expert masterclass of defensive driving.
Rosberg, with two second places since his season-opening victory in Melbourne, still holds the championship lead heading to China, but Hamilton has closed the deficit to 11 points. And perhaps more importantly, with two victories over his team-mate inside eight days, the Briton has perhaps gained the early psychological edge in what is currently an exclusive battle for honours at the front of the field.
Rosberg edged ahead on several occasions - but couldn't hold on
The two Mercedes drivers, as expected, were in a race of their own, but the action behind was equally as thrilling as several other pairs of team-mates probably caused their respective pitwalls no end of angst too.
That was certainly the case at Force India as Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, recovering from his Q2 exit on Saturday, waged their own duel for much of the race for third place. The scrap was eventually won by Perez as the Mexican, after a near anonymous start to 2014, secured just Force India's second podium finish - and their first since 2009.
Hulkenberg eventually finished two places behind his team-mate in fifth after he was overtaken by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo late on, the Australian making up for a succession of disappointments at the start of the season to finally officially register his first points for the World Champions with fourth.
Not only did the Australian recover from his ten-place grid penalty, Ricciardo overtook quadruple World Champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel for the position late on, the German complaining over the radio of a lack of straight-line speed from his RB10.
The Williams pair had, for much of the race, run higher up the order - largely thanks to a storming start from Felipe Massa which vaulted the Brazilian behind the Mercedes pair into Turn One.
Gutierrez's Sauber was sent flying over by Maldonado's Lotus
But with the FW36 experiencing higher tyre wear to the cars ahead which necessitated that both drivers stopped three times, Massa and Valtteri Bottas eventually came home in seventh and eighth respectively.
As in Malaysia, the pair finished less than a second apart, but after the team orders row of seven days ago, Williams appeared to wisely let their drivers race to the chequered flag this time.
Completing the near-'Noah's Ark' nature of the top ten, Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen came home ninth and tenth respectively.
On the day the team's President Luca di Montezemolo arrived in the paddock to air his grievances over the sport's new era, the result provided more depressing evidence for the Scuderia that its a formula they are a long way from mastering.
The same, to an even greater extent, goes for the point-less Lotus and Sauber teams and their respective drivers Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez were involved in the explosive race's most dramatic moment, which triggered the late Safety Car.
Exiting the pits but reaching the Turn One braking point at the same time as Gutierrez, Maldonado slammed into the side of the Sauber with the car flipping over before coming to rest top-side up in the run-off area.
While the crash did serious damage to the C33 chassis, Gutierrez clambered out of the car while Maldonado hit hard by the stewards with the triple whammy of in-race stop/go penalty, three penalty points on his licence and five-place grid drop for the next race in China.
McLaren, meanwhile, suffered a highly rare double retirement - their first since the 2006 U.S. GP - after Jenson Button, on his 250th GP start, and Kevin Magnussen both dropped out inside the final 15 laps with clutch problems.