Mercedes gives F1 a lesson in motorsport

2014 Bahrain Grand Prix review

Luca di Montezemolo, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Bernie Ecclestone called it “unacceptable”. Luca di Montezemolo said F1 racers have been reduced to “taxi drivers” keeping both eyes on the fuel gauge.

But the winner of the Bahrain Grand Prix has a different view of the sport. According to Lewis Hamilton, this was “a real racer’s race”.

He prevailed in a dogged battle for victory that was conducted exclusively between the two Mercedes drivers. Time and again Nico Rosberg stole past Hamilton on the inside only for his tenacious team mate to conjure up some means of scrabbling by once more.

“The time that I went round the outside or got back, just timing it right, you know it’s a fantastic feeling to be able to do that,” Hamilton beamed afterwards. “It’s one of the greatest feelings when you obviously come out on top.”

The day began with two of Formula One’s most powerful men telling the world urgent changes were needed to fix a broken sport. By the time the chequered flag fell it was a point of view that looked utterly absurd.

Hamilton hits the front

Start, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Several things fell into place to make the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix a classic. The first was that Rosberg, who had found a crucial edge over his team mate just when he needed it during qualifying, was beaten to turn one by Hamilton.

Rosberg made an immediate bid to regain the lead but Hamilton forced him wide onto the exit kerb at turn four. This was a move he might have thought twice about making on his own team mate, had the savage kerb which had been there on Friday not been removed.

It took Hamilton until lap four to get out of range of Rosberg’s DRS. But towards the end of the stint Rosberg made his next attempt to get past. A successful move at this moment would have given him the chance to pit first and potentially gain a significant strategic advantage.

At this stage Rosberg seemed able to bring the gap down as he pleased. By lap 16 he was back within DRS range and two laps later went for a move down the inside of turn one. Hamilton crossed back at the exit of the corner and again made no concession to the fact he was racing his own team mate, leaving Rosberg little option other than the cede the ground.

The very next lap Rosberg tried again and this time succeeding in holding the lead as far as turn four. But again Hamilton responded, crossing behind his team mate at the exit and reclaiming the lead.

Having regained the initiative Hamilton took the opportunity to be the first Mercedes into the pits, taking on another set of soft tyres. Rosberg came in next time around and took the mediums – a decision which promised to pay off later in the race.

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Force India overhaul Williams

Sergio Perez, Force India, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Meanwhile the action behind the two silver cars was no less intense. A superb start propelled Felipe Massa from seventh to third. Sergio Perez held onto fourth, despite locking his front-right tyre hard at turn one, having failed to get enough heat into his brakes on the formation lap.

But the Williams pair were over-stressing their tyres, and after a dozen laps Perez was on Massa’s tail and out-accelerated him as they exited turn four. Massa came in at the end of the lap for his first of three stops while Force India banked on pitting just twice.

That went for the sister car of Nico Hulkenberg as well. Having gained three places at the start he’d taken Fernando Alonso on lap five, and now had only Jenson Button’s McLaren separating him from his team mate.

Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull was next in the train but his DRS had stopped working and behind him Daniel Ricciardo was getting impatient. On lap three Ricciardo urged his team mate to move Vettel aside and he complied, letting Ricciardo by at turn 11.

Having failed to reach Q3 Vettel had started the race on the medium compound tyres, which he got rid of after 16 laps. Ricciardo came in two laps later and opted for the harder tyres. The Force India pair made their first stops around the same time.

This put the three-stopping Williams pair back into the ‘best of the rest’ position behind the Mercedes drivers. Only now Valtteri Bottas was the lead car, having jumped Massa by pitting earlier. In a reversal of the situation last week, Bottas was holding Massa up, and the two Force Indias were bearing down on them.

When Hulkenberg made an unsuccessful attempt to get past Massa on lap 26, Perez made his move. He got alongside Hulkenberg as they came out of turn four and claimed the place, giving his team mate no more room to work with than he had done for Button in this race last year.

One lap earlier Bottas arrived on the pit lane for his second stop – well before half-distance. “I had too much wheelspin and that lost me a few positions which is frustrating,” he said. “We had issues with the tyres that were worse than expected.” Massa made it three more laps but after their latest stops both fell behind the Red Bulls.

Vettel was still struggling with his DRS problem but had found a way past Kimi Raikkonen outside of the DRS zones and was up to sixth by half-distance. When Ricciardo caught Raikkonen he was surprised by how early the Ferrari driver braked for turn one and nearly hit him.

A few laps later Bottas arrived on the scene and almost did the same thing to the Ferrari while trying to slipstream past Ricciardo on the straight. He took to the run-off to avoid ramming his compatriot. Raikkonen was not having a good grand prix, having been hit by Kevin Magnussen shortly after the start, just as he was in Malaysia, though with less serious consequences.

Maldonado flips Gutierrez

Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Using the medium tyres for the middle stint hadn’t worked out as well as Rosberg had hoped. He had fallen almost ten second behind Hamilton by lap 40. But Pastor Maldonado was about to commit a grievous error, albeit one that would indirectly lead to a thrilling end to the race.

This was good news if you weren’t Esteban Gutierrez, who Maldonado ran into at the first corner, rolling the Sauber over. It was a completely avoidable and potentially dangerous accident, and not the first one Maldonado has caused. The stewards duly handed down a trio of penalties, though Maldonado insisted Gutierrez had been at fault.

Those with pit stops left to make took care of them during the ensuing Safety Car period, and those yet to use the mediums had to take them. That left Hamilton leading (on mediums) ahead of Rosberg (soft), the Force Indias and Button (medium), the Red Bulls (soft), Williams and Ferrari (medium).

The risk-averse nature of modern race strategy means the true performance of the Mercedes W05 has often been disguised. But with a dozen laps to go and the gloves off between its drivers, its true capabilities were finally revealed.

Once the Safety Car came in, Hamilton and Rosberg scorched away at a stunning rate of up to two seconds per lap. And they did it while fighting tooth and nail for victory.

No team orders

Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Some might say it would have served Mercedes’ interests to put on a show and help shield the sport from the critics who spoke up before the race. But if this tyre-locking, wheel-to-wheel brawl was stage-managed then Hamilton and Rosberg can act every bit as well as they drive.

Nor was Paddy Lowe’s identical message to both drivers during the Safety Car period – reminding them to bring their cars home – an order to call off the battle. After it they fought harder than ever, Rosberg’s engineer telling him which engine modes to use to attack, while Hamilton’s advised him on how to shadow his team mate’s settings to ensure he wasn’t vulnerable.

“I was well aware that the whole world was thinking ‘here we go, Silver Arrows team orders, finally they’re there’,” said Rosberg afterwards. “That was clear to me but it wasn’t that at all, it was just ‘guys, make sure that you get these cars to the finish. Don’t break them, don’t crash.'”

“The team played it as fair as they possibly could today, let us race flat out,” he added. “I don’t think you need more evidence than you saw that we’re here to race this year and there’s no team orders.”

Well aware his softer tyres gave him an advantage of more than half-a-second, Rosberg went on the attack as soon as the Safety Car came in. But try as he might, every time he put a move on Hamilton his team mate came off the corner quicker and re-took the place.

But until the flag fell on lap 57 there were seldom separated by more than a second. It had been one of the most intense contests for a win for a long time, and those who enjoyed it had Mercedes to thank for having confidence in their drivers and resisting the temptation to issue a “Multi 446″ or “Nico is faster than you”-type instruction.

Fighting to the finish

Aided by their soft tyres – and perhaps the opportunity to save fuel during the Safety Car period – the Red Bull pair were closing on the two Force Indias. After Button’s clutch-hobbled McLaren dropped out of contention, Ricciardo squeezed between his team mate and the pit wall to claim fifth place.

“It was hard but fair and we left each other room,” said Ricciardo. “That’s what we want from each other and we discussed it beforehand, we’re racers and that’s what we enjoy doing.”

He enjoyed it even more when he caught and passed Hulkenberg three laps later. The Red Bull driver then went after Perez, taking up to a second per lap off him, but at the flag he was less than half a second behind.

Their team mates took the next two places followed by the Williams pair and the Ferraris. It had been a horrendous day for the Maranello cars. Luca di Montezemolo could only watch as his cars’ poor straight line speed meant they were passed with cruel ease.

His misery was no doubt capped by the fact that the race was an absolute stonker, which shot to pieces his argument for knee-jerk rules changes which could help lift his team out of the doldrums.

For the neutral – and probably most of the non-neutral – this had been a race to savour. The only thing missing from the race was the kind of roaring applause F1 gets at venues like Melbourne.

Bahrain’s first floodlit night race had a new look, and the darkness had an added benefit of disguising the usual poor turnout in the grandstands. This is, after all, a country where a huge security operation is mobilised when F1 comes to town.

Hamilton claims second win of 2014

Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Hamilton’s second win in a row was a gem of a drive – an unlikely victory snatched from a team mate who was clearly quicker on the day. The two drivers who first paired up at TeamMBM.com in 2000 drove as if they were back in their karts again.

There was action throughout the field, but this fair and hard-fought battle for victory between two team mates was what made the 900th world championship race one to remember.

It will take a huge effort on the part of Mercedes’ rivals to prevent one of these drivers from becoming world champion this year. And it was another world champion who put the best perspective on the arguments over the sport’s new rules earlier this week.

It is to Fernando Alonso’s credit that he has not toed the Ferrari party line that Formula One has gone to hell in a handcart. The two-times world champion reminded us earlier this week that it is in the nature of sport that some fixtures are more exciting than others.

“Just like in football, where you can see a terrible nil-nil game,” he said, “and the next one is an exciting five-four which you enjoy so much”.

So it was that after an unremarkable race in Malaysia the Bahrain Grand Prix produced a sublime sporting contest – and hopefully reminded F1’s detractors just how good it can be.

Images © Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Force India, Sauber, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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122 comments on Mercedes gives F1 a lesson in motorsport

  1. evered7 (@evered7) said on 7th April 2014, 5:02

    I think only Paddy Lowe will probably know the intent of his comment on the radio to Lewis and Nico. It might have meant to hold position or to fight sanely and bring the points home.

    Either way, good to see a fight between two equal cars.

    • Macademianut (@macademianut) said on 7th April 2014, 5:47

      It doesn’t matter what he meant, but we could clearly see what HAM and ROS thought it meant to them. That’s all matters.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th April 2014, 8:07

      I think even before the race, when Mercedes were asked about team orders, the team mentioned that no, there were none, and they thought neither of their drivers would heed such orders anyhow @evered7.

      And Rosberg mentioned after the race, that they had already talked about this before the race and the instruction was what we heard: to keep it sensible and don’t crash, but that the team trusted their drivers to do just that.

  2. Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 6:45

    Mercedes gets it. LH and NR get it.

    What an enthralling battle. This is what F1 should be and needs to strive for. This is why I hate the one-rooster concept. We the fans should never be robbed of real racing even when a team dominates.

    This was a huge shot in the arm for F1. What a turning point moment this might be. I can’t say enough about how valuable what we just witnessed was.

    For me not only was that edge of the seat stuff…I was recalling Gilles and Rene as it was occurring. They weren’t teammates of course, but the dual was reminiscent.

    And as DC conjured up images of a fuming NR, I was thinking to myself ‘I hope that is not the case.’ And as it became apparent that NR would not be winning I felt bad for him. And then I saw the comraderie between the two driver’s and I was elevated right back up to where I was while watching their dual, and I was also reminded of Gilles and Rene, in a tent after the race, watchng the tape of their dual arm in arm, reliving the blast they just had.

    It simply doesn’t get better than this in F1, and has been too long coming. Some truly gripping moments that erased all the negatives from our minds, at least for those moments if not beyond, and brought us some wonderful sport and sportsmanship.

    Unbelievably fabulous stuff.

  3. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 7th April 2014, 8:08

    Can anybody recall the last time we had a genuine race-long battle for the win? Can anybody recall the last time you had 4 or 5 constructors fighting like crazy for the last podium spot?

    That race should be what Formula One is about. No Multi-21, no DRS overkill, no tyres being destroyed after 5 laps and exploding.

    It’s a shame that the only person to make a stupid comment after the race was Maldonado.

    I hadn’t lost faith in F1 to deliver one awesome show, which it did yesterday. I have lost faith in those who come up with the regulations in failing to consider the avid fan, but very few F1 races have been as good as that, and even fewer have been better.

  4. Jason (@jason12) said on 7th April 2014, 8:53

    Paddy has some serious balls to let those two race each other with just 10 laps to go.

  5. AMG44 (@amg44) said on 7th April 2014, 8:57

    You have to admire Lewis Hamilton even if you are not a fan.
    A track where there was lot of overtaking going on, long straights, DRS zones, with quicker tires and no gap after safety car, still Rosberg in an equal car couldn’t overtake Lewis Hamilton. It was surely one of the best defensive races i have seen and Lewis showed his real talent what he can do without all the savings (tires, engines, fuel). He is a RACER. Remove all these savings (tires, engines, fuel…more like how it was in 2008, 2007 and backwards) and i am sure drivers like Hamilton will be hard to beat. Amazing drive by an amazing driver. Please more races like these in 2014 and less SAVINGS.

  6. zippyone (@zippyone) said on 7th April 2014, 9:02

    Thank you Mercedes for having trust in your drivers and letting them race.

  7. Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 7th April 2014, 9:21

    I was waiting for the killjoy voice on the radio, and it never came. “Hold position, don’t be silly” and some lame excuse about cooling something down. You’d always get that with Red Bull or McLaren; Ferrari were even worse with their “make way for Alonso” orders. It reminded me of the race in Turkey when the Red Bulls ran into each other, then the McLarens had a brief scrap – but then it got called off. Here it went on and on…

    Even better was how Williams and particularly Force India got into the spirit of it. And how this was a race to be enjoyed on TV right there, not just appreciated and understood in hindsight with a race report and analysis.

    It’s a pity so few people will have seen this race, so on its own it won’t do much to change the general perception of Boring F1. I remember the day after the epic wet race in Canada in 2010, everybody was talking about it.

    This one BBC chose not to show live, yet it took place at an ideal time of day and the cars looked great under lights. (To be fair, they had the Boat Race and tennis to show live the same afternoon, but they won’t have known GB would still be in the Davis Cup when they chose their live F1 races to show).

  8. jbone said on 7th April 2014, 9:21

    Take away the wings, you have cars. What a concept.

  9. Sam Andrew said on 7th April 2014, 9:43

    Mercedes just can’t lose at the moment; they are far enough ahead that even if their drivers take each other out it wont effect the championship result, so they can let them go wheel to wheel and produce spectacular racing, or a spectacular crash :)

  10. Seyr (@seyr) said on 7th April 2014, 9:55

    Wonderful race, however on the subject of team orders:

    Mercedes had the luxury of a clear 1-2 with no threats from the other competitors. It’s easier for the team to say “let them race” when they don’t have to worry about the drivers slowing each other down battling when the faster driver could be chasing down cars in front and getting more points. I applaud Mercedes for trusting their drivers to not take each other out, but the fans can’t apply the same line of thought (that team orders are bad, and lack of team orders is good) in all situations. How many times have we seen team mates in the middle of the pack stuck behind one another, when they could switch positions and potentially score more points for the team? What if Vettel was in front of Hamilton and Rosberg today and their scrapping ensured that neither caught him? The decision for the team is a lot more difficult then. There is a difference between team orders at the front and in the middle of the race order.

    • Jonny Edwards (@racectrl) said on 7th April 2014, 10:30

      There’s a time and place for team orders. Early on in the race is fine (Redbull switching Vettel and Ricciardo) and at the end of the race when both your cars are way out in front, running 1 & 2 and you have EVERYTHING to lose. There was nothing easy about that call, if that was the call made. To me it’s still a little unclear whether Paddy was calling team orders or not. Lauda said after the race that both drivers ignored what Paddy said and raced to the finish line. Was he just referring to how hard they raced or that they shouldn’t have been racing at all?

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 14:38

      Unfortunately in the past, particularly for MS/Ferrari, a team order to ‘let them race’ would never have happened and never did. It was decided in the boardroom before the seasons began, that no teammate of MS’s was allowed to race him, thus robbing the paying, viewing audience of racing.

      So from the team’s standpoint, and to alleviate any headaches or heartaches for themselves, they could have made an ‘easy’ decision to have the drivers hold station, and then we would have been robbed.

      Thank goodness Mercedes decided to side with the fans, and not just themselves. How refreshing.

  11. Makana (@makana) said on 7th April 2014, 10:01

    Great race over in Bahrain, actually made great by a certain Pastor in the final laps – great battles at the end there and a stellar Lewis showed Nico what brute force is all about… He’s well on his way for the title. Still, a grim prospect for us die-hard fans who want to watch an exciting season not just wait for rain or safety cars.
    In the years Red Bull dominated, at times, they had an advantage at the beginning of the season or improved throughout to dominate, and vice versa for others. An example was how McLaren caught up and overcame RB at the end of 2012. The issue this year is that it’s frankly over. Engine homologation means Mercedes will destroy the field for the rest of the year, and it’s all good now; many bravos to Merc but what about a chance for the others to catch up? A chance – NOT a certainty – but simply a chance for us to have an exciting season.
    Again Mercedes fully deserve their domination, and this is not your out of the box negativity, but if I was team boss of a non Merc powered team, do I forget about 2014 now or keep pushing?
    Obviously RBR have a great chassis, but what good is it to put in effort in 2014 now if it’s hopeless; the engine overcomes aerodymanics and that’s that.
    I will continue watching to find out who’s going to come in third but… really… how long is such an interest going to last. I hope Ferrari or Renault do come up with something using what they have right now, otherwise we know our one-twos for the next sixteen races.

    • Jonathan189 (@jonathan189) said on 7th April 2014, 10:24

      We’re relying on Rosberg to make this season interesting. If Lewis wins the next 5 races and demonstrates a clear pace advantage over Nico, this season is finished as a spectacle.

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 14:44

        Thank goodness the situation at Merc is the opposite of MS/Ferrari. At least this year we know NR has a chance as every race comes up, to beat LH. Nothing has been pre-ordained in the boardroom in advance.

  12. Jonathan189 (@jonathan189) said on 7th April 2014, 10:05

    Obviously, Mercedes only let their drivers race each other because they are two seconds a lap quicker than the rest of the field.

    Do you think they would have allowed their drivers to duke it out like that if Vettel or Alonso were just a couple of seconds down the road, waiting to pounce on any error? No chance.

    The irony is that we have got a competitive drivers’ championship at the expense of a competitive constructors’ championship.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 14:48

      Yup…it is what it is. Merc could have taken the easier road and played it safe and had them hold station but they didn’t. You are right that it would have been different if FA and SV were close at hand, but we could spend all day playing woulda, coulda, shoulda. At least we are looking to have a competitive WDC this year, even with a team so dominant. It’s refreshing to see.

  13. 91jb12 (@91jb12) said on 7th April 2014, 10:07

    Probably a good thing the Mercs were fighting it out… with a 1.5-2s per lap advantage, you can have all the fighting you want but if the leaders are well apart, it won’t make for a good race.

    Actually a really pulsating race- lots going on- just annoyed from my own personal view Seb didn’t have his best weekend but hasn’t Ricciardo started well?

  14. Chetan Chohan said on 7th April 2014, 10:14

    Nico’s podium interview said a lot about him. He made it sound as if he specifically hates losing to Lewis, and I guess throughout their careers they have been rivals. Nico should have won yesterday. It was all there for the taking for him. What will be interesting now is he copes with being beaten by Lewis if it happens again in the next 3 out of 4 or something.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 12:38

      I think you missed his sense of humour there. He had already shown great comraderie with LH when they got out of their cars, and with everything the cameras showed us between then and the post-race interviews. He was being tongue in cheek, and was obviously super-charged at having a great race and putting on a great show. And he did Formula 1 a huge service by asking the crowd if that was not a great spectacle.

      How will NR handle this if it happens again? The same gentlemanly, sporting way he just did yesterday. Only in NR’s mind it will be him on the podium next time, not LH.

  15. monaco73 said on 7th April 2014, 10:28

    Nailed it Keith. This is one of the best post-race articles for a while! I’ve been a massive F1 fan for 25 years and the events of the past few weeks and now, such a cracking race in Bahrain, opens up a few observations:

    Bernie, LdM and some of the other FIA suits really do appear like bitter old men, from the boy’s club, seeing their power and influence wane away in what is a new era for racing. No doubt their services to the sport are legendary (Bernie has been around F1 since 1957) but they do need to move on or move out.

    Bahrain was unique in a sense, because you had a few of the old hands like Alonso, Kimi, Vettel wrestling with their cars, while Bottas, Hulk, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Perez driving the wheels of theirs. Brilliant to see.

    Mercedes are of course in a league of their own and Team Silver Arrows have hit it out of the park in getting their cars developed. (one should not discount the efforts of Brawn and Schumi in getting these cars where they are.) It will be a travesty if there is some technical regulation change to reign in their lead. They have done it, they have built it up and the other teams must be green with envy, but that is how it is.

    Finally, the sport itself and the cars. With all the hand-wringing and complaints – some F1 folks must have short-term memory loss or something! There have always been technical developments in F1, some revolutionary, some are step changes. Aerodynamics, downforce, engine sizes, tyres, pit stops, refuelling, active suspension, automatic gearboxes, and so on. 1992 anyone?? I must admit, personally, the new exhaust note, or the “soundscape” of F1 takes some getting used to, but the underlying technology is incredible. Can you imagine how it must have been when wings were first introduced, or sponsor’s logos, turbos, or fan cars, or six-wheelers for heaven’s sake! It is an evolutionary formula. And we are in the thick of it now. You don’t need 1000bhp, ear-splitting, manual-shift flying fuel-tanks. F1 is worth more than that and deserves to be promoted in a better light.

    Races like yesterday will help! Oh, and even as a frustrated Kimi fan, since his Formula Renault days, and seeing how this season is panning out after 3 races… I would love to see Nico get his first WDC this year!

    • audifan said on 7th April 2014, 11:05

      schumi ? what’s he got to do with it ? he wasn’t there when this car was being developed !
      but it would be no more than justice if the team acknowledged that , once given the resources , roos brawn delivered the goods…in spades

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