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 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. Kevmscotland said on 7th April 2014, 10:31

    The fuel saving argument annoys me because I’ve heard more team radio this year so far that’s said “fuel saving is not a issue, max the beeps” than I can recall in the last 5 years.

  2. FOM Fan (@) said on 7th April 2014, 10:46

    This will be controversial, and I want to assure everyone that this is a 100% personal opinion, but I didn’t think the race was *overall* as exciting as everyone else is saying it is, especially up until the safety car period.

    I feel that although the race perked up a bit towards the end (and it was so nice to see a battle for the lead too, near the end after the SC – I haven’t seen that in ages – which I think is why people are talking about it positively), I don’t think it was as good OVERALL as everyone else is saying. Overall I feel that the racing was dull, hardly anything happened in the first half, plus it felt over-long as a whole.

    I feel that in terms of the racing, the the 2013 Bahrain GP was better overall as I was hooked for longer that time.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve began to prefer watching the Free Practice sessions over the races, actually. Seems more exciting, lots more different stuff happening in the FPs rather than the races.

    Maybe it’s cos I don’t support a particular team or driver?

  3. Sam (@) said on 7th April 2014, 11:07

    I’ll probably be alone on this one. I think the SC ruined the race. What came after was really really great but I would’ve liked to see how the Williams/Force India battle had turned out without the SC because both Williams cars where on 3 stops and both Force Indias were on two. Together with Hülkenbergs his ERS malfunction it would’ve been a thrilling end on pace rather than made by a SC.

    I also doubt Rosberg would’ve caught Hamilton without the SC as he was given 10 seconds and he couldn’t even pass him when he was right behind, let alone he had to make up 10 seconds beforehand. Although the SC allowed both Mercedes cars to push extremely hard.

    On 10 laps fighting they still made a 24 second gap, really says it all.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 12:54

      For me the great stuff had already happened before the safety car.

    • Alex McFarlane said on 7th April 2014, 13:20

      You’re not alone, I preferred what was going on prior to the safety car period as well, for much the same reasons. That said the potential for a battle between Williams and Force India may not have materialised. I felt once the field had bunched up the last 10 laps favoured the usual suspects as there was no need to conserve anything at that point.

      Still, an awesome race, and I hope this is a sign of things to come rather than a false dawn.

  4. BlueChris (@bluechris) said on 7th April 2014, 11:12

    Mostly i agree with everyone that say the race was great. Offcourse it was great since we had in the end so many fights and clean racing. Unfortunately a huge problem appeared which was shown since the testing season and this is that Merc’s are too far ahead and i dont see a way for anyone to catch them if nothing huppens as matter FIA. 1st time is see so big difference in lap times in my life.. someone can say Brawn GP was same but it wasnt 2.5-3 seconds per lap.
    The only thing that saves the day is that its not the Merc’s with that PU but all the rest teams that has the same PU they will catch up in the upcoming races at least… as matter Ferrari and Renault the situation is for crying and i expect from RB side an act or something for this.. maybe the FlowGate discussion will bring some changes to the rules who knows .. even thought i cannot think a good way to compensate the huge amount of distance that Merc’s have with all the rest.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 7th April 2014, 12:49

      At least on the bright side we have 2 racers allowed to race and who are very close in their performance, so this time, unlike MS/Ferrari and SV/RBR, we are not robbed of real racing with one team dominating and only one driver running away with it.

      • BlueChris (@bluechris) said on 7th April 2014, 13:15

        +1 since one of the 2 will not have any kind of problem like the 1st race… to me atm its like MotoGP that you have the 1st 10 with factory bikes and the sattelite teams to follow.. but at least there the 1st are 10.. not 2… anyway.. i hope for Williams, McLaren and the rest MercPU cars to lower the Gap.

  5. TBone (@tbone) said on 7th April 2014, 11:24

    Awesome race, full of tension, drama and amazing racing throughout. Not the ratings page I know but I’ve given it a 9

    In the context of a divisive new formula with all the impact on engine sounds, new aero rules and car aesthetics, fuel saving, reliability and tyres not up to the increased torque demands, it was a wonderful riposte from Formula 1 to Bernie, LDM and the other bashers and right under their (ugly) noses too.

    Yesterday we had a dry race at a hitherto boring track where the tyres were both able to withstand punishment and the compounds were close enough to make alternative strategies workable. Fuel saving didn’t appear to be too much of an issue either, though no doubt the safety car helped with both tyres and fuel. Nor was there a reliability disaster with cars dropping out left right and centre. And, finally, we seem to have a DRS which gets cars alongside one another at the braking point so that the move isn’t over halfway along the pit straight.

    This is different to 2011-2013 – while we have one team which is undeniably stronger than the rest, we seem to have two drivers who are relatively evenly matched and who are allowed to race. No Mulit-21 here. At the moment, Rosberg is leading and on the pace, though I think Hamilton is the more complete racer. In previous years how many times was Mark Webber anonymous in races where Vettel ran away with it? This reminds me more of Prost v Senna in 89 or Hill v Villeneuve in 1996 than Schumi in 2000-2004 or Vettel in 2011.

    Why not a 10? Probably being really stingy but the only things lacking (and possibly ominous) for me were a driver from another team being able to compete with the two Mercs and the fact that the final 10 laps were made all the more dramatic because of the safety car. For me an ideal race would be one with close racing throughout that wasn’t dependent on a random event (Singapore ’08 aside) like a safety car or rain. What the safety car did mean was that the Mercs went hammer and tongs at each other for ten laps without having to worry about fuel or tyres too much. And when they were freed from those constraints, I am still shocked at how quick they were. All the more credit goes to Mercedes then for letting them race.

    My only hope is that we have more races like this, at least one other team catches up in Europe and that the titles are sewn up by Brazil so we don’t have either Rosberg or Hamilton lucking into a WDC because of the double points rule.

  6. Darren Danga said on 7th April 2014, 11:46

    In all fairness LDM cried for changes last year thinking changes were going to suit Ferrari alone! Now he is crying again! I think LDM & Bennie hate any other team winning formula1! Let’s we not forget Michael when he dominated with Ferrari?

    Food for thought

  7. Rooney (@rojov123) said on 7th April 2014, 12:26

    Just like a lot of people has said until a few days ago- “Don’t jump into conclusions after just 2 races”, I should remind everyone not to judge the quality of the current formula from just this 1 race. There was a rather huge performance division between the engines which pretty much bought forth the battle of the teammates, rather than battle of the teams. And the perfect timing of the safety car helped immensely to add to the show.
    I very much doubt the next races would even come close to the awesomeness of the Bahrain GP. Not to sound like a troll, but using the same football analogy- If in a football season, where you can see a terrible 0-0 score in most games and an exciting 5-4 in a single game, it is still a terrible season.

  8. EGO NWOKOCHA said on 7th April 2014, 12:32

    Wao,fantastic is the word, my first ever F1 watch. I thoroughly enjoyed the race. kudos to the Mercedes teammates.

  9. BlueChris (@bluechris) said on 7th April 2014, 13:18

    I forgot to mention that i really really liked Ricardo’s driving and noone mention it. The guy seems pretty fast and this suprised me positively… till now since the appearence of RB team i never liked them.. d know why.. but now i find myself happy, i only hope they will gain something soon.

  10. Mersault said on 7th April 2014, 13:21

    This is how you promote your brand, by letting your drivers fight tooth and nail with all the risk that this entails. Not by neutering them just to get your name into a dusty records book.

    Makes me much more likely to buy a Mercedes than making Massa give way to Alonso ever made me want to buy a Ferrari.

  11. liam said on 7th April 2014, 13:59

    One good race between two cars, and suddenly everything is rosey in f1…….oh please!!

  12. vanja said on 7th April 2014, 15:27

    The fighting was great but unfortunately it was only inner team fight. 2 merc, 2FI, 2 RB, 2 will, 2 fer. Only exception Ric because of the safety car And i have to say i feel sorry for alonso because once again he is in a car not worthy of his class. I feel like he’s finally giving up on ferrari and their ability to produce good cars

  13. nidzovski (@nidzovski) said on 7th April 2014, 15:45

    Well the reason why I disliked the most famous team in F1 Ferrari was giving orders when they weren’t necessary at all. Maybe it was a good thing that Ross is not around anymore to make things worse for Mercedes by giving senseless orders. I know that Brawn is responsible for results that Mercedes is showing this year but its not all about just winning but how you win it. I mean everything could happen in F1, even do like it is Mercedes is clear favorite and it’s the only question is would it be Lewis or Nico taking the WDC, but at least we the fans are not robbed of the excitement.

  14. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 7th April 2014, 17:25

    Bahrain showed just how much the in team politics deprive us of quality racing.

  15. LotsOfControl (@for-unlawful-carnal-knowledge) said on 7th April 2014, 18:10

    Welcome to 1988! Minus Prost and Senna.

    I am so glad that Ross Brawn is gone! He would never allow the kind of racing we saw yesterday.
    We saw last year what happened.
    Stay away Ross!

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