LEWIS Hamilton romped to a third victory in four races in the Bahrain Grand Prix, fending off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Mercedes battled hard with Ferrari, with Vettel twice getting past Rosberg in the pitstop phases. A late front wing change for Vettel prevented him from challenging for the podium and eventually finished fifth. Raikkonen closed on Rosberg in a late surge and profited from a late mistake from the German to take a deserved second place.
Hamilton made the perfect start from pole position and easily led from Vettel into the first corner. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen made the most of a heavy attack from Rosberg to swoop round the outside and take third from the German.
Rosberg did not stay behind the Ferrari of Raikkonen for long; the Mercedes driver came from a long way back to superbly out-brake the Finn into turn one at the beginning of the fourth lap.
The German, who was criticised in Malaysia for lacking overtaking instinct compared to Hamilton made an almost identical move on Vettel on lap nine; Vettel ran wide at turn one which allowed Rosberg to close. Rosberg then made use of the DRS to pull past Vettel under braking to take second place.
Between the start of the first round of pit stops on lap 11 – Hulkenberg, Nasr and Massa – and Vettel’s opening stop on lap 14, Rosberg had begun to extend his lead over the Ferrari. But Ferrari’s strategy of switching to fresh rubber combined with rapid pit work allowed Vettel to undercut Rosberg after the latter’s stop on lap 15.
Hamilton made his first stop on the following lap but rejoined fractionally ahead of a frenetic pit straight battle. Rosberg again using the DRS pulled alongside Vettel. With sparks flying, the two cars nearly touched but Rosberg re-took second place, and began his pursuit of Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen had taken the lead, but this too was to be ceded one lap later. Rosberg had renewed vigour and set fastest lap as Hamilton looked to consolidate a much reduced lead.
Sauber made a promising start to the Grand Prix but outside influences seemed bent on limiting their progress. Marcus Ericsson jumped from 13th on the grid to run 9th in the opening laps. The Swede held this position for the large chunk of the opening stint but lost time after a wheel gun issue in his second stop. Ericsson would eventually finish 14th.
Team-mate Felipe Nasr continued his strong form with a number of quality overtaking manoeuvres. The 21 year-old battled compatriot Felipe Massa and made a sweet switch back move on the Williams before he too lost ground after a slow pit stop. Nasr’s comeback thereafter was impressive, overtaking Alonso’s McLaren before pulling off a sublime move on Hulkenberg round the outside of turn four en route to 12th at the finish.
Try as he might, Rosberg could not quite use the pitstops to his advantage as yet again Vettel re-took a net second after the second set of stops. Rosberg’s overtake was inevitable with the faster car, but Vettel’s second error of the day made sure Rosberg was past before start-finish line. Vettel reported front wing damage after running wide at the final corner and pitted the lap after to replace it, dropping to fifth.
Raikkonen, so often the faster of the two Ferraris in the race moved up into third place. The Finn was running a longer final stint and stayed out despite track conditions hampering his overall grip. Raikkonen made his final stop on lap 41, leaving him some 19s behind second placed Rosberg.
Behind the top three battle, it was a relatively quiet race. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas stayed out of trouble for the large portion of the race and found himself ahead of Vettel after the German’s wing change. Vettel struggled to get close enough to make the pass despite having use of the DRS.
There was an unusually low number of retirements, given the heat in Bahrain. Both Toro Rosso drivers suffered mechanical issues which caused disappointment for rookies Carlos Sainz – who had earlier served a five second stop-go penalty for spending too much time doing reconnaissance laps – and Max Verstappen. Maldonado’s Lotus suffered an engine cut out while McLaren’s Jenson Button’s miserable weekend culminated in an ERS problem preventing the Brit even taking the start.
Raikkonen, now on the softer Option tyre was turning in some impressive lap times. Despite a mammoth task in hand, the Finn took five seconds out of Rosberg in as many laps. Before too long, Raikkonen could just about see Rosberg at the end of the pit straight. The gap came down to just over four seconds heading into the final five laps.
Bottas was showing great resilience in his effort to keep Vettel at bay; the Mercedes power in the Williams helped the Finn to pull out enough of an advantage down the straights. And despite nearly careering into the back of the Williams into turn one, Vettel could not find a way past and Bottas held fourth until the end.
With just two laps remaining, Rosberg suddenly ran wide at turn one, allowing Raikkonen to finally move into second place. The two went side by side on the exit of the first corner but Rosberg could not hold him off.
Hamilton was as imperious as he has been all season long and despite a late Brake-by-Wire scare for the Mercedes driver, cruised to victory over Raikkonen by just over five seconds with a dejected Rosberg in third.
Behind Bottas and Vettel, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished a sixth – despite a massive Renault engine failure on the line – ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who continued Lotus’ return to form with a second consecutive seventh place. Sergio Perez scored points for Force India in eighth ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Massa. The Brazilian suffered a tumultuous Grand Prix, having started from the pit-lane after an electrical glitch on the grid.
Hamilton’s third win out of four leaves the Brit in charge of the championship standings. The defending champion takes a 27 point lead from Rosberg as the Grand Prix circus head to Barcelona and the start of the European season.