Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
“To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one’s comrades. It is to feel, when setting one’s stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars
As purple inked the desert sky and cars squirted up to their starting positions, questions about team mate dramas echoed throughout the mediaverse that surrounded the paddock. But the real drama prepared to unfold into Turn 1 as Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas had a proper chance to truly upset the established order in Bahrain.
As the grid prepared to roll out for the parade lap only Vettel and Sutil sat on the prime tyre. Was this a sign of worry for Vettel or just the best strategy? Immediately, there was a problem as both Hamilton and Perez had a very slow launch for the parade lap, but in the end they managed to get away. As the grid settled down, excitement rippled through the audience waiting to see who would emerge with the advantage out of Turn 1 as Rosberg and Hamilton were already pointed right at each other.
As the lights went out it was Hamilton to gain the immediate advantage claiming the inside line, but it was Massa to hook up the best start. Rocketing all the way up past his team mate into 3rd, he shattered the grid as Perez in desperation had a massive lock up into turn 1. As the cars threaded their way through the first complex Rosberg refused to give in till Lewis claimed the racing line into turn 4 and Rosberg ran out of track, falling in line behind Lewis. Chaos reigned behind as the Ferraris sought desperately to preserve their race and Hulkenberg leaped forward 2 places. Vergne, again the victim of bad luck with a puncture as P3-6 tightened as Perez and Massa started to edge away and the trio of Bottas, Button and Alonso promised serious action to come.
Lap 2 saw Rosberg retreat to a 1 second gap as Perez sought to extract himself from the clutches of Bottas while his team mate Hulkenberg, slightly further back, prepared to make short work of Alonso. Vergne rolled into the pits complaining bitterly over the radio about a Lotus driver who was “mental” and “tried to kill him”. Less than 2 seconds covered positions 3-8, with the two Mercedes almost 2 seconds clear of third and already well into their own private race.
Hulkenberg passed Alonso on lap 5 as the race continued to be tight all the way through tenth place. Both Ferrari’s were clearly struggling with their straight line speed and as the Force India went past a shot of a thoroughly disgusted Luca di Montezemolo turning away from the monitor promised fun times ahead for Domenicali and the rest of the team.
The Force India continued to show it’s true pace as Hulkenberg slowly began to reel in Button around lap 7 while the duo of Perez and Massa created some separation. Bottas was beginning to create a bit of a train that was catching out Button as he lacked the pace to get by on the straights. Rosberg received the call to go onto alternate strategy as he maintained station behind Hamilton, certainly not what he wanted to hear. Maldonado managed to cross in front of his teammate while Ferrari had temporarily stemmed the bleeding with Alonso in 8th and Raikkonen in 9th. Vettel had made seemingly little progress in 10th, but he was on the harder tyre and Ricciardo in 12th had started to hunt down Magnussen. The Mercedes were 7 seconds up on 3rd place Massa while Vettel’s tyre strategy was beginning to play out as he started to gain on Raikkonen.
Sutil boxed from the back as Ricciardo was all over the back of Magnussen, still struggling to recover from his contact with Raikkonen in the opening lap. Hamilton gave us a glimpse of his woes as he complained of excess front wing and was told his car had more understeer than Rosberg’s did.
Ricciardo had a good go at Magnussen in the beginning of lap 9, but locked up at the end and let him back through while giving Kvyat a fairly good look before the junior team member thought better of pushing his luck. The question of which strategy Mercedes drivers were on came up as the question of 2 or 3 stops didn’t have an obvious answer at this track but as the indications were that Rosberg would make a 2 stop would Hamilton as well? One thing was clear Bottas was due for a stop soon as Button overtook him on lap 10 and he just seemed a little slower. Still, the battle for 5th through 7th was stellar with all the cars running within second of each other.
In fact the very next lap saw Bottas pit and just squeak out in front of Ericsson with a pit delta of around 23 seconds. Ricciardo meanwhile had finally tracked Magnussen back down and was going to give him a slightly more patient go with a nice and effective outside to inside move that would stick this time. The following lap saw Perez finally take 3rd from Massa as the Williams seemed to be suffering from higher tyre degradation than the notoriously long lapped Force India platform.
Lap 13 saw Alonso pit as the window for the 3 stoppers opened and the order prepared for a serious reshuffle.
Alonso reemerged in 14th, sandwiched between Bottas and Kvyat. The Williams, with pace in hand was slowly carving its way through the field as the 2 stoppers started to think about coming in as their tyres hit the end of their usefulness. Vettel closed in on Raikkonen circulating in 7th as Sutil parked it near turn 1, the loser in a game of demolition derby he had played with Bianchi. Bianchi, for his part gets handed a drive through but the replay demonstrates that though Sutil started it, plenty of fault was available for both parties. While that excitement was going on Raikkonen snuck into the pits. Vettel had come under pressure from his teammate meanwhile, with a loss of DRS and being on the slower tyre began to seriously cost Ricciardo race. With mechanical difficulties, the call was made “Daniel is quicker than you” and Vettel let his teammate pass with nary a fuss for 6th place.
Hulkenberg stormed out of the pits behind both Raikkonen and Kvyat, but not for long as he had dispatched both of them within a lap and a half as he was no doubt determined to stay as close to Perez as possible. As Hulkenberg moved through the attention of the crowd focused back at the front as going into lap 16 Rosberg closed the gap to Hamilton down to less than a second as Mercedes approached their pit window.
As the race at the sharp end tightened, Hulkenberg caught and passed Perez but no one cared as going into lap 18 Rosberg was all over Hamilton in a desperate attempt to win the battle for best strategy. Hamilton had his hands full as Rosberg tried to pass him through turn 1 lap 18 and just about took Rosberg’s front wing off maintaining his position. Lap 19 saw the epic battle continue, a virtual repeat with an added lock up by both drivers as they attempted to outbreak each other side by side into turn 1 for a second straight lap.
Lewis maintained first by the narrowest of margins, giving him preference in the tyre strategy. Thus it was Hamilton onto the option lap 19 while Rosberg would go onto the prime a lap later. With Hamilton inside the pit delta Rosberg’s chance to reclaim first was gone for the moment. It would now be down to who executed their strategy better.
Everyone else kept on racing of course, and Massa seemed determined to prove a point as he had once again caught up to Bottas by lap 23, with just 0.5 seconds separating them and Massa on fresher tyres. Vettel took Raikkonen for 9th as another lackluster race for Ferrari seemed likely. 3rd through 6th continued to be incredibly close as all 4 positions were within 1 second of another.
Lap 25 saw Bottas box rather than continue to hold up Massa, who was under severe pressure from Hulkenberg at that point. Hulkenberg tried on lap 26 and couldn’t do it, but while his attention was elsewhere Perez put a beautiful move on him for 4th. Lap 27 saw Button reporting DRS difficulties and Hamilton began putting a margin between himself and Rosberg, with the option being 0.3 seconds faster a lap.
Ominously for Rosberg, his engineer reported that the gap between the option and prime was less than what they thought it would be, meaning his only chance of overtaking would be to stay fairly close to Lewis.
Lap 28 continued the fierce action as Perez put the same move on Massa that he had practiced on his teammate the previous lap. Hullkenberg closed up on the wounded Massa and took him as well before he had a chance to recover from Perez blowing by him. Further down the field Ricciardo locked up trying to outbrake Raikkonen and was forced to drop back and reset.
At the front Hamilton relentlessly hammered home his tyre advantage, up to 7.5 seconds clear of Nico on lap 30. Bottas meanwhile was caught out by Raikkonens braking point and had a total off. Forced to regroup, he wasted 2 laps getting back to Kimi before he passed him. Hamilton continued to push as Massa on fresher tyres loomed ever larger in Bottas’ mirrors as he attempted to get past Ricciardo
Lap 34 saw Hamilton barking at his engineer, the stress in his voice evident as he replied to a message about no more need to lift and coast with a curt dismissal “looking after tyres”. The next lap saw Perez making his final stop as Massa became the fastest man on track, desperately trying to make their three stopper faster than the Force India’s two stopper. Perez popped out behind Alonso while his teammate pitted, covered by Button. Hulkenberg and Button both emerge behind Alonso on the next lap while Vettel knocked off Magnussen. A real tossup had developed between the teams on two stop and the teams on three stops, with the three stoppers of Williams viciously overtaking to keep the two stoppers of Force India from receding into the distance and the third step of the podium wide open.
By lap 38 Bottas was back into 3rd and looking to consolidate as Massa worked his way back to him. Vettel continued his forward progress passing Maldonado as yet again Ricciardo passed Raikkonen. Rosberg was looking for time to give himself one more shot at Hamilton before the checkers.
Lap 39 saw Massa pit first in an attempt to undercut Bottas as Perez moved into 5th, followed by Alonso and then Hulkenberg. And just like that it all changed as exiting the pits Maldonado drove directly into Gutierrez, flipping him across turn 1 and very likely bringing out the safety car. The crash looked very frightening on replay, but appears to have been caused by tyre to tyre contact and not by submarining. This incident won’t do Pastor’s reputation any good at all. The good news is that Gutierrez walks away without serious injury.
Lap 41 saw both Mercs in, with Hamilton onto the prime and Rosberg onto the option. The emergence of the safety car will destroy Hamilton’s lead of 13.5 seconds and swing the pendulum back to Rosberg. And then Magnussen parked his car off track as well. Both Saubers are out 2 weeks in a row, sad days in Hinwil.
With Bottas having pitted as well on Lap 41, the Williams race rapidly went pear shaped behind the extended safety car, which deprived them of the laps they needed to catch back up to Force India. But fate was favoring Red Bull as they sat comfortably in 6th and 7th both on the faster options.
Lap 45 saw a call from Paddy Lowe to both Mercedes drivers telling them they were free to race as long as they brought the car home in one piece. Was it code for maintain position? It did herald the end of the safety car and with only ten laps left under green and the race leader on slower tyres than his immediate challenger, the first few turns would answer the question once and for all.
With the safety car in, the Mercedes duo engaged in a full on drag race down the start/finish straight and Rosberg showed straight away that there would be no team orders today at Mercedes, attempting a vicious overtake the Hamilton was barely able to fend off. The teammate wars continued for the last podium step as Hulkenberg tried to take Perez into turn 4, with Perez barley able to hang on. Vettel sailed past Button who seemed to have some kind of issue and was rapidly driving backwards, being passed by Ricciardo.
With Rosberg hot on his heels, Hamilton was on the radio down on power, as he had not managed a full harvest before the restart. Trying times for Lewis’ side of the garage as Rosberg was pushing to his limit to find a way past. The teams were all paired at the end of lap 48 Mercedes followed by Force India, Red Bull then Williams. Lap 49 gave a real glimpse of Mercedes advantage as the put a staggering 6 seconds between themselves and everyone else in a single lap. Rosberg again took it to Hamilton keeping the gap under 1 second and the pressure on. Alonso is past Button, Ricciardo takes Vettel and Vettel is right back on him but Ricciardo hangs on.
Lap 51 and Rosberg again goes at Hamilton and in a virtual repeat of lap one Hamilton shoves his teammate outside the track at turn 4 as they dance through the opening corners. Vettel tries to sneak one over on Ricciardo as he looks to line up Hulkenberg on much older tyres and almost gets away with it. Nothing is being saved in these closing laps as the action in the top ten is the best racing in a long time.
Lap 53 and adrenaline city at the front as Rosberg is still not done as he looks to have Lewis but out-brakes himself into turn 1 as Lewis gives up the inside and then dives past his teammate without an ounce of mercy and seizes the position back by braking early and getting on the throttle quicker. Ricciardo takes Hulkenberg for 4th as Force India reassures Perez he is safe in 3rd, but Ricciardo had other ideas as he set off in pursuit of the podium. The next lap for Lewis brought good news as he was again allowed to use overtake out of corners. The gap to Rosberg began to widen as his tyres began to degrade from such close running.
Lap 56 saw the eking out of the gap by Hamilton as Massa and Vettel traded 5th place back and forth before Vettel put his foot down. Immediately Bottas tried to take advantage, but Massa was not about to let him past this week either. Massive defence from Hamilton as Button had to retire on the penultimate lap with terminal gearbox problems. The final lap confirmed Rosberg’s last chance had passed, but Ricciardo was still in with a chance and the as the checkers fell Perez’ margin was well under a second.
With the third race of the 2014 season in the books it is clear that the naysayers case against the new regulations appears to be falling apart as it has been quite a while since a race has provided this level of excitement. With the safety car appearing late in the race, we were deprived of one exciting race and given another, even more exciting one. Mercedes finally revealed their true pace as well, much to the delight of the crowd and despair of their opponents. The skill of defending demonstrated its continuing relevance even in the age of DRS and the promise of even more action hangs in the air as the circus prepares to head to China.
|3||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|5||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|6||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|11||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|R||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
World Drivers Championship
World Constructors Championship