Hamilton wins again as sparks fly between Mercedes and Ferrari

2015 Bahrain Grand Prix review

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Lewis Hamilton took another step towards retaining his world championship crown with victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

But the threat to his Mercedes team from Ferrari was every bit as real in Bahrain as it had been when they were shocked by Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia.

A brake-by-wire fault cost Nico Rosberg second place to Kimi Raikkonen – and a similar problem on Hamilton’s car might have given Raikkonen the win had it struck sooner.

Rosberg fights the Ferraris

As the cars lined up under floodlights for the second time in Bahrain the immediate threat to Hamilton appeared to come from Vettel’s Ferrari, which he shared the front row with.

And straight after the red lights went out the red cars went on the attack. Vettel defended his position firmly from Rosberg, opening a route for Raikkonen to pass the Mercedes around the outside of the first corner in a move which had the distinct appearance of bring pre-planned.

But if Rosberg had seemed ineffective on his previous race in China, in Bahrain he was on maximum attack. On lap four, the second past pits the pits with DRS open, he pulled out from behind Raikkonen and easily out-braked the Ferrari to take third place.

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Even in these early stages, however, there were tell tale signs of the problems Mercedes would face later in the race. “Just need a little bit of brake management before you attacked Vettel,” Rosberg was told, while Hamilton’s brakes caught him out at turn one and he ran wide, bringing Vettel within range.

While Hamilton eked his gap over Vettel back to over two seconds, Rosberg now had the other Ferrari in his sights. On lap eight Vettel ran deep at turn one, bringing Rosberg within range, and the next time by Rosberg completed another pass in the DRS zone, hanging Vettel out wide as they rounded the first corner.

Vettel’s time loss also brought Raikkonen within range. Separated by less than a second, their lap lapped in similar times but Raikkonen believed he was being compromised. “I think I can go a bit faster,” he said on the radio. “I will try to overtake him”.

He didn’t have to – Vettel was in the pits as early as lap 13 as Ferrari tried to use their superior tyre life to put pressure on Mercedes. And it worked: Rosberg came in on the next lap and dropped back behind Vettel.

But only temporarily. As lap 16 began Hamilton was making his way out of the pits having lost around a second with a sub-par stop. While he rejoined the track, in his mirrors he could see Rosberg passing Vettel with a jab of DRS and an explosion of sparks.

Raikkonen took a different route to his team mate. He made his first stop on lap 17 – four laps later than Vettel – and opted to get his mandatory stint on the medium tyre compound out of the way. His solid mid-race pace on the harder tyre – during which time he lost just half a second to Hamilton who was on soft rubber – brought him into contention in the closing stages.

Vettel, however, removed himself from the equation. His second pit stop on lap 32 got him back ahead of Rosberg once again, as this time the Mercedes driver had to wait for Hamilton to be serviced before coming in. But Rosberg took Vettel for the third time when the Ferrari driver went off at the final corner on lap 36.

This cost Vettel more than a single position as the Ferrari had picked up damage on its front wing. Rather than leave him out and risk a complete failure and the loss of all points, Ferrari elected to pit him for a replacement. It only cost him one position, to Valtteri Bottas, but he was unable to recover it by the end of the race.

Had Vettel been able to stay on Rosberg’s tale it might have been he who capitalised when the Mercedes drivers’ overheating brake system put him wide at turn one on the penultimate lap. But that’s not a given, as by then Raikkonen had erased the Mercedes drivers’ advantage and was hot in pursuit of second place when it fell into his lap.

Perez surprises Force India

There was little action immediately behind Vettel’s delayed Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean were each around 20 seconds behind the next driver.

Next was Sergio Perez, the Force India driver having surprised his team by making a two-stop strategy work – the standard tactic for their rivals had been Force India’s ‘plan B’ going into the race, and Perez had made it work without the help of a Safety Car period by keeping his tyres alive in the opening stint.

Team mate Nico Hulkenberg, who unlike Perez was required by the rules to start the race on old tyres, made his first pit stop seven earlier than his team mate. That turned out to be his first of three, and by the end of the race he had lost five places from his starting position.

Daniil Kvyat followed Perez home, the pair having passed Felipe Massa as the tyres on his Williams faded late in the race. Massa had started from the pit lane after a sensor problem prevented his Mercedes power unit from firing up on the grid. He salvaged tenth.

Fernando Alonso came in 11th on a difficult weekend for McLaren in front of their Bahraini investors. Alonso may have led half-a-dozen cars at the finish, but Jenson Button’s car could not be willed into starting for qualifying or the race.

Among those Alonso led home were the two Saubers – Felipe Nasr delayed by an engine problem, Marcus Ericsson suffering a slow pit stop – the pair separated by Hulkenberg’s Force India.

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Raikkonen enters the reckoning

The memory of Mercedes’ strong start to the season in Australia has faded over the course of F1’s first four ‘flyaway’ races. A reinvigorated Ferrari returns to Europe with the scent of blood in their nostrils.

The last two races have raised the intriguing prospect of Vettel continuing to take the fight to Mercedes in qualifying and with an aggressive strategy in the race, while Raikkonen reaps the benefit of conserving his pace until the closing stages. And perhaps if Ferrari had got him out from behind Vettel sooner, he might have been in an even stronger position on Sunday – not unlike what happened to him at this track with Lotus in 2012.

But Raikkonen naturally harbours ambitions of being the vanguard of the Ferrari offensive. After the race he identified the need for him to “qualify more higher up, make better starts and go from there” in order to challenge consistently for victories.

“I think we had a pretty decent speed today but obviously if you’re behind any cars and you lose any seconds, you will pay a price for it in the end,” he continued. “I think we just have to keep working and improving the whole package and how we do things.”

“I’m sure we will get there and we can fight for wins every weekend after that.”

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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33 comments on “Hamilton wins again as sparks fly between Mercedes and Ferrari”

  1. A bit of spirit from Rosberg, with Vettel a bit off colour. Add Kimi’s qualifying form and you can see these 3 taking points off each other while Hamilton cruises serenely to his 3rd title.

  2. In my opinion, this is the big difference between Mercedes and Ferrari: while the first is very very good in clear air, it still stays good in “hot” air because of having a better aero package.The other one is very good in clean air (like we saw yesterday with Kimi and in Malaysia with Vettel), but it just can’t work properly in “hot” air.

    That’s were Ferrari needs to work more, right now to catch them, because in terms of PU, I think it’s ok with DRS. But Mercedes aero package is just a masterpiece of art really, and if someone wants to fight with them they will need to work a lot in this area.

    1. Nathan (@il-ferrarista)
      20th April 2015, 14:11

      “Hot air”, “can’t work”, what do you specifically mean? Less downforce in the Ferrari v the Merc when going in turbulent air?

      1. @il-ferrarista Yep… I wanted to say turbulent air but couldn’t remember the correct form at the time lol

    2. are you sure? last race Nico complained when he was going 2,5 adrift from Hamilton (in what you may consider “hot/dirty air”) and we didn’t hear anything like that from Vettel when he was at the same distance from Nico. Ok, Sebastian couldn’t make his move on Nico, but it was more for a lack of pace than for being affected by hot air…

      1. @matiascasali Yeah, you’re right, it can be!

        But it’s just intriguing for me the different behavior of Ferrari’s car when behind an other car (even behind Williams, Vettel struggled and if we see the speed traps he had enough speed to pass Bottas with DRS in the main straight) or in clear air. It just seems another car sometimes, but like I sad, just my opinion and I’m not sure if that’s the reason.

        1. Vettel had the chance to overtake Bottas but he messed it up and almost took both of them out. But you’re right the Ferrari doesn’t look that good behind other cars, even in Australia, Vettel was able to keep up with Massa and was able to really push when Massa pitted. The PU might be okay but the Aero is ages behind, maybe the lower nose may be hurting it, I don’t know

    3. @key75 I would also point out to the chassis and mechanical grip of the Merc, Aldo Costa is very competent with suspension geometry. Regarding the aero package, we don’t know if Ferrari is sacrificing aero for straight line performace but Bahrain has no high G/speed corners.

      1. mechanical grip

        Totally agree with this! Mercedes car seems glued to the track it’s fascinating and incredible seeing Hamilton pushing hard during Quali mode!

  3. Quite enjoyed the race even though Hmailton seemed to be in control once the things settled down after the start. I think staging the race in the evening really suits Bahrain and the cars look fantastic under the lights. I know it’s a gimmick and the hard core racing fans won’t really care about it but the titanium skid blocks have realy added to the show – it certainly looked dramatic when Hamilton came out of the pits and Rosberg and Vettel sparked into life behind him. For a split second it looked like it would end in tears. A cheap and easy way to add some spice I’d say. Now if only there wasn’t so much emphasis on tires or saving engines…

    I really enjoyed 2014 but having another team in the fight is adding another dimension this year, I’ve never been a fan of Ferrari but have found myself rooting for them this year.

    Really looking forwrad to Spain.

  4. Wow! Kimi lost just half a second to Lewis in the middle stint! I am amazed, considering that Lewis was on options while Kimi was on primes. That was some serious effort from Kimi.

    1. I guess it’s a case of being able to push on the prime vs managing the options. The option may sometimes be 1 second slower than the prime but if you have to tip toe around on it to make a stint last we may see more teams going for the prime in the middle if they can get into clean air.

  5. Slightly off-topic, but the way this season is starting to pan out, the chance of Hamilton switching to Ferrari must be growing. He could finish his time at Mercedes on a high, bagging three world championships, and set himself a new challenge at Ferrari where he could match Vettel’s 4 at Vettel’s expense. Ferrari would be happy, surely, to take him of Mercedes’ hands (to be replaced by Alonso). And Rosberg would very definitely be happy, I’m sure.

    1. Why would they replace Vettel with Hamilton?

      1. Vettel? I guess David is talking more about Kimi.

        1. Yes, I meant Vettel v. Hamilton at Ferrari. I’m guessing the bubbling HAM to Ferrari rumours are just the final throes of Hamilton’s Mercedes contract being worked out, and would actually expect him to sign. But – there’s no escaping the fact now would be an ideal time to move to Ferrari, if a driver really wanted to join them at some point in their career. Which I’d guess applies as much to Hamilton as any other. How many drivers have won championships with three different teams? Can’t be many.

          1. How many drivers have won championships with three different teams? Can’t be many.

            To answer your question and add fuel to the fire of your speculation – only one. And more accurately, with 4 different constructors Juan Manuel Fangio won driver championship titles. With Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes and Ferrari.

            Many have won titles with 2 different constructors, including Hamilton. So, intriguing speculation and the timing, the aligning of the stars, whatever you want to call it, could be falling into place.

            Personally I think Hamilton will likely stay with Mercedes rather than go to Ferrari. But, much stranger things have happened in the crazy world of F1.

          2. OK, I said many have won titles with 2 different constructors, Guess it is relative, but not really that many have, only 9 drivers.

            If Hamilton were to go to Ferrari and win a title there it really would set him apart in the record books. Hmmmm….

          3. Thanks @bullmello, confirming my suspicions! The thing is, 4 championships looks reachable, especially if he wins this year, but how likely is Hamilton to beat Schumacher’s tally? Not very I’d say. But titles at three different teams? As you said, reading my mind, that would set Hamilton apart in the history books. Of course he could try that a few more years down the line, and given Mercedes look good for next year too, it might be wiser. Still…

    2. Why would Hamilton go to work at Ferrari? I can’t see that happening unless there is a change in the rules that make Mercedes uncompetitive, and even then he would be expecting to not be the number 2 driver.

      1. As Alonso has shown, timing is everything. I’d bet Hamilton wants to go to Ferrari some time in his career if he can. But when? It just struck me that if Hamilton does secure a second title with Mercedes this season, will he want to chase down a third with them next season – or set himself a new goal? Taking on Vettel at Ferrari (on equal terms of course: maybe you’re right, he wouldn’t be able to get them) would be a supreme test in many ways. At the same time you have Ferrari/Arrivabene keeping Raikkonen waiting for his new contract… Could of course just as well be a ploy by Ferrari to unsettle their main rival this season.

  6. Gotta love the Ice man! Best team radio for this race was in the first stint, when he said something like “I think I am faster than him, I will try and overtake”. No team orders, or “Seb, Kimi is faster than you” messages. That’s proper racing and that’s what I would like to see from Ferrari throughout the season.

    I believe they should have pitted him 1 lap earlier at the final stop though, he lost some time with Alonso there.

    1. It just looked like that because Alonso was going 3 seconds a lap faster on his brand new soft tyres.

    2. Refreshing contrast to “he’s going too slow; tell him to speed up.”

      Yes they should have brought him earlier. It’s not a matter of hindsight. He simply was apt to lose too much time getting passed by Alonso as well as Hamilton. If there was a chance of delaying Hamilton in a bit of a dust up on track before his stop, and thus reducing the distance to recover to the lead, maybe. I also think Ferrari, based on the radio messages, didn’t think they had a real chance at the lead, and they were playing for P2 at best. What would have been really idea is if Vettel had not gone off and instead backed up Rosberg a bit more, which would have put Raikkonen behind him with fresher tires, and given him an easier time getting by. Vettel one hopes would have just let him by after a healthy tow/DRS pass. Ifs and buts though.

  7. This is shaping up to be a very interesting season. Ferrari are really keeping Mercedes honest, something I didn’t seem coming, at least not this early. I wonder what the in-season engine upgrades will do, I’d imagine they will tighten up this battle even more. The downside, however, is that Hamilton seems to really have Rosberg beat this year. The title might be wrapped up earlier than last year, but battle between Ferrari and Mercs will keep things fun.

    1. What a difference a dominant season like 2014 makes! It makes this season look close and competitive by comparison. Of course Mercedes drivers are still first and second in the WDC.

      The closest season to 2015 in recent memory is 2011. After four races back then Vettel had four poles, three wins, and a second place – exactly what Hamilton has now. Webber-2011 was not doing nearly as well as Rosberg-2015 though. So everyone is hoping that this season is shaping up to be as exciting as 2011, a season formerly criticized for its boring one-sidedness. If it plays out the same way then Ferrari (in the role of Macca) will win six races this year.

  8. i am not a fan of hamilton, but he drove a brilliant race, one of his best ever, probably why he was so jubilent on the podium, as it was a true win, with a fair rival (vettel) faltering. ill let hamilton have this one, the cars were close. a rare mistake by Vettel which ended up damaging his car.

  9. Alexander Nicklisch
    20th April 2015, 18:04

    @keithcollantine – couple quick (newbie) questions…Am I correct in assuming that the fact that Raikonnen did not lose any time to the leading group in that middle stint was largely due to hamilton’s tyre management, which must have been rather significant given the sort of advantage the softs had over the mediums as we saw in kimi’s final stint?

    If so, why is it that Lewis did not come under pressure from Nico in that stint (if Kimi wasn’t losing time on mediums and a slighter slower car, I would have assumed that Nico should have been gaining on Lewis with softs)?

    Also, re: China GP you wrote that it was Hamilton’s tyre management that brought Raikonnen into contention for a podium finish before the SC. Is that not equally true here? And should this not have been evident to Mercedes who would have been aware of Kimi’s relative pace during that middle stint? Last race Mercedes were pushing Lewis to avoid Nico being vulnerable to the undercut – should they not have pushed Lewis in that middle stint here to avoid both (a little bit of an exaggeration, I know) of their cars being vulnerable to Kimi in the final laps?

    1. I don’t think Hamilton was managing his tyres to extent he was in China, where he had lots of pace left at the end of the stint. At the end of the first stint in Bahrain, his lap times were quite slow, which was why he was so close to getting undercut by Rosberg and Vettel.

      At the end of the second stint, his lap times were constantly around 1m39.5s, and they probably brought him in before Rosberg to prevent a repeat of him almost losing the lead again, though I think he could have gone a few laps longer on that stint. Rosberg, by contrast, was falling back into the 1m40s at the end of the second stint (of course he had to start the stint with a very attacking lap).

      So to me it just looks like Raikkonen was faster than the Mercedes in the second and third stint, though he did not look that impressive in the first stint, even when you take into account the fact he was stuck behind Vettel for a few laps.

      A final observation is that I think a three-stop race would actually have been faster than a two-stop, assuming you have enough fresh tyres, although Mercedes understandably did not want to give up track position. Consider this: Raikkonen was about three seconds behind Hamilton when he made his final stop, and only seven prior to Hamilton’s last lap brake issues, so Raikkonen made up almost a whole stop in one stint. Also, by three-stopping you can push more and manage the tyres less.

      1. Maybe that’s the cost of Mercedes being drawn into conservative race strategies to cover Ferrari behind them while sticking to their policy of having the same number of stops for their drivers – Ferrari can then release one of their drivers on a more aggressive strategy and (almost) snatch victory.

    2. Lewis pitted during Kimi’s middle stint. Kimi was 20 secs back after his pit stop and Lewis was closing up very quickly on Kimi before Kimi’s last stop.

  10. Personally I think Lewis was trying to conserve his fuel and tires during the middle stint, he knew Kimii would be on the faster set of tires at the end of the race (when the car is at its lightest) and would be on the attack for the win. I suspect Ferrari are in for a few more wins this year.

  11. ha ha Rosberg must be regretting his words in the Australian Grand press conference now he’s got Ferrari’s taking points off him…. Ferrari have not only caught him they’ve overtaken him.

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