Rosberg capitalises on Hamilton’s troubles for first Bahrain win

2016 Bahrain Grand Prix review

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Nico Rosberg extended his run of success to five victories in a row as the Bahrain Grand Prix produced another race of surprises.

As in Australia, Formula One produced a frantic race mere hours after the sport’s reputation took another hammering. The flawed elimination qualifying format, which Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt are blocking efforts to remove, continues to invite ridicule.

Does Formula One need to resort to gimmicks to mix up the grid? In Bahrain as in Australia the Mercedes led the Ferraris off at the start of the formation lap, but what happened next did not run to the usual script.

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Bottas clash shapes Hamilton’s race

“We’ve been working a lot on the starts,” Nico Rosberg said afterwards. That much was clear from his getaway: from his off-line starting position swiftly past his pole sitting team mate into the lead.

“It was a really good getaway on the dirty side of the grid and that really made my race.” What also made his race was the problem Hamilton encountered seconds later.

The number 44 Mercedes seemed to be lining Rosberg up for a run through turns two and three. But further back Valtteri Bottas has made a rocket-propelled start from sixth on the grid and was bearing down on the pair of them as they reached the braking zone.

As Hamilton swung wide, Bottas spied an opportunity at the inside. But as he committed, Hamilton swung in tightly. A puff of brake smoke from the Williams signalled the pair were on a collision course.

The pair interlocked briefly, the FW38’s front wing and Hamilton’s right-hand floor crunched into carbon fibre splinters. Felipe Massa slipped by into second ahead of Bottas while Hamilton fell to ninth.

“Whoever was on the inside was in my blind spot so I didn’t see them,” said Hamilton afterwards. “It was a racing incident,” he added charitably, “those kind of things happen.” The stewards did not agree – Bottas was given a drive-through penalty and points on his licence.

As lap one ended Rosberg was leading by 1.6 seconds and must have already been mentally clearing a spot on his mantelpiece for the silverware. For not only had Hamilton’s start been compromised but the threat from Ferrari to Mercedes had been snuffed out, too.

Sebastian Vettel had failed to take up his third place on the starting grid after his engine let go on the formation lap. And far from replicating their demon start from Melbourne, Kimi Raikkonen crept away as if he had left the handbrake on.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, if I had some issue or did some mistake,” he said. “I just got wheelspin in the end.” The first-corner mess meant he wasn’t punished as severely as he might have been.

The next car ahead of him was Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. He was struggling with a broken front wing incurred in the Bottas/Hamilton tangle. “I tried to capitalise on it but got caught up in it,” he admitted.

Williams slip out of contention

Hamilton regained two of his lost places on the first lap. He passed Nico Hulkenberg on the run to turn ten and gained another place when Esteban Gutierrez out-braked himself at the last corner.

His car was trailing a shower of sparks from the damaged right side but these subsided as the last of the broken parts fell off. “I lost a lot of performance with the car<" said Hamilton, though exactly how much is hard to gauge. It was certainly quite a bit more than the two-tenths gap between his and Rosberg’s best lap times at the end of the race, as Rosberg never needed to exert himself over the 57-lap race.

But the W07 still had enough in hand to breeze past Romain Grosjean for sixth place on the fourth lap. Further ahead Raikkonen was bearing down on Ricciardo. The DRS zone brought him within striking range and he completed the pass on the run to turn four, soon after which Ricciardo made for the pits.

Bottas was easily passed by Raikkonen and Hamilton in the DRS zone on consecutive laps. Williams were struggling to get much pace out of their used super-softs and they too headed for the pits early.

But while Red Bull had made the more conventional switch to soft tyres, Williams opted for mediums for both their drivers. With Bottas having to return to the pits to serve his penalty and Massa unhappy with his balance with a new wing he had been given little time to optimise, the FW38s soon dropped out of contention.

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Raikkonen has to settle for second

Raikkonen came in on lap 12 to switch to softs and made immediate use of his fresh tyres when he returned to the track, re-passing Massa and Ricciardo. That left only Rosberg ahead but the Mercedes was already over 11 seconds up the road and un-catchable barring a Safety Car intervention.

“Once I was second place I was already one full straight behind Nico,” Raikkonen reflected. “So obviously not an awful lot to do after that. But we managed to catch up little-by-little and I think we did the maximum that we could after that start.”

With Rosberg managing his pace and having two sluggish pit stops, there wasn’t a great deal of consolation for Ferrari to take from this race.

Hamilton’s wounded Mercedes easily rose past Massa and Ricciardo to claim the final podium place, but the gap between him and Raikkonen was too great to bridge. But while the contest for the podium positions was resolved in straightforward fashion, the fight over the remaining places was intense.

Grosjean grabs fifth

Red Bull played to their strengths with Ricciardo, bringing him in early for his stops to maximise the power of the ‘undercut’. This left him needing to use the medium tyres for his final stint which might have left him vulnerable in the event of a Safety Car, but such interruptions are rare at tracks with such generous run-off.

Grosjean had celebrated when Hulkenberg bumped him from eighth to ninth in qualifying as that meant he could start on a fresh set of tyres. Haas had saved two new sets of super-softs for the start of his race and it paid off: the Ferrari power got him past Massa twice and into a legitimate fifth place.

At the end of the race he came under pressure from a flying Max Verstappen. The Toro Rosso driver won a robust scrap with his team mate on the first lap and ran a lengthy third stint on medium tyres so he could end the race on super-softs. In the final stint Verstappen went past Massa as if he wasn’t there, obliging Grosjean to up his pace for the final two tours to ensure he wasn’t caught.

This done, Grosjean and Haas celebrated an even better result than their debut in Australia and one achieved without the fortuitous circumstances of Melbourne. “This is the American dream,” declared the jubilant driver on the radio.

There was another bitter pill for Massa on his final tour. Rosberg put him a lap down only for the Williams driver to close on him again in the DRS zone. Rather than pass the Mercedes Massa dawdled on the outside of turn one, handing an opportunity to Daniil Kvyat.

The Red Bull driver had surged forward in the race on completely the opposite strategy to his team mate. Following a long first stint on soft tyres he ended the race on attack mode making use of his spare super-softs. He’d already taken Bottas earlier in the stint, now he completed a set of Williams drivers to salvage a creditable seventh. Eighth and ninth for the FW38s was “not even close to where we should be” in Rob Smedley’s assessment.

But tenth place for newcomer Stoffel Vandoorne was not only a remarkable achievement for the rookie on his debut, it was also McLaren’s first points of the season. Racing director Eric Boullier called his performance “flawlessly mature”, and the result was a welcome consolation after a power unit glitch ended Button’s race.

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No points for Force India

The same could not be said of several of Vandoorne’s competitors who squandered potential results. Both Force India drivers picked up damage in the opening laps at turn one – Hulkenberg in the lap one mess, Sergio Perez the next time by when he tangled with Carlos Sainz Jnr.

That left the Toro Rosso driver with a puncture and damage from which he later retired. Given the penalty Bottas received, Perez should count himself very fortunate to escape a sanction.

For the second race in a row Renault were just one place away from the points. Kevin Magnussen, who had started from the pit lane after passing a red light during practice, made up 11 places with a solid drive at a track which did not suit his car. Team mate Jolyon Palmer pulled into the pits at the end of the formation lap with a suspected hydraulic problem.

The two Saubers fought hard in the opening laps but Felipe Nasr always seemed destined to lose the place to Ericsson as he was clearly unhappy with his car’s handling. The pair were separated at the flag by Pascal Wehrlein’s Manor.

Rosberg builds an early lead

In Australia Rosberg had never looked like a match for Hamilton on pace. In Bahrain it was clearly much closer between the pair, and another poor start by Hamilton swung the initiative to his team mate again.

It gives Rosberg a useful early initiative in the championship and puts Hamilton slightly on the back foot, knowing he must get to the bottom of these tardy getaways which have cost him dearly – and disproportionately – in the opening races.

For Ferrari, the need to solve their obvious reliability problems is more urgent. And for Formula One, the need to stop wounding itself with needless squabbling over rules which never needed changing to begin with is of paramount importance.

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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35 comments on “Rosberg capitalises on Hamilton’s troubles for first Bahrain win”

  1. At the time of this post, @keithcollantine has had enough time to write this full review and Channel 4 *still* haven’t got the full GP up on All4 for streaming.

  2. I’m pleased for him. The more of a head start he gets, the more he can create tension in the championship.

    Lewis will step up. So I’m happy it’s going to be interesting.

  3. I read somewhere that an F1 engine is supposed to be heated up to operating temperature before the engine starts, and yet the commentators were saying today that when the cars are released from parc ferme there isn’t enough time for the teams to get the engines up to operating temperature before they have to start them, so they start the engine cold. If that is the case, then maybe this contributed to the problem Vettel had.

  4. Fudge Ahmed (@)
    4th April 2016, 3:41

    I almost prefer it when Lewis is sulky when losing, because anything less than a win in that car is exactly that, a loss. I’m just not seeing the hunger so Nico deserves this flying start, figuratively and literally as Lewis has nobody to blame but himself for 2 duff starts.

    Very frustrating about Vettel, every race we keep hearing that Ferrari are there or thereabouts and it rarely ever materialises.

    1. @offdutyrockstar

      Very frustrating about Vettel, every race we keep hearing that Ferrari are there or thereabouts and it rarely ever materialises.

      After McLaren had a clearly ahead start in 1998, it took Ferrari until 2000 to catch them up. This was in the days of unlimited testing, where there was a lot more freedom to how much you could change/develop your engine and car compared to today. Of course next year we will have new regulations again. I can see Ferrari stopping development midway 2016 to focus on 2017.

      1. @kingshark Haas is rumoured to already have stopped, I really do see Ferrari stopping earlier than mid-season. Or at least as soon as they think second it wrapped up.

      2. Until 2000? Ferrari was in the WDC-battle at the last race in both 1998 and 1999, and actually won the WCC in 1999 despite their star driver Michael Schumacher being out of contention during the summer.

        1. @cashnotclash
          I recommend that you watch the races and not just look at the final standings. McLaren was quite comfortably the fastest car in both 1998 and 1999. I believe that not only they took 12 out of 16 pole positions, they were also on average ~0.6 seconds quicker than Ferrari. The only reason to why Ferrari won the WCC in 1999 is because of awful reliability from McLaren.

          1. The only reason to why Ferrari won the WCC in 1999 is because of awful reliability from McLaren.

            @kingshark Which is part of building a good car.

          2. It might very well be the case that the McLaren was, on its day, the faster car. But there is so much more to F1: strategy, reliability, and not to mention teamwork – which Ferrari (Germany, Malaysia, to name just two) did much better than McLaren (Austria was especially amusing for the tifosi). Unfortunately for McLaren ‘but we had the fastest car’ has become the go-to story of the team, whether it is 1999, 2005, 2008, or 2012. Yet that next WCC still eludes them.

  5. Mercedes really need to start giving team order for both its drivers. HAM and ROS should only use one tyre set for Q3 to spare one fresh for the race. That should cover any mishap during race start.

    1. What’s the point? Top 8 drivers must start on the tyres that they use to set their best time on Q2

  6. Rosberg is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest non-WDC’s of all time.

    1. @kingshark Well, except he’s leading the championship so…not quite.

      1. It’s a bit too early to assume Rosberg will win. The same goes for Hamilton ;)

    2. What makes you think he won’t be the 2016 World Champion?

      1. Maybe because he never beats Hamilton fair and square throughout a championship whichever. And that is not going to start now…

    3. @kingshark I’m not sure about that!

  7. Sviatoslav (@)
    4th April 2016, 6:22

    This is not enough for Rosberg, and I respect him for approving this. These are the first two races, and he has to win another six and get podium finishes (2nd places) regularly to fight for the championship. Hamilton is not angry because he knows: he is faster and he can get find more speed, while Rosberg never manages to do that. The quali/free practice sessions clearly showed that. Hamilton was always behind the team-mate for all the sessions, but when the key moment arrived, he was able to squeeze 7ms more than Rosberg. I am sure that Hamilton can easily catch up, that is why he doesn’t care about not winning yet.
    Vettel has lost too much, so he is not in the championship hunt. Ferrari fails to deliver one more time, and it seems that Alonso again was right when he left the team: no chance to fight for the WDC. Well, at least this is how it looks after two races. Ferrari has got no pace to truly fight Mercedes (it was clear that Rosberg was controlling the pace, plus Hamilton on a damaged car was faster than Kimi), and they have too many issues with their new power unit.
    Williams and Force India are boring. McLaren-Honda is terrible reagarding its race pace. Vandoorne on super-softs was 1.6 seconds behind Rosberg’s time (which was set on softs). Honda, what are you actually doing?
    The race in Bahrain was chaotic in the beginning, and I didn’t like it. After that, the race was pretty boring.

  8. Apex Assassin
    4th April 2016, 6:27

    Liked seeing Williams start. Hated seeing their awful strategies. Again.

    Nice to see Lewis lead a lap this season, looooool. Seriously though, Lewis should consider converting to Islam – I really liked his tranquil demeanor! Still say turn 1 was a racing incident. Lewis didn’t hold his line or leave space and allowed himself to get boxed in by Nico so I don’t see how that can be Bottas’s fault.

    Better still I really enjoyed seeing drivers and teams that were so vocally in favor of the new elimination qualifying being on the opposite end of the format this week!

    RoGro and Haas though! Aw yeah – again and again!

  9. Hamilton needs to work on his starts the epic start he had in Sochi 2014 on his way to win the title.
    i think he is not spending enough time to understand the clutch system after these new rules.

    1. Once Hamilton perfects his starts, there’s no stopping him. Both of the races were kind of outliers for him.

      For Rosberg, he needs to up his game in qualifying, to keep his winning streak.

      1. @mulsanne He might not have gotten pole but in both races he was the first man into T1. That’s enough to beat Hamilton.

        1. But so far it depended on HAM getting away badly – he can’t be expecting to maintain that during the season @xtwl, so yes, he does need to make sure he gets it done on Saturday too.

          1. @bosyber Why not, he could consistently have better starts than Hamilton thus making sure he’s in P2 at the start is good enough. Pole is not as important as just having a good start from the front row, if you’re first in T1 your chances of winning the race increase dramatically.

          2. @xtwl He can hope to still have good starts, but he cannot hope on Hamilton just botching his. Literally, these 2 races have been almost decided at the start. I can’t wait to see Lewis’ pace if he gets out of turn 1 and lap 1 clean. It looked like his pace was more than enough for him to secure the win here in Bahrain and in Melbourne. Can’t wait to see what he can do.

          3. @krichelle In the end neither in Melbourne or Bahrein did Lewis have bad starts. Rosberg, Vettel and Bottas their starts were just better. Kimi had a bad start. Both times Rosberg got to T1 first which is still very important whatever pace Lewis can show in practice.

  10. While Rosberg first two wins into the season are not as merit as most of Hamilton wins from 2014-15, streak of wins is all he needed to seize the title from Hamilton, because with that he start to force Hamilton to play by Nico’s rules.

  11. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    4th April 2016, 9:44

    A weekend couldn’t have been a more graphic example of the divide between the competitive world of the pitlane and the political world of the paddock. It was a weekend that showed F1’s best and worst.

    On track, the W07 Hybrid lapped Bahrain quicker than a FW27 with four more cylinders and 95kg less weight, having used 35% less fuel in the process. A margin of less than a tenth between the two Mercedes drivers in symptomatic of the two pushing each other to new places in the search of raw speed.

    Haas scored its second top six finish in as many races, but did so this time having comprehensively outpaced Williams, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Force India. In the process, Grosjean may have put himself into pole position should Ferrari choose to dispense with Raikkonen.

    Vandoorne, having won on debut in both FR3.5 and GP2, continued his knack of getting to grip quickly with new machinery, and scored a point in his first [non-virtual] meeting with the MP4-31, having out-qualified Button in the process.

    On the other side of the garages, Bernie and Jean Todt spent the weekend attempting to reference their political sovereignty, in the euphemistic rhetoric as being guardians of the fans’ interests. Aggregate qualifying and Bernie’s Trump-like failure to qualify the why elimination qualifying “is just what we’ve got” (other than because he said it is), are all reasons why CVC and the FIA should not allow F1 to be the stage for Bernie’s addiction with power and the sound of his own voice.

    1. Am I missing something? Why is the comparison made with the FW27, the 2005 Williams car. Heidfeld and Webber drove the 9th and 10th fastest laps in the Bahrain race that year, and whereas Heidfeld failed to finish, Webber came in 6th being the last driver on the leader’s lap. The race was won by Renault and Alonso, who completed the 57 laps in 1h 29m 18.531s in the blistering heat of the Bahrain afternoon. Yesterday Rosberg crossed the finish line after 1h 33m 34.696s.

      1. He is talking about the track record (set in quali, not race). In 2005, Mark Webber set the fastest lap on Bahrain circuit but was finally beaten on Saturday by Lewis’s pole time.

  12. outstanding by rosberg. Now he is proving that he is as good as hamilton! 5 on the trot!

    Looks like all of Hamilton’s showing off seems to have come back and bitten in him in the butt. Two bad starts in a row! Hope he has 19 more bad starts!

    Really do feel bad for Vettel though. He should have won the first race but the team made a terrible strategy call.
    Might have been able to win the second race but his engine failed.


    Hope Rosberg wins the championship!!

  13. I’m concerned about the Ferrari reliability for the rest of the year. In Australia they had a problem causing a retirement, and in Bahrain one car didn’t make the start. Last year they had one of the best reliabilities on the grid, so are the tables turning.

    One thing is clear though, they still have a long way to match the Mercedes.

    1. @strontium Remember the Dennisism: It’s easier to make a quick car reliable than a reliable car quick. He probably wishes McLaren had Ferrari’s problem.

  14. “Rosberg capitalises on rival troubles”, i’d like to add : “ usual”. I just get through his 16 wins and realize that at least 7 of them was due to capitalising on rival troubles :

    Uk 2013 Hamilton on pole had tyre failure while leading the race, followed by Vettel whose engine failed later on.
    Australia 2014 Hamilton on pole retired on first lap due to engine failure
    Monaco 2014 Rosberg has blown qualifying for every other car on his second lap knowing Monaco is won from pole
    Germany 2014 Hamilton fastest throughout the weekend started from 16th slot on the grid due to break failure in Q1
    Monaco 2015 Victory offered through the team messing up the race leader strategy under safety
    Australia 2016 Hamilton on pole had a poor start, Vettel first on corner 1 got his strategy messed up under safety car
    Barhein 2016 Vettel out of the race before the start, Bottas getting into Hamilton in the first corner, no challenger from start to the end

    As far as i remember the races, there are only 7 genuine wins to Rosberg record : China 2012, Monaco 2013, Autriche 2014 and 2015, Bresil 2014 and 2015, Spain 2015.

    No doubt his a good driver, but not a champion, with a car and luck like his he should at least have won 2014. 2016 is starting for him like 2014, with a lot of bad luck for his team mate (but less than in 2014), at the end he will still loose the championship even though the statistic are in his favour (when a team make a 1-2 finish in Melbourne, the team is always WCC at the end of the season with the driver leading the 1-2 WDC. This has turned to be true since 1996)

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