If you had asked anyone about the prospect of an exciting race happening around the Bahrain International Circuit you’d have been laughed out of the room you were in. Not once since it’s inception in 2004 had Bahrain seen a thriller of a Formula One race. That all changed, alongside the rules, in 2014.
Nico Rosberg lined up on pole as a floodlit glow bathed the Sakhir track for the first time in it’s short Grand Prix history, the German coming into the Bahrain race with an eighteen point championship lead over team-mate Lewis Hamilton and momentum firmly with him.
Hamilton had other ideas though, as he jumped Rosberg into Turn 1, with Nico swiftly counter attacking into Turn 4. Lewis kept the lead, but it was the first act in a very long play.
Rosberg chose to conserve his fuel in the first stint of the race with hopes of attacking Hamilton in the later. Further down the field, the Williams of Felipe Massa was struggling badly with tyre wear, and lost third place to a resurgent Sergio Perez, who had switched from McLaren to Force India in the off-season. Perez is a renowned ‘tyre whisperer’, and one again he appeared able to conserve his tyres much easier than those around him.
Perez’s former Woking team-mate Jenson Button joined the Mexican in managing a two-stop race. Sadly for the Brit his charge ended on lap 55 with clutch failure.
Up at the front, Rosberg’s fuel managing had come into it’s own as he prepared to attack Hamilton on lap 18. Using his DRS he managed to actually pass Hamilton as the two went through T1, but braking very late had left Rosberg in a weak position exiting the corner. Hamilton quickly darted to the inside line to sneak back past Rosberg.
The following lap Nico tried the exact same move with better success, this time exiting T1 in the lead. However, Hamilton blasted his way back by squeezing the German wide, coming perilously close to Rosberg’s front wing into T2. The Mercedes top brass were very jumpy as their two boys continued to fight tooth and nail.
Hamilton’s overtake was critical as it allowed him into the pits first where he bolted on the softer of the two tyre compounds, with Rosberg fitted the harder. The split strategy allowed Hamilton to build up a ten second cushion, however Rosberg would be on the quicker tyre later in the race. The stage was set for a silver battle royal. Then along came Pastor Maldonado.
On lap 39 the Lotus of Maldonado left the pits into the path of the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez. The Sauber was flipped over into a perfect barrel roll after contact with the Lotus, in a collision even those on the International Space Station probably saw coming.
A safety car was called and it appeared the race was turned on a dime, straight into Rosberg’s hands. Lewis Hamilton had other ideas once again. With Lewis now on the harder compound and Nico on the soft, it really did seem like a forgone conclusion that Rosberg would scythe past Hamilton at some point in the remaining ten laps.
The attack began immediately as Rosberg forced Hamilton onto the poorer line going out of Turn 1, they battled all the way from Turn 2 right the way through Turns 3 and 4. Hamilton held Rosberg out wide to somehow maintain the lead, on tyres which were said to be one second a lap slower than the softer compound on the sister Mercedes.
Such was the intensity of the battle between the Mercedes duo, they were pulling out a gap of over two seconds a lap on the third placed car of Sergio Perez. On lap 52, Rosberg once again lunged down the inside of his team-mate, but like earlier in the race he ran wide on the exit of Turn 1, and Hamilton quickly shot back underneath him to keep the lead.
The following lap saw Rosberg try the same move yet again to no avail, with the tussle stretching all the way to Turn 4, as Hamilton got very defensive to still stay in front.
By the final lap of the race Rosberg had taken far too much out of the soft tyres and could no longer hustle Hamilton in the same manner he had done for the previous nine laps.
Hamilton had done just enough to hold on for a fantastic win, against the odds, and one that would be critical for his title charge later on in the season. They may have come close on a few occasions but neither Silver Arrows made contact with the other, and it was smiles and hugs all round for Mercedes as the rest of the field came to realise just how fast the W04 really was; Perez was a massive 24 seconds behind Rosberg come the chequered flag – that’s just over two seconds a lap slower over the final the laps.
It’s little wonder the odds of a Mercedes whitewash in 2014 were slashed that evening, as were the odds of Hamilton finally bagging World Title number two. The rest of the top five was made up of Daniel Ricciardo in fourth, after a great recovery drive from a grid drop, and the other Force India of Nico Hulkenberg in fifth.