The 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix marked the 900th in Formula 1 history, and produced a race worthy of such an occasion underneath the floodlights.
Remembered best for the battled Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the race provided us with excellent racing through the field.
Background and Qualifying Round-Up
Heading into the weekend, Rosberg and Hamilton had claimed a race win apiece in Australia and Malaysia respectively.
Additionally, Rosberg held a 18-point lead courtesy of Hamilton’s failure to finish in Australia.
In qualifying, Hamilton was aiming for his third successive pole of the season, only to be thwarted by his teammate.
Rosberg’s time of 1:33.185 was enough to take pole, leaving him almost three tenths of a second clear of his adversary.
Valtteri Bottas was third for Williams, ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, with Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) narrowly pipping Jenson Button (McLaren) to fifth.
Felipe Massa (Williams) started in seventh, with the trio of Kevin Magnussen (McLaren), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) completing the top ten.
Massa Gets Great Start as Midfield Carnage Ensues
As the lights went, Rosberg immediately went across to block Hamilton and defend his position. However, Hamilton held his nerve and carried the inside line into Turn 1 to take the lead.
Behind them, Massa got an excellent launch off the grid and leapfrogged past everyone else into third place.
As the cars bunch up together, there was inevitable contact, with Jean-Eric Vergne coming out worse for wear. A rear-right puncture to the Frenchman’s Toro Rosso forces an early stop, and would later retire with excessive damage.
At the end of Lap 1, the Mercedes duo led proceedings and pulled away at about a second per lap.
Behind them, Massa maintained third from Williams teammate Bottas and Perez, with Button, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Vettel rounding up the top ten.
Alonso and Vettel Struggles during Early Pit Phase
Despite gaining two positions on the start, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso was struggling.
In winter testing, it had become clear that the Scuderia’s power unit was significantly under-powered compared to the leading Mercedes.
This led Alonso to air his frustrations over the team radio, when Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India breezed past to claim seventh:
“We have no power to fight.”
The TV camera then picked then-Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, who promptly looked away from the monitors in dismay.
On Lap 10, Bottas began to fall back, losing fifth to Button at Turn 1, with Hulkenberg following suit for sixth at Turn 4.
At the end of the lap, Bottas pitted – the first of the front-runners to do so. The Finn took up a fresh set of soft tyres and moved onto a three-stop strategy.
Elsewhere, Daniel Ricciardo was beginning to recover lost ground, after starting 13th due to a 10-place grid penalty.
On the exit of Turn 11, Ricciardo moved around the outside Kevin Magnussen to claim tenth place.
On the other side of the Red Bull garage, there was contrasting fortunes for Sebastian Vettel.
The defending four-time world champion reported that he DRS stopped working and was losing valuable time. To add to his woes, Vettel was ordered to allow teammate Ricciardo past.
In the battle for third, Perez took advantage of Massa going wide at Turn 4 to take the position.
Hamilton Maintains Early Advantage
At the start of Lap 18, Rosberg came out of nowhere and dive-bombed down the inside of Hamilton into Turn 1.
However, the German ran too deep into the corner, which resulted in Hamilton cutting across to retain first place.
On the following lap, Rosberg goes to repeat the same manoeuvre, with Hamilton moving across to defend the line.
Both drivers consequently lock up under braking, with Rosberg coming out on top, with Hamilton close behind.
Then, after getting a better exit out of Turn 4, Hamilton managed reclaim control through the esses and forced Rosberg to back off.
At the end of Lap 19, Hamilton made his first of two stops, opting for a fresh set of soft tyres.
On an alternative strategy, Rosberg pitted two laps later for the medium compound and rejoined six seconds adrift of Hamilton.
Podium Battle Heats Up
Further back down the road, Massa was in third but was begin to struggle with tyre wear.
Unsurprisingly, a small train of cars consisting of Bottas, Hulkenberg and Perez started to form behind the Brazilian.
On Lap 25, Bottas overtook Massa at Turn 1 and instantly ran away. Despite the initial advantage, the Finnish driver made a request to pit. This was granted to him at the end of the lap, and Bottas rejoined in tenth on a new set of softs.
Although he now had clean air in front, Massa still experienced increased pressure from Hulkenberg and Perez.
On the approach into Turn 4, Massa held his line and forced Hulkenberg, who lost fourth place to Perez as a result.
Two laps later, Massa could do no more as his tyres began to hit the cliff.
At Turn 4, Perez claimed third, while Hulkenberg utilised Massa’s issues to take fourth on the exit of Turn 8. Shortly after, Massa pitted for his second set of softs.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 27, 2020
Bottas’ Near Miss
With fresh rubber underneath him, Bottas quickly closed in on the battle for seventh between Raikkonen and Ricciardo.
On Lap 31, Bottas made his move as he went to the outside to pass Ricciardo. However, Bottas was caught out by Raikkonen’s early braking and was forced run wide.
One lap later, Ferrari’s power issues were on show again. At Turn 4, Ricciardo relieved Raikkonen of seventh place, before Bottas demoted his compatriot to ninth at Turn 10.
Bottas then made up for his earlier mistake, and shot past Ricciardo on Lap 34 as the pair went through Turn 1.
At that point, Perez pitted for a set of mediums and fell to ninth behind Alonso. But didn’t take long for the Mexican to get up to speed.
On his out lap, Perez closed up to Alonso’s Ferrari and past him to move up to eighth place.
Soon after, both Hulkenberg and Button also pitted for medium tyres and dropped behind the aforementioned pair.
Hulkenberg also got up and running quickly, as he set the fastest lap of 1:38.785.
Then, once Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Magnussen all made their stops, Hulkenberg proceeded to overtake Alonso for sixth place.
Maldonado gives Gutierrez a Fright
With just over two-thirds of the race completed, the Safety Car was deployed for an incident which occurred at Turn 1.
Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was running in 14th as he arrived at Turn 1 on Lap 40.
As Gutierrez turned in, Pastor Maldonado appeared down a blind spot on the inside line. Consequently, the two cars collided and sent Gutierrez into a 360 degree spin, before landing on all four wheels.
Up. Side. Down.
Boy you turn me.
In. Side. Out.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 27, 2020
Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, although the Sauber’s rear wing and suspension had been destroyed on impact.
Maldonado would later receive a 10 second stop/go penalty for causing the incident.
As a result, Hamilton, who had built a nine-second gap to Rosberg, had all of his hard work undone.
To make matters worse for the Briton, he now had to finish on the slower medium compound. In contrast, Rosberg changed to the, fastest soft tyres.
During the Safety Car period, both Massa and Bottas made their third and final stops for medium tyres. As a result they dropped down to eighth and ninth respectively.
Additionally, Magnussen also retired with a fault regarding his clutch.
The Duel of the Silver Arrows
With the safety car about to pull in, Mercedes Executive Director Paddy Lowe gave clear instructions over the team radio:
“With ten laps left to race, can we just make sure we bring both cars home.”
When racing resumed Hamilton led from Rosberg. In the battle for third, Hulkenberg unsuccessfully attempted to take third from Force India teammate Perez.
Nonetheless, it seemed both drivers had forgotten what they were told. At Turn 4, Rosberg moved to the outside, only for Hamilton to hang him out to dry.
At that moment, Hamilton set the fastest lap of 1:37.306. A lap later, Rosberg responded with a time of 1:37.020.
As they pulled away from the field, the battle between Perez and Hulkenberg caused those behind to bunch.
This caught out Button, who lost out to the Red Bulls of Vettel and Ricciardo and was demoted to seventh.
Unfortunately for the former world champion, Button’s descent down the order continued. He struggled to battle with those behind and retired with clutch failure.
As this occurred, Ricciardo and Vettel went wheel-to-wheel on Lap 50, with the Aussie coming on top and taking fifth.
With six laps remaining, Rosberg made a move down the inside of Turn 1. Hamilton though managed to hold on around the outside and retain the lead.
As they battled onto Turn 4, Rosberg once again opted for the outside line, but Hamilton firmly shut the door.
On the following lap, Rosberg once again bombed down the inside into Turn 1, but ran too deep.
Hard but Fair Racing
With enough overtake boost in reserve, Hamilton was able to build up a big enough gap to Rosberg. Unchallenged, he would go on to win the race.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda explained why both drivers were allowed to race:
“This is my way of going racing. I mean, I was a racing driver myself and I always wanted to make sure that they could do whatever they want.”
“And it was clear from the Mercedes politics, Toto [Wolff], Paddy and myself that from the first round they should race, because they are about the same level of speed and experience.
“Therefore we said let them get on with on.”
Speaking on his YouTube channel in 2018, Nico Rosberg also reflected on the battle he had with Hamilton:
“That was the biggest battle that I ever had and the toughest loss ever. That loss was proper tough to digest.”
“After such a battle, and I thought all the way ‘I’m gonna win this,’and then in the end Lewis still managed to keep it together and win.”
Now THAT'S what you call racing ?
Intense. Powerful. Fair.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 28, 2020
Sergio Perez claimed a memorable podium for Force India in third. Behind him, Daniel Ricciardo pinched fourth from Nico Hulkenberg in the latter stages.
Sebastian Vettel held off a late charge from Felipe Massa to take sixth for Red Bull. Valtteri Bottas came home in eighth for Williams, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.