The gripping battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg made the Bahrain Grand Prix a classic race.
Not only did Mercedes allow their two drivers to race each other, they did what they could not to give an advantage to either driver. What unfolded was a great fight and a fair one.
|Formation lap||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||Rear tyres are coming up nicely as well. So front brakes need a bit of work.|
|Formation lap||Unknown||Nico Rosberg||Brakes are starting to come up, tyres are 8.5 front, 9.5 rear. And gears are learnt.|
As Rosberg leads Hamilton to the grid, both drivers are given the usual messages about bringing their brakes and tyres up to temperature. Rosberg is told his tyre temperatures are 108.5C at the front and 109.5C at the rear.
Hamilton seizes the initiative
|3||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So Nico at 0.9, he has DRS|
Hamilton got a fractionally better start than Rosberg and was able to take the lead at the first corner. He had to defend hard from his team mate at turn four, forcing him wide.
After lap three Rosberg dropped out of DRS range until they neared the end of their first stint.
The first stint unfolds
|5||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||I need information on fuel consumption compared to the other car.|
|5||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So you are saving more fuel than your team mate, but continue to save. Gap to Massa, 2.7. You have DRS.|
|6||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So just look after that left-front. It looks like we have a little more understeer than the other car.|
|7||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So remember Nico, we have the alternative strategy which we’ll be going for which means you need to go longer on this first stint, looking after the tyres.|
|7||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So let us know if it’s the front or rears that are taking the punishment.|
|7||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Front-left and left-rear. Got too much front wing.|
Rosberg had a reminder of the strategic situation on lap seven. It is common practice among teams for the leading driver to have first call on strategy, as allowing the following driver to pit first could help them jump ahead via the ‘undercut’.
At this point Hamilton was on course for the preferred strategy and Rosberg the “alternative”. This meant Rosberg would be the first driver to use the slower medium tyres – hence he would extend his first stint on the soft tyres.
Unless, of course, he was able to pass Hamilton and take first call on strategy.
Fuel conservation symmetry
|12||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So Nico, go to strat-seven. Both cars strat-seven. Try braking five metres later into turn one.|
|12||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||And go strat mode seven. Strat mode seven, both cars are making the change.|
A dozen laps into the race both drivers were given the instruction to go to ‘strat[egy] mode seven’. As Hamilton was reassured that both drivers had been told to do the same, we can infer they were being told to use a setting which gave less performance, to save fuel, engine life or both.
Obviously if one driver were to turn their engine down and the other didn’t, one would have an immediate advantage – the problem Red Bull failed to keep on top of during the breakdown in trust between their drivers in Malaysia last year.
Rosberg attacks again
|18||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||Warn him, that was not on!|
|18||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Copy Nico, we need you to go to strat-10, you cannot use strat-six.|
On lap 16 Rosberg moved back within DRS range of Hamilton with the aim of taking the lead and priority call on strategy.
Two laps later he went down the inside of his team mate at turn one but Hamilton reclaimed the place. He left his team mate little room at the exit of the corner, which drew a response from Rosberg.
He tried again on the next lap and had the lead for all of four corners – but once again Hamilton took the lead back on the exit of turn four.
|20||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Push hard, Nico! Push hard. Fuel is fine, fuel is OK. But you can still do lift and coast to look after the tyres later in the second stint.|
|21||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK, Nico boxing this lap. You are four seconds safe.|
|21||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So Nico, need bite-point seven and box, box, box.|
|22||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So Nico, this will be a stint on medium tyres.|
|22||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis, we need to manage these tyres. Get the most out of them, minimise our time on the mediums.|
|22||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Already have oversteer now.|
|24||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So you’re currently quicker than Lewis. You’re on mediums, he’s on softs. So remember, looking after the tyres on the stint.|
At the end of that lap Hamilton made for the pits and took on a second set of soft tyres. Rosberg, wanting to minimise his time on the slower medium tyres, stayed out another two laps, his engineer telling him to push hard.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was reminded he needed to run for as long as possible on his softs to reduce the amount of time spent on the mediums.
Hamilton pulls ahead
|29||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis, so relatively speaking, sector one is the weakest.|
|35||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis, we’re safe on fuel. So no more lift and coast.|
|35||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||I heard you, man! I’m looking after my tyres.|
|38||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So will be rich-6 as the end of this lap. Still if you can find more time it’s helpful.|
|40||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||So braking later into turn 11 for earlier apex and better exit.|
|43||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||I’ve got a lot of push at the apex of corners, but I don’t want to go back on my rear- on my brake bias cause I seem to be locking rears.|
|43||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis if you go diff init three. Diff init three. Then we’ve got two HPP switch adjust. So will be HPP-11 to one. HPP-2 to mode one.|
|43||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Is Nico on new tyres?|
|43||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||Afrim, Lewis. Nico behind on the Soft tyre.|
|43||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||Should I try and burn fuel behind the Safety Car?|
|43||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||You can use low gear, high revs to burn fuel. Tyre temperatures are… ten front and ten rear currently. Brake temperatures are even and OK.|
With Rosberg on the slower tyres, Hamilton extended his lead to almost ten seconds. Without the Safety Car Rosberg would have had to recover that gap in his final stint and then attack his team mate with whatever tyre life he had left.
But Rosberg was about to get a helping hand from Pastor Maldonado. The Lotus driver flipped Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber over and the Safety Car came out. That meant Rosberg would not only have the benefit of softer tyres than Hamilton for the final stint, but the gap between the pair of them was eradicated.
‘”Bring both cars home”
|46||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So Lewis, obvious I know, but you’re good on fuel so there’s no need to lift and coast. We’re pushing to the flag.|
|46||Paddy Lowe||Lewis Hamilton||Lewis, it’s Paddy.|
|46||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||What’s up?|
|46||Paddy Lowe||Lewis Hamilton||Ten laps left to race, can we just make sure we bring both cars home.|
|46||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Will the Safety Car let the others catch up?|
|46||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||They will do, Lewis. They may release it early though.|
|46||Paddy Lowe||Nico Rosberg||Nico, it’s Paddy here. There are about ten laps left to race. Can we make sure we just bring both cars home.|
|46||Nico Rosberg||Paddy Lowe||OK.|
Paddy Lowe’s instruction to both drivers to ensure they finished the race might have been taken as an order to stop fighting. Either they ignored him or it wasn’t an attempt to call off the fight. To their credit, it seems to have been the latter.
|48||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Got no power!|
|48||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis, we’re looking into it. All looks OK on the data.|
|49||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||When you’re ready to attack, it will be strat-6 and you can use the overtake. Battery is 80%.|
|51||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Is Nico on strat 6?|
|51||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||Affirm, we’re just mirroring what they’re doing.|
|51||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK, so let’s go back strat-3 when you can. We’re just going to mirror them.|
Rosberg took the fight to Hamilton immediately after the restart.
‘Strat-6′ appears to be Mercedes’ ‘full attack’ engine mode, which can only be used for brief bursts for overtaking. Because the information is shared within the team, Hamilton’s engineer was able to see when Rosberg was using it so Hamilton could “mirror” him.
Even so, Rosberg got his nose ahead more than once, and Hamilton had to use all his racing nous to protect his lead.
Hamilton edges clear
|52||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||So use ‘overtake’ where you need it.|
|53||Tony Ross||Nico Rosberg||Nico, strat-3 to charge the battery. You can still use overtake.|
|54||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis, you can use ‘overtake’ on the exit of corners now. Use ‘overtake’ where you need it.|
Over the final laps Hamilton had little more than the one second DRS gap in hand over Rosberg, but it was enough for him to take a remarkable win.
|57||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||OK Lewis. You’ve got the energy. Use ‘overtake’ everywhere now. Use ‘overtake’.|
|Victory lap||Peter Bonnington||Lewis Hamilton||Nice work there Lewis! You had us all going there for a minute, mate.|
|VL||Lewis Hamilton||Peter Bonnington||Fantastic job this weekend, guys! We didn’t really have the pace on this side of the garage but we still held on to it. Let’s work on that. Thanks.|
|VL||Paddy Lowe||Lewis Hamilton||Fantastic job, Lewis. Fantastic. And really great racing, well done.|
|VL||Paddy Lowe||Nico Rosberg||Fantastic job Nico, and best of all great racing. Very well done.|
|VL||Nico Rosberg||Tony Ross||And then someone should tell me that the sport is boring…|
Hamilton and Rosberg deserved equal praise for their hard, clean fight. And Mercedes are also due credit for trusting their drivers to take each other one without colliding.
They may enjoy a considerable performance advantage at the moment, but it would be worthless if their two drivers crashed into each other.
Rosberg vs Hamilton race chart
The gaps between Rosberg and Hamilton on each lap (seconds):
Radio transcription by @WillWood. Full race transcript to follow.
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Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei