Nico Rosberg made it five straight wins in Formula One when he took the fluttering flag in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix. He may ponder, with a winsome smile, that he is unbeaten in six months, since Lewis Hamilton won in Austin in October to take his third world championship.
That does, of course, include the four-month hiatus between seasons. But Hamilton is still half a year away from knowing what it feels like to win a car race and his next victory will be an enormous relief to him, reviving him as if it were a blood transfusion. He is very resilient, but right now he must be wondering when he will next stand on the podium’s highest step.
He was third here and is already 17 points behind his Mercedes team-mate. Hamilton is hurting, while Rosberg is already daring to hope this might be his season. His 16th victory put him level with Stirling Moss as F1’s greatest winner never to have won a world title.
As in Australia last month Hamilton started from pole, and he started feebly. If you plan to rob a bank imminently you should look beyond Lewis as your getaway man. He said it was a different issue from that which saw him make another pussy-footing start in Melbourne, but the result was very much the same.
“Two separate incidents, both equally painful – perhaps today more painful,” said the British driver. “We still managed to get the car up there and get some points. So, again, damage limitation. Congratulations to Nico, an easy race for him I would assume, but I’m glad it wasn’t more points.”
He tried a different tyre strategy, moving away from soft rubber and on to mediums, but they were too slow and the experiment lasted only 14 laps.
Rosberg slipped past him at the start and didn’t make a mistake after that. Hamilton was second going into the first corner and then he was dumped back to ninth after colliding with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas – on several occasions during the race metal was seen flying through the air like dangerous bunting.
After that it was a good recovery drive by the British driver. But the damage he sustained from his crash with Bottas dragged back his pace (a second a lap, according to Mercedes motorsport team principal Toto Wolff) and he was never going to challenge for the front. Rosberg finished 10 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and Hamilton was another 19 seconds behind the red car.
Hamilton added: “I lost a lot of performance with the car and I’m not quite sure what happened at Turn One. It was a racing incident. Those kind of things happen. After that I was just trying to manage the tyres, but with a lot less rear end.”
A more cheerful looking Rosberg said: “It’s been an awesome weekend. The key was really at the start. I made a great getaway and from then on I was trying to control the pace.” He made his F1 debut here ten years ago.
The first point for McLaren this season was won by their Belgian rookie, Stoffel Vandoorne, who was 10th. His team-mate Jenson Button, who had already qualified behind Vandoorne, retired from the race on the seventh lap.
With the injured Fernando Alonso not taking part, and with Sebastian Vettel hitting trouble on the formation lap, three former world champions were admiring the view before very much had happened; experience, clearly, isn’t everything.
Romain Grosjean, remarkably, improved on his sixth in Australia to finish fifth in the tyro team Haas. He is level fourth in the championship with Raikkonen. “Unbelievable guys – this is the American dream!” he shouted to his team at the end of the race.
“I’m very happy in the car, I have big confidence in the braking, which allows me to attack – I very much love the platform in the car and systems inside. It allows me to unlock its potential. Now we have to keep our feet on the Earth.”
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, just as he had been in Melbourne. But Melbourne and Bahrain felt very different for Jolyon Palmer. His debut was impressive; here he did not even start.
Bahrain Grand Prix 1 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1hr 33min 34.696sec; 2 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +00:10.282sec; 3 L Hamilton (GB) Mercedes +00:30.148; 4 D Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +1min 02.494sec; 5 R Grosjean (Fr) Haas +01:18.299; 6 M Verstappen (Neth) Toro Rosso +01:20.929; 7 D Kvyat (Rus) Red Bull +1 lap; 8 F Massa (Br) Williams +1 lap; 9 V Bottas (Fin) Williams +1 lap; 10 S Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren +1 lap; 11 K Magnussen (Den) Renault +1 lap; 12 M Ericsson (Swe) Sauber +1 lap; 13 P Wehrlein (Ger) Manor +1 lap; 14 F Nasr (Br) Sauber +1 lap; 15 N Hülkenberg (Ger) Force India +1 lap; 16 S Pérez (Mex) Force India +1 lap; 17 R Haryanto (Ido) Manor +1 lap.
Not classified: 18 C Sainz (Sp) Toro Rosso 29 laps completed; 19 E Gutiérrez (Mex) Haas 10 laps; 20 J Button (GB) McLaren 6 laps; 21 S Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 0 laps; 22 J Palmer (GB) Renault 0 laps.
World championship standings: Drivers: 1 N Rosberg 50pts; 2 L Hamilton 33; 3 D Ricciardo 24; 4 K Raikkonen 18; 5 R Grosjean 18; 6 S Vettel 15; 7 F Massa 14; 8 M Verstappen 9; 9 N Hülkenberg 6; 10 D Kvyat 6; 11 V Bottas 6; 12 C Sainz 2; 13 S Vandoorne 1.
Manufacturers: 1 Mercedes 83pts; 2 Ferrari 33; 3 Red Bull 30; 4 Williams 20; 5 Haas 18; 6 Toro Rosso 11; 7 Force India 6; 8 McLaren 1.