Champion British driver Lewis Hamilton continued to maintain his stranglehold in Formula-1 as he finished with a dominant victory in last Sunday’s 2015 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. Hamilton was followed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who stood on the podium after 27 races. The third spot was taken by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg. Once again the tyre-change strategic management came to the fore in the 2015 F1 season. Raikkonen switched to faster soft tyres for his final stint and that helped him get past Nico Rosberg, who continued with medium tyres. Raikkonen’s Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel looked like taking the second place until very long in the race but an unscheduled pit stop pulled him back.
There was great enthusiasm for the F1 event at the floodlit Sakhir circuit, which held its 12th F1 event after the first in 2004. That had marked the first ever FIA Formula-1 World Championship held in the Middle East and the culmination of a multi-million dollar project that had begun in September 2002. Located 30 km south-west of Manama, Bahrain’s capital, the picturesque Sakhir circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke in a 5-track layout within one complex. The organizers had spectators in mind since they planned for 50,000 grandstand seats, each with an excellent view of the race-track. The unique design allowed 100,000 people over a race weekend to see the cars racing into an external desert area before they came back into the oasis-styled infield. The arena included a media center for 500-plus journalists. Every year, the Bahrain GP attracts F-1 enthusiasts and leisure travellers from around the world and 2015 was no different.
Before Sunday’s main race, Hamilton had taken his fourth straight pole position by beating Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the qualifying. Nico Rosberg was third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were place fifth and sixth in the qualifying sessions. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was seventh, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg eighth, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz ninth and Lotus’s Romain Grosjean tenth.
The results of the qualifying showed that unlike the completely Mercedes-dominant 2014 season, Ferrari was breathing down Mercedes’ neck in 2015 and results of the first three races were decisive proofs of that eventuality. But as the race began in Sakhir on Sunday, it was Hamilton who got off to a great start and tried to break away from the pack. However, Hamilton’s team-mate Nico Rosberg was overtaken by the Ferrari team of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and he dropped to the fourth place. But the German was not about to give in so easily. He went past Raikkonen in lap four and overtook Vettel on lap nine. Yet again, the Mercedes supremacy looked imminent as both Hamilton and Rosberg were comfortably ahead of Vettel. All three of them went for soft tyres for their second stint and this meant that when they made their next pit stops, they would change back to the mediums. But in a clever change of strategy by Ferrari think-tank, they equipped Raikonnen with the mediums again and opted for softs in his last stint.
However, in the middle part of the race, Hamilton continued to lead with Rosberg following him. Vettel was shadowing Rosberg but before the next stop for the top three drivers, Raikkonen overtook all three because he could continue for a longer time with mediums. He went past Vettel on lap 32, Rosberg on lap 33 and Hamilton on lap 34. But Raikkonen’s mediums had run their course by lap 40 and he lost his lead to Hamilton before going for his last stop. Now he was the only one with softs and he used the speed to go after Hamilton. He kept cutting down the lap time and with two laps remaining, went past Rosberg, helped in part by Rosberg’s brake problem before the climax. Hamilton also got scared as he too had the brake issue in the last lap but as the Finn passed the chequered flag, he still fell 3.3 seconds short of Hamilton.
Earlier, misfortune had struck Sebastian Vettel in lap 35 as he ran wide and damaged his front wing even as he tried to avoid the gravel. That forced an additional stop, which dropped him behind Bottas. After Vettel fitted a new nose, the best he could do was to overtake Bottas for the fourth place finish. Bottas was fifth, Red Bull’s Ricciardo was sixth, Lotus’ Grosjean finished seventh, Perez eighth for Force India, Kvyat was ninth and Felipe Massa finished tenth.