Lewis Hamilton brilliantly won the Bahrain Grand Prix as he led home team mate Nico Rosberg in what was a thrilling spectacle in the desert night to silence the critics.
The 900th Formula One Grand Prix was as mesmerising as the 5000 lights beaming down onto the Sakhir circuit, seen for the first time in Bahrain as the race celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Hamilton made the better of a quick getaway to fling his Mercedes up the inside of Rosberg, taking the lead from his former karting partner as they tussled into turns three and four.
Mercedes had previously made clear of their intentions to allow both drivers to race one another. A decision they stuck to – much to the delight of the crowd as they watched the epic unfold before them.
Sergio Perez drove fantastically to third place behind the Silver Arrows to take only Force India’s second ever podium finish. The Mexican driver fended off a great recovery drive from Daniel Ricciardo towards the end of the race in order to complete the podium.
Ricciardo made up for his 10 place grid penalty as he surged through the field. Making a real statement of intent in the process as he overtook Sebastian Vettel with an opportunist move.
Vettel, who finished behind fifth placed Nico Hulkenberg, fought hard with his fellow countryman. The latter impressed however, keeping the four time World Champion at bay.
Felipe Massa had made a lightning quick start but had to settle for seventh place as his Williams team mate Valtteri Bottas came home eighth. This was a much improved performance from the British team, who showed consistent and competitive pace throughout the race.
They led the Ferrari’s of Alonso and Raikkonen, who endured a difficult race with both drivers struggling for pace as they completed the last of the points scoring positions.
Bahrain also proved to be a disappointing race for McLaren. The Woking based squad suffered a double retirement for both Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, whose gearbox glitch put a miserable end to his 250th Grand Prix outing.
No such trouble for Mercedes whose true race pace was seen for perhaps the first time this season. Both cars left everyone else in their wake, launching themselves into a breath-taking 35 second lead by lap 20.
Hamilton and Rosberg fought for position in the early stages, trading places a number of times before Hamilton began to impressively eke out a 9.5 second advantage over his team mate. The 29- year-old’s hard work was to be undone however when the safety car came out on lap 40.
This resulted from a dangerous collision involving Pastor Maldonado and the Sauber of Gutierrez, who was flipped violently across the track as the Lotus driver exited the pits.
Maldonado rightfully received a 10 second stop and go penalty for the incident with the Mexican, who was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.The crash also sees three points added to Maldonado’s super licence and a five place grid penalty for the next race.
Following the safety car interval a 10 lap sprint to the finish ensued between the Mercedes pair, promising an entertaining finale to the race.
This saw a flawless defensive drive from Lewis Hamilton. Sporting the ‘Hard’ and slower tyre compared to his team mate who was on the quicker ‘softs,’ the Brit determinedly held the lead, taking the chequered flag for his second successive victory.
Afterwards, the 2008 World Champion gave his verdict on proceedings:
“It was exciting, Nico drove fantastically well throughout the race. It was so fair but it was so hard to keep him behind me.
“I was on a real knife edge the whole time so it was a great relief to manage it.”
Rosberg echoed this view, as the 28-year-old claimed that Sunday’s race was the “most exciting” of his career.
The Chinese Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time will be eagerly anticipated following the Gulf States’ success.
If Formula One can continue to replicate this level of exhilaration, 2014 is set to be a classic.