There is always that bit in a reality TV show where the team, the solid unit of people who have been friends and rivals and embarked on ‘the same journey’ are told that one will stay and one will go.
On Sunday in Bahrain it felt that someone had given the same threat to the drivers before lights out. The inter-team battles that we rejoiced in over 57 laps were hungry, determined and ultimately ended in smiles for one and frustration for the other. Formula 1 can sometimes seem more of a soap opera and actually might struggle to be a ‘reality TV show’ – the sport is so often accused of lacking reality but at the weekend, we saw wheel-to-wheel racing at its best.
It was like the 5000 lights in the desert had given us double vision; where there was one Mercedes, there was another. If you could see a Force India, there’d be two and so it went on with Red Bull and Williams.
The battle that blew everyone’s minds though was Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg. We always knew it was going to happen but for how long Mercedes would let them go wheel-to-wheel, we just didn’t know. Two top-class drivers, respecting each other yet understanding the bigger picture and why a DNF would not be good for reputation or career prospects gave us the perfect entertainment.
We should also stand up and bow to Mercedes bosses Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe for holding their nerves, as it was them who let the on-track battle continue right until the chequered flag. Different strategies meant that Mercedes knew that the battles would go right to the end of the race, if the team let them, and it did. In fact the battle was so intense that after the safety car came in, the Mercedes were three seconds a lap quicker than everyone else as they vanished off into their own world of combat.
The only time which could have been deemed inappropriate according to Rosberg, was when Hamilton swiped his silver arrow in front of the German’s. Rosberg said to “warn him that’s not on,” but after the race Rosberg said to me that he felt that on the whole, Hamilton respected the limits of wheel to wheel racing.
It was an interesting contrast to the Rosberg who, with adrenaline still pumping, got out of the car and gave Hamilton a hug. By the time he had reached the interview area and answered the same questions impressively in five languages, he realised that he had been dealt a reasonable blow by Hamilton.
Lewis on the other hand was bullish and deservedly so. “I doubt anyone wanted that race win more than me,” he said. It is incredible to think the last time Hamilton won back-to-back races was Turkey and Canada in 2010. He has the speed, the swagger and at last, it seems that he has his absolute confidence back.
Behind the Mercedes, the Force Indias had been going wheel to wheel for the first time this season and surprisingly for many, it was Sergio Pérez who came out on top of Nico Hülkenberg. The German is always strong and steady and fights tough and cleanly. Pérez is mercurial and can go from average to astounding but on track they traded places while mixing it up with the Williams. Bahrain has always brought out the fighter in the Mexican and under the lights he gave a dazzling show and Force India a very long-awaited podium.
Everyone knows that Sebastian Vettel is the star at Red Bull and with four world championships for the team, why shouldn’t he be? Did anyone expect Daniel Ricciardo to be so good so soon? I doubt it. His smiling demeanour outside of the car turns to steel inside and his cool team radio message, when he was getting held up behind Vettel – “Guys, we’ve got to make a decision about what we are doing here…” – was the mark of a racer who respects himself and not simply someone who is too grateful for the opportunity to sit behind and enjoy the view.
And the others were coming in like animals on the Ark, two by two. The Williams finished seventh and eighth with Felipe Massa heading off Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari had Alonso coming over the line ninth with his team-mate Rӓikkӧnen in 10th.
Likewise, the way the day went, cars failed to finish in twos as well. The McLarens retired within 15 laps of each other, a very unusual sight. Sadly a more common sight this season has been struggling Sauber. Adrian Sutil had to retire with accident damage and, incredibly, Esteban Gutiérrez was unscathed after his spectacular night flight.
The night skies of Bahrain brought out the stars but who knows, the graft and grit of China might create another new story. There are plenty of team-mates out to show they are just as good, or in fact much better than the man on the other side of the garage.