The real battle at the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix wasn’t for first per se, although if you ask Kimi Räikkönen, he could have made it happen if he had been given more time. No, it was for the rest of the podium. Here’s the flub and subsequent pass that gave Räikkönen second place over Nico Rosberg.
The race was going to be a good one from the start, which is surprising, because most fans don’t typically think of the Middle Eastern Tilkedromes as the home of exciting racing. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was on pole, but Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was right behind him in P2. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg started in P3 and Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen was in P4. The two teams most likely to bring home a win this season were all bunched up at the front.
Meanwhile, at the back of the grid, McLaren had tough news to deliver. Jenson Button’s car was unable to be repaired by the start of the race after suffering a glitch in the hybrid energy recovery system in practice and qualifying. The car was unsafe to race, so Button spent the whole time amusingly live-tweeting the race.
Hamilton jumped ahead in front of the pack early and was nearly untouchable for most of the race. Räikkönen and Rosberg, however, were the two to watch.
Rosberg had a disappointing end to his last race, unable to pass his teammate despite his claims that Hamilton was going too slow after the race. (If Hammy was going too slow for your liking, there’s one surefire way to fix that, you know: with a pass.) Whatever lack of aggression Rosberg had at the last race seems to have been shaken off at Bahrain, though. Rosberg was on it. Whenever he needed to pass and/or re-pass Sebastian Vettel for second place, he did. Whenever Räikkönen would try to come from behind, he’d quickly shut the door and keep the red car in his rear-view mirrors.
Räikkönen, on the other hand, has been part of Ferrari’s resurgence this year. However, his contract ends after 2015. According to ESPN, Raikkonen has been told that he must finish well enough to justify that contract extension. Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene told ESPN:
You want to know what I said to Kimi? He was telling me about the contract and I said to him, it depends on your performance. And Kimi, he’s the kind of person that he appreciates when you’re talking with him in a very transparent way and straight to his face.
Kimi knows, now it’s early to talk about this at the moment. I’m happy about the performance of Kimi but he needs to push and he knows that.
So, Kimi drove accordingly today, challenging Rosberg at Rosberg’s every move. He wasn’t afraid to challenge Ferrari’s tire strategy over the radio, either, asking why he was being swapped relatively early on to the softer tires towards the end when the harder option tire was working so well for him. They had to use the soft tire at some point, though, so Kimi just made it work.
These two drove as if they were racing for their seats, and man, was it fun to watch. Räikkönen passed Rosberg in the first few laps of the race, but Rosberg quickly regained his position. Rosberg wanted Vettel’s second-place position. Sebastian Vettel got pushed to third by driving uncharacteristically sloppily, but jumped back ahead of Rosberg when the Mercedes made its first pit stop. Rosberg quickly got back in front of Vettel, nailing second place en route to catch up with his teammate out in front.
After a second round of pit stops, Rosberg found himself released back behind Vettel, but Vettel was still struggling to keep his car on the track without running wide. Vettel made an off-track excursion similar to Pastor Maldonado’s impromptu gravel trap rally stage from yesterday, damaging his front wing. Rosberg nabbed second, and then Kimi Räikkönen was able to sneak past into third place when Vettel pitted for a wing change.
Räikkönen’s final pit stop put him well behind Rosberg, but this was a gap that Kimi quickly closed up. Rosberg was feeling the pressure, snapping back to his team, “Don’t tell me the gap anymore!” after they let him know that Kimi is now only 8.5 seconds behind the Mercedes. Kimi pushed hard until only a couple seconds separates him from the Mercedes.
Finally, Nico cracked under the pressure:
Rosberg ran wide on the next-to-last lap, handing Räikkönen second place right at the end of the race. At that point, it was decided: HAM-RAI-ROS for the podium.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg claim that they suffered brake problems at the end of the race during the podium interviews afterwards:
The brakes weren’t working as well as they got hot from the hard braking zones at Bahrain. Luckily, neither rolled back into the pits with the same clouds of smoke that were pouring from Maldonado’s front wheels when Maldonado’s Mercedes-powered Lotus driver came in on lap 44, but brake life is still one more thing the Mercedes team needs to resolve in order to stay ahead of Scuderia Ferrari.
Kimi, on the other hand? “Obviously, you’re never happy when you finish second,” he told Sir Jackie Stewart. That was a hard-fought finish not to be happy about, but you have to love a guy who isn’t content with being number two.
Vettel ultimately finished in fifth place, which is the price you pay if you can’t find that ragged edge of control and stay just barely beneath it.
Full provisional results can be found here.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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