Teammate battles in Bahrain a refreshing tonic for F1

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I touched on this briefly in another MST piece this am, but the 10 points-paying finishers in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix came from the minimum possible number of teams, five.

What was intriguing about all that was that in each team instance, there weren’t any major dramas or public team orders determining how the pair of drivers would finish.

Mercedes’ pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had the epic scrap for the win between them. Hamilton and Rosberg would exchange moves that borderlined on crazy if one was established number one, but it was just a pure fight between them. Even in the final stint, as Rosberg was on the softer option tires, he should have by rights had the position over Hamilton. But he had to earn it, and despite several attempts, he was unable to pass Hamilton on the primes.

Red Bull provided the rare “Sebastian, Daniel is quicker than you” line on a radio transmission at one point as Daniel Ricciardo was, at that early point in the race, quicker than teammate Sebastian Vettel. Ricciardo had to fight to get ahead of him and ultimately ended fourth, while the four-time champion ended sixth. Ricciardo has done pretty much all that could be expected of him, and more, through three races thus far and his improved race pace has been a welcome sight for those more accustomed to his qualifying prowess at Toro Rosso.

Force India? What is it with Sergio Perez and Bahrain that ignites a fire under the young Mexican, where he’s fearless on passing maneuvers in places of the Sakhir circuit that you otherwise wouldn’t dare pass? He and Nico Hulkenberg had multiple great dices during the day, with Perez ultimately securing the team’s first podium in four and a half years, much to the delight of team principal Vijay Mallya.

Same story at Williams – the consternation of Malaysia had been replaced by another great, clean, fair fight between Felipe Massa and emerging superstar Valtteri Bottas a week later in Bahrain. Massa’s start was sublime; both were unlucky in the safety car period to fall from podium contention down to seventh and eighth.

Even Ferrari had Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen close, although Alonso appears ahead in that internal team battle thus far. There’s bigger issues at Maranello than the driver lineup; the car and power unit package weren’t in the same zip code this weekend.

But in all five of those instances, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific number one versus number two driver situation other than at Red Bull. And even there, Ricciardo’s established himself quickly as worthy of the seat to make it a near 1-and-1A situation.

With no established hierarchies within the teams – as yet, anyway – we were treated to five teams’ epic scraps as on-track battles won out over team preferences from the pit wall.

Team orders will always exist to a degree, but for less than two glorious hours Sunday night in Bahrain, they were not the story.