Lewis Hamilton clinched his third race win of the 2015 Formula 1 season in style on Sunday by dominating proceedings at the Bahrain Grand Prix, leading home Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
The defending world champion only lost the lead through the pit stops and went unchallenged throughout the race to claim his third win of the season and extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship standings.
Ferrari was expected to put up a serious challenge to Mercedes in Bahrain, but despite getting Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel up into second and third place at the start, its pace soon faded, forcing the Italian team to settle for P2 and P5 at the flag.
The start saw Hamilton hold onto his lead from pole position as Rosberg looked to move down the inside of Vettel heading into the first corner. The Ferrari driver retained second place, whilst Rosberg lost out to Raikkonen through turn two, dropping down to fourth place by the end of the first lap. He soon set about recovering the lost place, though, passing Raikkonen on lap three with a fine move at the first corner.
While Hamilton was quietly opening up a gap to the rest of the field in first place, Rosberg was setting his sights on second place after Vettel made a mistake at turn one. After tailing the Ferrari driver for a lap, Rosberg dived down the inside at the end of the main straight, taking second place.
Further back, Felipe Massa found himself with a huge task in hand after stalling on the grid for the parade lap, leaving him with a pit lane start. He was soon on the fringes of the top ten though, setting himself up for another points finish in Bahrain. Pastor Maldonado was also on the back foot after taking the wrong position on the grid, and was given a five second time penalty by the stewards as a result, whilst Carlos Sainz Jr was also sanctioned for going too slowly on his reconnaissance lap before the race.
In a bid to catch Rosberg, Ferrari pitted Vettel for a fresh set of option tires on lap 12 of the race, hoping to use the undercut on Mercedes. Rosberg was pitted one lap later, but it proved to be too late as the four-time champion swept past at the end of the pit straight to recover the position. However, the Mercedes driver quickly fought back, storming past the Ferrari and to within striking distance of Hamilton, who had pitted one lap later than his teammate.
After going three laps longer than his rivals, Raikkonen pitted from the lead of the race and took on a set of the medium compound tires to put himself on an alternative strategy to the leading trio. The Finn dropped back as result of his longer first stint, though, falling back into the clutches of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. Raikkonen soon managed to find his feet on the prime tire, though, and even began to catch the leading trio of Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel.
In the fight for the small points, a number of drivers were switching to three-stop strategies in a bid to get the jump on their two-stopping rivals. Maldonado was the big winner in his second stop, passing both Felipe Massa and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr in the pit lane, giving himself a chance of points in Bahrain.
The same could not be said of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr, though, who was forced to retire after 29 laps due to a problem on his car. His teammate, Max Verstappen, parked his car up in the garage just six laps later, continuing Toro Rosso’s record of never scoring a point in Bahrain.
A mistake from Vettel gave the Mercedes drivers some breathing space at the front of the field ahead of the second round of pit stops, forcing Ferrari to try and exercise the undercut once again. Vettel was the first driver to pit for prime tires, with Mercedes bringing Hamilton in from the lead just one lap later.
By extending his stint by two laps, Rosberg was vulnerable to Vettel once again, and dropped behind the Ferrari driver upon exiting the pits. For the third time in the race though, the Mercedes driver was able to pass Vettel, forcing him wide at the final corner before passing his compatriot into turn one.
Vettel’s hopes of scoring a fourth podium finish of the year were soon dashed though after he sustained some damage to his front wing, forcing him to pit just three laps into his stint. The German driver emerged down in fifth place behind Valtteri Bottas, and was now focusing on damage limitation in the final stages of the race.
The decision to keep Raikkonen out for a long second stint soon backfired, though, as the Finn lost time and dropped behind Hamilton on track. He was eventually pitted on lap 38, emerging in third place with 20 seconds to make up to Rosberg in P2.
At the front, Hamilton remained in control of the race, enjoying a buffer of around five seconds to his teammate in the lead of the race as the laps ticked down. He eventually crossed the line with an advantage of 3.3 seconds to clinch his second victory in Bahrain and his third of the season, extending his lead at the top of the world championship standings.
Coming under pressure from Raikkonen in the dying stages of the race, Rosberg failed to hold on to second place for Mercedes, making a mistake on the penultimate lap of the race to allow the flying Finn through. Second place marked Raikkonen’s best result since the 2013 Korean Grand Prix, and was a welcome result for Ferrari.
However, Sebastian Vettel was less fortunate in the sister Ferrar. The German driver failed to catch Bottas for fourth place, with his extra stop for a nose change proving costly. Daniel Ricciardo came home in sixth place behind his former teammate, with Romain Grosjean finishing an excellent seventh for Lotus.
Sergio Perez’s love affair with the Bahrain International Circuit continued on Sunday as he finished the race in eighth place for Force India. Daniil Kvyat rallied from P17 on the grid to finish ninth, whilst Felipe Massa’s fight back yielded a solitary point for tenth place.
Fernando Alonso matched McLaren’s best result of the season so far in 11th place, finishing ahead of Felipe Nasr in P12 and Nico Hulkenberg in 13th. Marcus Ericsson came home P14 for Sauber, whilst Pastor Maldonado recovered from an engine problem to finish the race in 15th ahead of Manor drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.
Once again though, it was Hamilton who shined the brightest under the lights in Bahrain, controlling the race from start to finish. With Rosberg finishing down in third, the gap between the two Mercedes drivers only grows at the top of the championship standings, giving Hamilton a healthy lead heading to the start of the European season in three weeks’ time.