Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014

Will we see another Mercedes desert duel in Bahrain?

2015 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

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Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Less than a week after Nico Rosberg reignited tensions between himself and Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes pair return to the scene of their most famous battle in Bahrain.

But following three races in which Rosberg has appeared unable to challenge his team mate for position on track, let alone pass the world champion, the biggest question ahead of this weekend is whether Rosberg can respond to his team mate’s early season form.

After Ferrari snatched victory from Mercedes in Malaysia, the performance of the Silver Arrows in China showed that they are still the team to beat. Given the short turnaround between China and Bahrain it seems likely that unless Ferrari can find a touch more performance here, the race will still be Mercedes’ to lose.

Bahrain International Circuit

Lap length5.412km (3.363 miles)
Distance57 laps (308.2km/191.5 miles)
Lap record*1’31.447 (Pedro de la Rosa, 2005)
Fastest lap1’29.527 (Mark Webber, 2005)
TyresMedium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Bahrain International Circuit
track data in full

This weekend, the Bahrain International Circuit plays host to a round of the Formula 1 world championship for the 11th time and, if recent form is anything to go by, it should provide a reasonably entertaining race.

The enthralling race-long battle between Hamilton and Rosberg here last year proved to be one of the defining moments of the season. If Mercedes are to dominate proceedings once more, similar excitement this weekend would not go amiss.

Behind Mercedes, there are similarly tight battles at Ferrari – with Kimi Raikkonen robbed of a chance to challenge Sebastian Vettel for a podium last weekend – and at Williams with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finding only each other to race this season.

The Bahrain track is hardly the most iconic of Formula 1’s circuits, with tarmac run-off in abundance around the circuit and only the tricky downhill braking zone of Turn Ten providing much in the way of challenge.

But with its long straights, heavy braking areas and wide medium-speed turns, the Sakhir circuit is more than capable of producing wheel-to-wheel action – even if DRS is a contributing factor more often than not.

The invariably hot, dry conditions in Bahrain mean there is a higher chance of seeing Caterham make a surprise return to the grid than the teams needing to use wet tyres this weekend. Dry tyre wear is above average in Sakhir, but this season Pirelli have opted for the Soft and Medium compounds as in Shanghai, which could change the strategy dynamic of this year’s race.

Like last season, this year’s race will also be a floodlit affair as the race will begin at 6pm local time, making it the first time this season that fans will get to see the 2015 cars in action under lights.

Bahrain Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Mercedes

Back to their dominant ways in China after being beaten in Malaysia, Mercedes are again favourites this weekend. The tension between Hamilton and Rosberg is beginning to simmer after Rosberg’s post race comments in China, but Hamilton has every reason to feel confident after beating his team mate in each of the opening three rounds.

Bahrain was, of course, scene of the two rivals’ most memorable on-track battle of last season with Rosberg unable to pass Hamilton despite his best efforts.

Red Bull

Another frustrating weekend in China included yet another engine related retirement with Daniil Kvyat forced out early but both Red Bulls struggled for pace all weekend.

With the Bahrain circuit sharing similar characteristics to China, it’s difficult to see fortunes changing dramatically for the team this weekend. However, Sakhir has been a track where Daniel Ricciardo has impressed at before and the Australian could use his aggressive driving style to good effect again this weekend.

Williams

Williams have been caught in race-pace limbo in the previous two races – too fast to be troubled by the likes of Lotus, Red Bull or Sauber but not fast enough to run with Mercedes or Ferrari out front and expectations are likely to be similar for the team this weekend.

Felipe Massa’s long time engineer Rob Smedley believes the Brazilian is driving as well as he ever has this season and that bodes well for Massa on a track where he has enjoyed success with two victories and a pole position to his name.

Ferrari

Despite running close to the Mercedes in the first two stints in China, the ability of Mercedes to pull away from Ferrari in the final third of the race showed that a win was never really on for the Scuderia in China.

With Ferrari favourites to occupy the third step on the podium in the event of another Mercedes one-two in Bahrain, the question becomes which of the team’s world champion drivers it will be. Raikkonen was denied a chance to challenge Vettel in China after the late Safety Car, but the Finn is hungry for his first podium since Korea 2013 and there’s every chance we could see a battle between the two Prancing Horses on Sunday.

McLaren

McLaren continue to make progress with every race weekend but there is still a long way to go until the MP4-30 is truly competitive. Getting two cars to the finish in China without any mechanical problems will have been an important achievement for the new McLaren-Honda partnership.

With McLaren now able to concentrate more on improving performance, the first target will likely be to make it through the first session of qualifying. This goal will be made easier to achieve this weekend as Honda begin to ramp up the performance of their new power unit for the first time.

Force India

Force India headed to China with modest expectations and left with mixed feelings. Nico Hulkenberg was forced into retirement early with a drive train problem, while Sergio Perez just missed out on a point in 11th place.

Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was a memorable race for the team, with Perez fighting his way to a surprise podium. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a similar result this weekend and the Silverstone team will likely leave Sakhir satisfied with a points finish.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso will have been disappointed to have left China without any points after showing decent race pace. Max Verstappen’s impressive drive deserved to be rewarded by points, but mechanical problems ended his race and also temporarily halted Carlos Sainz Jr.

The team will likely be looking forward to Bahrain as it has proven to be a strong circuit for Toro Rosso in recent seasons. Sainz has prior racing experience in Bahrain from GP3, but Verstappen has only ever driven the kart circuit here, never the Grand Prix track.

Lotus

Relief will have been the overriding emotion for Lotus after China with Romain Grosjean scoring his first points for 11 months and the team’s first points of the season after a difficult start to the year.

Even with Pastor Maldonado’s mishaps, the E23 appears to be the fourth-fastest package this season behind Williams. With Romain Grosjean’s strong record around the Bahrain circuit, another points finish will be the goal for the team on Sunday.

For the second successive weekend, Jolyon Palmer will perform First Practice duties in place of Romain Grosjean.

Sauber

With Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams locking up the front of the field, Sauber are locked in a tight battle for the minor points places with Lotus, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Force India.

After a solid weekend resulted in both cars again in the points, Sauber are hoping to add to their tally in Bahrain with a batch of aerodynamic upgrades.

Manor

Manor achieved their goal of seeing both cars finish in China. With that, the team can finally focus on bridging the gap to the rest of the field.

Although the team’s claims that the car is improving on a session-by-session basis is likely true, Manor will act as backmarkers again this weekend as they seek to close down a three second deficit to the rest.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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61 comments on “Will we see another Mercedes desert duel in Bahrain?”

  1. I doubt we will see Rosberg challenge Hamilton as much as he did last year, unless he can win pole position.

    Hoping track conditions and strategies favor Ferrari in Bahrain. That could make the race very interesting.

    1. Think the same; he sounds to be beaten psychologically and the championship battle might be decided by the time he turns it around (if at all). The question is how many victories Hamilton will add this year until possibly Ferraris can challenge them for win

      1. NR sounds psychologically beaten? Quite the stretch coming from an armchair. I just hope the tires allow a bloke to get closer than 2 seconds of someone ahead without ruining them.

    2. @bullmello Pole? Like he had that last year too?

      1. @xtwl Rosberg had pole last year

        1. @mashiat That`s what I said. But he didn`t win that race either did he, so I don’t see why pole on Sunday will make any difference.

          1. @xtwl Ah I see. I misunderstood. But if Rosberg can start on pole and lead into the first corner, then the roles of Hamilton and Rosberg would be reversed (albeit Rosberg can’t hold a candle to LH in fighting and defending)

          2. What Y forget is the “slap on the Wrist” punishment that Rosberg got. We dont yet know how many more slaps he has to accept.

      2. @xtwl – I see your point and that is why I said “challenge”. Last season Rosberg did beat Hamilton in qualifying at times, but this season he doesn’t seem able to beat Hamilton in qualifying or get close to him on the track either. Maybe Ferrari can.

    3. With the reinforced rear tyres, perhaps a track like Bahrain can warrant Nico his one and only chance besides Monaco and Brazil to threaten the victory that said if wear is signinficant Ferrari can hurt Mercs strategy leading the team to sacrifice Rosberg.

    4. Pole position, and a convenient safety car to eliminate his teammate’s gap advantage at precisely the worst time.

      Hamilton had a 9 second gap and tires that would have comfortably seen him to the checkered flag, and Rosberg had new, faster tires, but a 9 second gap to close… and then Maldonado flipped Gutierrez off.

      Honestly, Rosberg had every conceivable advantage, and still couldn’t make a pass stick– it was spectacular to watch, but it showed just how comprehensively Hamilton can out-drive Rosberg.

  2. *rubs hands together* in anticipation.

  3. I think that the cooler conditions are going to play into Ferrari hands, at-least I hope so LOL

    1. @lukefelix Not likely, Ferrari’s trump card is warmer races, because it can make the tyres last longer. If its cooler, then the car treats them so gingerly it has trouble heating them up (& maintaining that heat) as well as Mercedes.

      1. It will be hotter than China and Australia (maybe) as well. Heard from Williams that it is rear limited at Bahrain. So it might play into their hands if things go well.

  4. I think it’s too soon to write Ferrari off for the top spot of the podium this weekend. China is a front-limited circuit, and Mercedes’ problems in Malaysia were with the rear tyres. A shame for Ferrari it’s not a hot day-race, but I still expect them to be more competitive than in China.

    As for Rosberg, I haven’t seen many comments from journalists or commenters here that expect him to put in a challenge, but he has some form tracks coming up:
    – Bahrain: outqualified Hamilton both 2013 and 2014, though never beat him in the race.
    – Spain: outqualified and outraced Hamilton in 2013, raced him close in 2014.
    – Monaco: outqualified and outraced Hamilton in 2013 and 2014.
    If Nico can put it on pole this Saturday, he could start turning his season around.

    1. @adrianmorse – The difference is that Hamilton is at another level to where he was last year. Nico was often quicker than Lewis last year but I haven’t seen any signs of that this time. Lewis seems to have a couple of tenths in the bag at all times.

      1. Oh I think LH is on the same level as this time last year…he was winning then too. But I don’t think coming within 4/100ths of LH in quali in China amounts to a couple tenths, and as we saw, clean air made all the difference thanks to the tires, so I really think the difference was marginal. At this time last year both drivers were playing with the boosts on their own, so assuming that silliness has ended it will be interesting to see what happens of course.

        I don’t know if NR can find an answer to LH, but I am certain he is 100% bound and determined to try. And it starts with pole, which all of NR’s detractors cannot deny is a possibility for him.

      2. @petebaldwin This new Merc is tailor made to Ham’s needs he likes a car on the rears. Lewis usually hurts the rears but the new rear tyres seem to ease that, and also have the effect of tipping the mechanical balance to produce inherently more understeer which further protects the rears and aids drivers that can manipulate the rear with ease. I think it’s more that Nico can’t adapt his driving style, he’s as clueless as they come, his a computer than only works with the right inputs on his own he can’t figure out what he needs to do, which would be his only hope as the team is reigned by Hamilton in all respects, they are not going to help Nico disturb the balance.

        1. @peartree – Yeah fair enough point. If the car has been designed based on Hamilton’s driving style though, that is only because he beat Nico in a car that wasn’t…

          1. @petebaldwin I wouldn’t that sure about the 2014 car, this was as Lewis said the 1st Merc on which he had fundamental input, unlike the 2013 car. I think it’s reasonable to put your faith on Lewis Hamilton even though 2014 didn’t require this type of thinking. Hamilton’s signing is also responsible for keeping Merc in F1, and you can’t blame neither party it has worked brilliantly.

    2. You are kidding about Monaco last year, right? That was the weekend where Rosberg gave up on racing Hamilton, and it’s been a downward spiral ever since.

      As for Ferrari, a thought for that nice, clever ex-TD Aldo Costa, who IMO has sorted Merc’s tyre usage. A fine example of a team deploying its talent the right way, now.

      1. @lockup, ok, by outraced I meant he finished in front, and I think that’s enough for Nico (and the standings of course). Who knows, perhaps Rosberg even savours the ‘undeserved’ victories the most.

        1. Well I dunno @adrianmorse. For me it’s sad where Rosberg’s ended up. He used to be popular and smiley, most of us liked him, and now everywhere you look there’s negativity about him. He doesn’t smile the same, it’s all a bit forced. I really hoped after Spa he’d woken up to the point of values, with the big charm offensive, but then he did Sepang Q3.

          Cos surely the idea of doing any sport is to be respected, to have status and be admired. Winning is a metric, not the goal itself. They can still be admired and respected without winning, as someone mentioned with Gerhard Berger for example. So to lose and be known as a cheat is really self-destructive. Then the ‘he wouldn’t let me win’ message with its loser subtext just takes things from bad to terrible.

          And all the worse being son of Keke of course. I really doubt it’s part of a plan. I think he just can’t accept what he needs to accept, to the point of not really being rational.

          1. +1
            The desperation of the Monaco qualifying stunt last season is still having a negative effect on Rosberg’s mindset. Amazingly some pundits (coincidentally including those who claimed at the time that it was an innocent mistake but now admit it was deliberate) think Rosberg should try the same kind of thing this year.

          2. @lockup Ah, your usual heavy-handed approach to NR I see is still alive and well. But then, I’ve never respected nor admired MS for compiling numbers with a contracted non-competing subservient for a teammate while still bullying drivers right off the track if not running right into them. So even his 7 titles never won me over.

          3. Yeah I agree about MS @robbie, we very much share the same values I feel :)

            And yes @DavidBR the pundits and F1 media were a disgrace over Monaco and Spa IMO. It was left to the fans at Spa to inject some sporting ethics.

          4. @lockup The fan reaction seemed to be what most affected Rosberg.

            My guess is that last year Mercedes were happy to keep the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry going as it was a media story when they had no real competitors. This year Mercedes v. Ferrari would actually be a much better story for them. So Rosberg is on thin ice pushing last year’s theme.

  5. Rosberg has now learnt that he cannot beat Hamilton without having track position, and this race, a track where he has been on pole position for the past two years, perhaps represents his best opportunity so far this season. However, it was an opportunity he didn’t capitalize on twelve months ago, and one senses, much as Vettel made a big step versus Webber in 2011, Hamilton is close to being out of Nico’s reach.

    It is particularly telling that we are now waiting for tracks where Rosberg has been historically strong to see him challenge Lewis, instead of the consistent assaults he managed in 2014. We may only be three races into the season, but Nico Rosberg’s title challenge is already faltering.

    1. Given how slow Hamilton was at the front, I doubt Lewis could have overtaken Nico then. It maybe too early, but right now it seems who ever leads in the first corner is going to win the race.

  6. Last year’s first stint was close wasn’t it, then Lewis took off. I have an idea Lewis’ setup is doing better without famous-but-old Jock Clear, and I’m not expecting Rosberg to get much of a look-in.

    Bottas HAS to do better this weekend, surely. And Kimi. Please.

    1. @lockup Kimi did do well in China bar the Q3 lap. I don’t think he will challenge Vettel for ultimate pace on Saturday but he is a different beast on Sunday.

      Expecting more from him in the next few races. Ferrari should keep off from issuing any orders though. They both are clean racers.

      1. yeah @evered7 I don’t think Arrivabene / Allison are too into team orders. It’s a new and much more likeable regime at Ferrari, plus the WDC isn’t on the cards really. I’m sure the team will give Kimi every chance, he just needs to rediscover 2003 Kimi!

      2. @evered7 – A different beast he may be but it’s still 3-0 in races, 3-0 in podiums, 3-0 in qualifying and 1-0 in wins. Kimi needs to step it up because at the moment, Vettel is hammering him.

        1. @petebaldwin One clean weekend and he was on the tail of Vettel at the end of the race with a chance for a fight (if not for the SC). It doesn’t seem like hammering to me. Stats don’t tell the full story necessarily and with Mercedes sure to occupy two of the three spots in the podium, the fight for the third spot is all it is for Ferrari drivers at the moment.

          Agreed, some of the issues might have been of his own doing. But he showed what he can do in China. I believe he will excel in the races than in qualifying. Not bad for the oldest driver on the grid (if I am not wrong).

          1. @evered7 – I hope he can compete with Vettel this year but if he keeps letting himself down in qualifying, he’s going to spend every race playing catch-up…

          2. True, bit I feel the problem is a bit more than qualifying. Drivers tend to get stuck into their driving styles and this in turn has to suit the way the car is srt-up and driven. If that fine balance is not achieved, a very good driver can produce less than mediocre results and that is exactly what heppened to Vettel last year. This year he is happier not the least because the well balanced, tyre-saving Ferrari suits him, probably better than he expected. The only think it lacks to serious;y challenge the Mercs is outright pace but hopefully that will not be long in coming.

            With Raikkonen the problem is much more complicated. Qualification was never his strength and quite often he struggled in the early part of a race as well. In a lot of his race wins, Raikkonen came back in the second part of the race. But his driving style is somewhat diffferent from Vetterl’s in that the Finn likes to be able to throw his car around corners and even with the new front-end srtting this is not working well for him. He needs a car than handles like the 2005 McLaren (with more reliability) and of course the mordern trimmings.

  7. This was the first race last year where Rosberg genuinely challenged Hamilton. He’ll be coming here knowing if he doesn’t turn it around here he probably just won’t this season. And I think he’ll crack under that pressure.

    If Ferrari are competitive He won’t chance his 2nd. If not I think he’ll throw everything he has at Hamilton and it could end in tears.

    1. “This was the first race last year where Rosberg genuinely challenged Hamilton”

      No it wasn’t, Hamilton was leading Rosberg by a comfortable 8-9 seconds before the Safety car brought them together at the end.

    2. Because Lewis was on the better tyres in the middle stint. In the first stint they were on equal tyres, and Rosberg was clearly quicker.

  8. Simon (@weeniebeenie)
    16th April 2015, 11:42

    Last year they split the strategies because it was early days in the season and they knew they had a big advantage over the rest, evidenced by that blistering pace after the SC. This year, with pressure from Ferrari, they’re bound to play it say and mirror strategies, in theory giving us a similar race to China. The only hope is that somehow there is actually an attack on the positions, rather than just holding station.

  9. The Blade Runner (@)
    16th April 2015, 12:09

    Nico is one Hamilton DNF off challenging for the Championship and needs to take a deep breath and keep a clear head.

    For me Lewis is a much tougher driver but Nico is still in the mix. With Ferrari now more competitive he appears to be panicking prematurely.

    As for Ferrari themselves, a podium (or two) this weekend would be fantastic and would really spice the Championship up.

    1. @thebladerunner – Conversely, Rosberg is one DNF from being well out of the championship. Sounds slightly desperate to hope for a DNF to get back in the championship already. We’re only 3 races in so lets hope for a close championship without it being affected by DNFs or underhand tactics.

      1. Yes, but he’s right. Rosberg should just be stacking up those second place points quietly while he works out how to drive quicker than Hamilton. Many a championship has been won that way.

  10. I think Williams are in a position where they can take some big gambles – go for an all out qualifying setup and try and get on the front row so that they can get some decent TV during the race – or go for an all out race setup, qualify on the harder tyres and try and hang on for a long first stint in the hope the safety car shakes things up. Either way they should still get 5th and 6th at worst!

  11. I fear that Rosberg will get the upper hand in this round, too much self confidence may bring troubles for LH.

    1. I’m not sure it’s confidence that will affect Lewis, it’s more how he responds to things when they go wrong because they will at some point. The team will make a call that appears to benefit Nico or Lewis will suffer a couple of consecutive DNFs etc. That’s when we’ll see what Lewis is made of.

      Don’t forget, he had one DNF and 4 wins from the first 5 last year but after Monaco, he struggled to get to his early season form for a good 7 or so races!

      1. I’m always a bit baffled by comments like these. Are you attributing Canada’s race ending break failure on Lewis? Or his engine catching fire in Hungary? Or his breaks failing in qualy in Germany? Or are you talking about his mistakes in qualy like in GB… Because as far as I can see Lewis faced far and beyond more trying circumstances but still ended up taking the WDC comfortably. So please elaborate on your reasoning.

        1. Mistakes mistakes mistakes.

      2. I think last year the timing of some events helped Nico more than Lewis (Contract renewal), also that conspiracy theory weakened him a bit, if Nico keeps his dirty play away LH will be stronger.

  12. I have a feeling this race will be a defining one in the Lewis vs Nico battle, and the Merc vs Their Boys management. I think Merc WILL split strategies, or decide not to. Either way, it will not be in Lewis’s favour.
    Expect this to sour the relationship and contract negotiations somewhat. Lewis is well known to get a bit paranoid when he perceives any kind of favoritism going the other way.

    1. @kbdavies – “I think Merc WILL split strategies, or decide not to.”

      You’ve got a good chance of being right there lol.

  13. Remember though that Rosberg was only given a chance in last years race due to a late safety car and Lewis being on the slower tyre in the final stint. Had Maldonado not rotated Guttierez we wouldn’t have had that amazing showdown that actually gave a false indication of Nico’s deficit to Lewis.

  14. there are similarly tight battles at Ferrari

    There were a lot of Finnish flags flying in Shanghai last week, but the best one showed a cartoon-Kimi snacking on an ice-cream. It’s about time Kimi put the ice-cream down and really showed us what he can do.

  15. The problem with Sakir is that the practice and qualifying performances may not reflect in the race itself. True, the desert track will be a lot warmer than China during the DAY but the track temperature drops rapidly after sunset and this is a twlight race. From that sense, it will favour Mercedes and not Ferrari.

    But there is a flipside to the coin. Sakir is the most abrasive track in the F1 calendar and rear tyres suffer in particular. If Ferrari set-up their cars well AND follow a good strategy, they may be able to challenge the Mercs in the latter parts of the race and if they are within shouting distance till then, a win is not totally out of question. But it is a small possibility only.

  16. Is there a chance for Caterham to participate?

    1. Well, Bahrain has rain on 6 days per year on average. Seems like Keith is estimating the probability of Caterham participating to be better than 6/365.

      1. @crammond Just like to point out that I’m the one making this radical statement, not Keith! ;)

        1. @willwood Ah, sorry! And thanks for your articles (this one and others), I have to admit I tend to overlook that line small grey line between the title and the actual article.

          However, over the course of the day I have learned those 6 days of rain are usually from November till January, so 6/365 was vastly overestimating the chances of rain.

  17. I think it’s too soon to odd Ferrari out of the fight for the win. In Shanghai and Sepang, Ferrari’s difference to Mercedes on track sectors that consists of a lot of straights were smaller than sectors with a lot of downforce. Considering Bahrain is probably the most power unit dependent track until now in the season, a surprise is not at all unexpected.

    The heavy braking and the great acceleration that the car has to perform means that the engine and the breaks will get hot pretty quick. Reliability may also plays a very important role; let’s hope we don’t see a 11-car-finish like Melbourne again.

  18. I think the Ferrari will join them as well.

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