Lewis Hamilton claimed his third win of the season with a controlled drive to the chequered flag in Bahrain, but it was Kimi Raikkonen who shone under the lights of the Sakhir Circuit as the Finn closed a 19-second gap to Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of the race to steal second place from the Mercedes driver two laps from home.
After a solid start, Hamilton controlled the race effortlessly from the front, the only blip in an otherwise regulation race coming from of a slow first pit stop that briefly saw the champion drop back toward the chasing pack. He soon restored order though and eventually took the chequered flag 3.3s ahead of Raikkonen after backing off on the final laps.
Rosberg and Raikkonen, meanwhile, tussled mightily in the closing laps, with Raikkonen working a soft-medium-soft tyre strategy against his rivals choice of mediums for the final stint to erase a 19-second gap to Rosberg in the closing stages. Rosberg pushed hard to defend but brake issues at the end of the race led to the German running wide two laps from home and the Ferrari man swept past to claim an excellent second place.
At the start of the race Hamilton got away well to lead into turn one with Sebastian Vettel in close attendance. The German was challenged by Rosberg and as Vettel defended second place Raikkonen went around the outside of the Mercedes and sealed the pass as the field streamed through turn two.
Rosberg regained third place at the start of lap four, passing the Finn with a neat move through turn one. Rosberg then began to close on Vettel but was told to look after his brakes for a period before attacking the next Ferrari on the road.
Hamilton, meanwhile was busy building a gap to Vettel. At the end of the first lap the champion was 0.8s up on the Ferrari and over the next seven laps he widened the advantage to 2.3s.
He was aided in that task by Vettel coming under increasing pressure from Rosberg. The Ferrari driver made a mistake into turn one on lap eight and narrowly avoided losing second, but Rosberg used the closer proximity to launch another assault into turn one, under DRS, on the following lap. The pass was clean and it was two-by-two for Mercedes and Ferrari at the head of the field with the Silver Arrows in front.
Behind the front four, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was fifth, four seconds behind Raikkonen, while Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was three seconds adrift of Bottas back in sixth. Romain Grosjean was seventh for Lotus ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, with the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez in the final points positions.
Vettel was the first of the front runners to pit, on lap 13, with the German taking on more soft tyres. Rosberg followed on the next lap to take on more soft tyres and he was followed by Bottas and Ricciardo. Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 15, but Raikkonen elected to stay out.
The undercut and a 2.4s stop for Vettel, against more than three seconds stationary for Rosberg, saw the Ferrari get ahead of the Mercedes man. However, Rosberg soon put the lapse right, passing Vettel with an aggressive move under DRS on the pit straight on.
A poor 3.7s pit stop for Hamilton dented his lead, too and by lap 19 he was 1.3s ahead of Rosberg with Vettel a further three seconds back.
Raikkonen made his first visit to the pit lane, for medium tyres, on lap 17. The stop appeared to seriously disadvantage the Finn, who was soon 10 seconds behind Vettel. However, it remained to be seen whether his strategic choice would bring him back into play in the latter stages.
On lap 20 Bottas remained in fifth place, with Ricciardo sixth ahead of Grosjean, Ericsson, Hulkenberg and Massa, who had clawed his way into the points after being forced to start from the pit lane after he failed to get away from the grid for the formation lap.
Massa would soon be passed by Felipe Nasr, with Pastor Maldonado in close attendance in P12. The three pitted in tandem on lap 24 and it was Maldonado who profited most. His Lotus crew got him out of his pit box quickest and after a side-by-side battle with Massa towards the pit lane exit the Venezuelan leapfrogged both rivals. Maldonado again had an eventful race. At the start he was hit with a fiev-second time penalty for being out of position on the grid and he eventually finished in P15.
At the front, though, Raikkonen was flying on his medium tyres and within 10 laps he had taken four seconds out of his 10-second deficit to Vettel and was 12.6s behind leader Hamilton.
Once again, Vettel was the first of the frontrunners to make his second stop, the German heading for the Ferrari box on lap 32 where he took on a final set of medium tyres. Hamilton made his second visit to the pit lane at the end of the following tour and he too took on the harder Pirelli tyres.
Rosberg also took on mediums on lap 34 but once again Vettel’s undercut worked and after a race fastest lap of 1:37.547, the Ferrari driver again found himself ahead of the Mercedes.
However, in a repeat of the earlier episode, Vettel made a mistake, this time in the final turn, and Rosberg swept past to take third as Raikkonen stayed out in the lead ahead of Hamilton. Vettel then reported front wing damage after his off and headed to the pit lane for a new nose cone. The unscheduled stop dropped him to P5 behind Bottas.
Raikkonen was now 3.7s ahead of Hamilton but losing chunks of time to the hard-charging Mercedes driver. He was however, 10 seconds ahead of Rosberg and a late-race challenge for P2 looked possible.
Hamilton regained the lead by passing Raikkonen into turn one at the start of lap 40 and the Ferrari driver immediately headed for the pit lane for his final set of soft tyres at the end of the lap, though he was now only 6.0s ahead of Rosberg. When the Finn rejoined he was 19 seconds adrift of Rosberg.
Vettel, meanwhile, was closing on Bottas, and by lap 42 the gap to the Williams driver was down to 1.3s. Behind Vettel, Ricciado was still secure in sixth ahead of Grosjean, Massa, Perez and Daniil Kvyat, who had climbed from 17th place on the grid to stake a claim to a points position.
Raikkonen, meanwhile, was again flying, and by lap 48 the 19-second deficit had been cut to 7.6s. By the final laps Raikkonen was almost in DRS range but it was the brake issue for Rosberg that eventually allowed the Finn to take second.
Behind Rosberg, Bottas kept Vettel at bay to finish fourth and Daniel Ricciardo completed his lonely run to sixth, but only just. The Red Bull Racing driver’s Renault engine expired in the final corner and he crossed the line with a rooster-tail of smoke pouring from the back of his RB11. Grosjean was seventh for Lotus, ahead of Perez and Kvyat, who passed Massa for P9 in the closing stages.
It was a day of contrasting fortunes for McLaren’s drivers. Prior to the start Jenson Button was ruled out of the race, with the team unable to get his car repaired in time. Fernando Alonso, though, got McLaren to the cusp of the points, the Spaniard also using a option-prime-option strategy to race to P11 ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
2015 Bahrain Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1h35m05.809s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 3.380s
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 6.033s
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 42.957s
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 43.989s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1m01.751s
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m24.763s
8 Sergio Perez Force India 1 Lap
9 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1 Lap
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1 Lap
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 Lap
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1 Lap
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1 Lap
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 Lap
15 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1 Lap
16 Will Stevens Marussia 2 Laps
17 Roberto Merhi Marussia 3 Laps
– Max Verstappen Toro Rosso DNF
– Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso DNF
– Jenson Button McLaren DNS