Hamilton wins again to assert his place at the top

Lewis Hamilton sets the pace on his way to winning in Bahrain. Picture: Luca Bruno/AP
Lewis Hamilton sets the pace on his way to winning in Bahrain. Picture: Luca Bruno/AP
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LEWIS Hamilton believes he proved Mercedes remain the best in Formula 1 as the reigning champion continued his current domination of the sport with his ninth victory from the last past 11 races.

As in China a week ago, Hamilton’s latest win in Bahrain was another masterful, controlled drive from a man who has now set a personal best record of finishing in the points for 11 consecutive grands prix.

Overall, Hamilton has 36 career wins, with 21 of those from pole position to open up a 27-point cushion over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg who had to settle for third behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

It was Raikkonen’s seventh podium in Bahrain – with the Finn runner-up now on four occasions – and his first top-three finish since the 2013 Korean Grand Prix.

Hamilton finished a comfortable 3.3 seconds clear of Raikkonen, who made his way past Rosberg on lap 56 of the 57 under the lights of the Bahrain International Circuit, taking advantage of a mistake by the German as his brakes began to fade.

With three wins and a second place from the four races so far to date, the 30-year-old is in stunning form, with no let-up from last season after he won six of the final seven to clinch his second world title.

On his prospects of a third championship, Hamilton said: “I’m gunning for it.”

The Briton was again barely troubled throughout, with the exception of the last lap when he encountered a minor brake issue of his own.

Despite that, a happy Hamilton said: “The Ferraris gave us a real good run for our money. It’s great to be having a fight with them.

“Fortunately I managed to keep the car together and the tyres as healthy as possible.

“My brakes were a bit warm towards the end when I was behind a few backmarkers, but there wasn’t really a problem.

“For us as a team we have shown Mercedes is still the best, and we are working as hard as we can to maintain this momentum we have.

“Ferrari are pushing very hard to close up, but I’m so really happy and proud of everyone for all the hard work they have put in.”

The bonus for Hamilton in his quest to be a three-time champion is the fact Raikkonen managed to squeeze out Rosberg late on.

After Sebastian Vettel was forced into a third pit-stop for a new front wing following a see-saw battle with Rosberg, Raikkonen then became Ferrari’s main hope.

The Finn was the only one of the four leading cars to opt for the medium-compound Pirelli tyre in the middle stint.

That allowed Raikkonen to take the faster soft rubber for the third and final stint and close down a 20-second gap to Rosberg, who would likely have been passed anyway despite his brake problem.

With Rosberg losing ten points to Hamilton rather than only seven if he had finished runner-up, Hamilton was coy when asked if he was happy Raikkonen had taken points off the German.

“Ultimately we’re trying to win both championships, so I guess the team won’t be 100 per cent happy, and we’re not 100 per cent happy because we want to finish one-two,” said Hamilton.

“Kimi has taken some points off of us as a team, which obviously isn’t the best.

“But on the positive side I’ve good points, so we’ll take it, but we’ll work as hard as we can to rectify it and try to get some more one-twos moving forward.” After retiring in the season-opening race in Australia and finishing fourth in the last two races in Malaysia and China, Raikkonen proved he is drawing closer to his best again.

Certainly the 35-year-old appeared content enough as he said: “You are never happy when you finish second.

“But after a difficult start to the year I’m a bit pleased to get some result – a bit better result.

“Obviously we came through in the end very quickly, but we ran out of laps.

“We have to be happy after where we qualified (fourth), but obviously we’re looking for better results still.”

Vettel could eventually only manage fifth behind Valtteri Bottas in his Williams, while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was sixth, albeit crossing the line in spectacular fashion as his Renault power unit blew.

Fernando Alonso just missed out on the points with 11th and was the only McLaren to start and finish the race as Jenson Button’s car never even made it out of the garage due to ongoing electrical woes.

Manor’s Will Stevens again saw the flag, finishing 16th, more than 40 seconds clear of team-mate Roberto Merhi.