Lewis Hamilton feared he would lose even further ground to Nico Rosberg in the Formula 1 World Championship after his first-corner collision in yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes driver Rosberg, who now holds a 17-point lead in the title race, benefited from team-mate Hamilton’s coming-together with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas to claim his second victory in as many grands prix.
Pole-sitter Hamilton, following his second consecutive poor getaway, sustained damage to the front wing and floor of his Mercedes, but turned in a commendable recovery drive to finish third behind Rosberg and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
“It was damage limitation,” said Hamilton. “Congratulations to Nico, an easy race for him I assume, but I am glad it was not more points lost as obviously I could have not finished the race.”
Bottas was handed a drive-through penalty after the stewards deemed the fast-starting Finn to be at fault for slamming into Hamilton. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff subsequently claimed the damage cost Hamilton one second a lap.
“I lost a lot of performance from the car,” added Hamilton, who has now failed to taste victory since he clinched the championship at October’s United States Grand Prix.
“I am not quite sure what happened at turn one but whoever was on the inside was in my blind spot so I didn’t see them. It was a racing incident and these things happen.
“I tried to get as many points as possible and I did the best I could with it.”
Whilst off-track politics have plagued the start to Formula 1’s new campaign – notably the furore over what to do next with the unpopular qualifying format – the on-track spectacle has been more fascinating.
After an entertaining Australian Grand Prix, the start to yesterday’s race in the desert was even more dramatic.
Indeed Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the man deemed to be the greatest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance, was out before the grand prix had even begun.
Plumes of smoke emanated from the back of his Ferrari, and the German was forced to park his car. Jolyon Palmer was another casualty on the parade lap after he headed to his Renault garage with a technical failure.
Rosberg soon scampered into the distance, but Hamilton, with sparks flying off the undertray of his damaged Mercedes, began to carve his way through the field.
By the end of lap one, the Briton had progressed to seventh, which became fifth on lap seven, and then third one lap later.
While Hamilton was charging through the pack, Jenson Button’s day came to a premature end when he retired with mechanical gremlins. Fernando Alonso, sidelined for this race with a rib injury, winced at the back of the McLaren garage at his team-mate’s demise.
Back on track and the opening round of pit stops saw Mercedes split their strategy with Rosberg taking on a set of the grippier, soft tyres, while Hamilton opted for the more durable medium compound.
For a moment it appeared to be playing into the Briton’s hands as he managed to keep pace with both Rosberg and Raikkonen. But he soon began to slow and he was faced with no option other than to stop for a fresh set of rubber earlier than his team-mate and the Ferrari in second place.
From there his charge stopped as he failed to place Raikkonen under any pressure, and in the end, it was a regulation victory for Rosberg, the 16th of his career. “The key was the start,” said Rosberg.