April 21st, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - There is some head-scratching going on at Mercedes after Nico Rosberg delivered the team's second consecutive pole position but neither driver could challenge at the front during the race. Rosberg's pace was particularly disappointing, as he fell through the field to ninth at the finish. Lewis Hamilton struggled early on but his car improved as the air temperature dropped and he was able to fight his way to fifth place.
Rosberg led from the start, but it was immmediately clear that he did not have the pace to stay in front. The early laps saw a thrilling battle between Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Ultimately, Rosberg fell away from the leading group and then the afternoon became all about managing tyre wear. The initial plan was a three stop strategy, but late in the race that was switched to four stops, which cost Rosberg time in the pits but gave him the advantage of fresh tyres late in the race.
Lewis Hamilton spent the early part of the race in the middle of the field with no hope of progressing. He complained over the team radio of a lack of balance, which was the result of high air and track temperatures in the early stages of the race. But as the race progressed, into the late afternoon in Bahrain, the temperatures dropped and Hamilton's car improved dramatically. A late surge through the points positions ensued, including a thrilling battle with Mark Webber. Hamilton ultimately prevailed and brought his car home fifth.
After four races in 2013, it is clear that the Mercedes W04 is a quick car, with two pole positions clear evidence of single-lap pace. The problem is race pace, and in particular tyre management in higher temperatures. It is likely that temperatures will be lower in Europe than they were today in Bahrain, which should assist Mercedes in securing strong results at the next few races. But the concerns about tyre management need to be addressed - they have been the team's Achilles' heel for the last three seasons and have cost them scores of strong results.
Team and driver quotes after the Bahrain Grand Prix:
Lewis Hamilton: "I’m really happy with our result today. It’s been a tough weekend for us but we got through it and finishing in fifth place was some good damage limitation. My race didn’t start well at all. I was looking after the tyres but I really struggled on the first two stints and was falling back. But as the temperatures dropped, the car picked up and then I had the grip that I needed to push and close the gap. I had so much fun fighting with Mark at the end. We really needed that point and I was so determined to get by. It was good, clean wheel-to-wheel racing. I’m very proud of what we have achieved over the first four races and to be third in the Drivers’ Championship is beyond any of our expectations. But we’ve got to keep pushing and find more performance. We’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth at the moment and, if we can make that next step, then we can close the gap."
Nico Rosberg: "A tough day for me. As nice as it was to start from pole this afternoon, it was just as hard to finish in ninth place. I didn’t feel comfortable in the car today and it wasn’t much fun out there really. We switched to a four-stop strategy at the end of my third stint but it wasn’t enough. We were using the rear tyres too much and at the end, I was really struggling and wasn’t able to push hard enough. There is a lot of work ahead and we need to focus on why our race performance isn’t matching the pace that we can show in qualifying. Hopefully we can make some steps here before the European season starts."
Ross Brawn: "We struggled badly in the early part of the race when the track temperatures were at their highest. This is an issue we have to address and we will continue working on solutions to improve our performance in this area. In the second half of the race, as the track temperatures cooled somewhat, our pace was not bad - particularly with Lewis. We got two cars home in the points, both drivers enjoyed some exciting wheel-to-wheel racing and the pit crew delivered some great stops. Lewis and Nico did as good a job as possible with the car we had this afternoon but it was a case of damage limitation for both of them. However we must make it a priority to cope better with elevated temperatures: the tyres are the same for everybody and we are not performing as well as our competitors in these conditions."
Toto Wolff: "We knew it would be a tough day and the high track temperatures were clearly not good for us. That’s not an excuse but a priority area to improve. We need to analyse carefully why we suffered so much, particularly in the early stages, and why we were not on the pace. Both drivers were tough but fair in defending their positions and delivered some good racing, particularly Lewis in the closing stages. But from a team perspective we must see this as a disappointing result. We learned a lot this afternoon but it is clear that we still have a lot to learn."