MANAMA, Bahrain, April 16 – Just days after their latest spat following Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg return this weekend to the scene of one of their most dramatic on-track battles at the Bahrain GP.
World champion Hamilton emerged triumphant last year after a spectacular roller-coaster contest when he snatched victory ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Rosberg.
German Rosberg, who has taken pole in Bahrain for the last two years, knows he needs to complete a hat-trick of prime grid positions to give himself a chance of winning and reducing Hamilton’s current lead in the 2015 drivers’ championship.
The Briton leads with 68 points after two wins in the three season-opening races, ahead of nearest challenger, Ferrari’s four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany, who ended his team’s long barren spell with victory in Malaysia, on 55 and Rosberg, third on 51.
“We, the team, have made a great start to the season and, with this incredible car, I know I just need to find a little bit more in myself to get back to the top step,” said Rosberg.
“I’ve never won in Bahrain, but I’ve taken the last two pole positions here and also set the fastest lap at this circuit on my F1 debut, so I know I have the pace.
“Of course, everyone remembers the race last year and it would be great for the fans if we can put on another great show. If we can, but with the two top steps in a different order it would be fantastic.”
Rosberg’s polite optimism was true to his nature, but in contrast to the single-minded focus of Hamilton who, this year, has shown a ruthlessness that has made him clear favourite for a third title.
– Lingering animosity –
“It’s been a great start – but for me last season showed that you can never feel too comfortable and that’s even more the case this time around with Ferrari right there with us,” said Hamilton.
“I’m in a good place right now. The momentum is with me. So the target is to carry that on and repeat last year’s performance.”
In the wake of their post-race row in Shanghai, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the team had dealt with the issue and prevented any lingering animosity.
Rosberg accused Hamilton of deliberately slowing to ‘back him up’ into a possible attack from Vettel.
“We saw tensions and we tackled them directly on Sunday night to stop anything carrying over,” said Wolff. “When you have intense competition, it’s normal that emotions run high and that’s not something we want to change.
“Both drivers are focused on delivering maximum performance in Bahrain and we maintain our philosophy of letting the drivers race.
“They know our priority is to win for Mercedes-Benz.”
Mercedes’ dominance has been threatened already by Ferrari this season and Finn Kimi Raikkonen believes the Italian team can catch them in the title race.
“Yes. I don’t see a reason why not,” he said. “I think we have good plans already since last year and have made big gains and will make big gains during this year.
“Everybody improves and it depends what the rest are doing But you need time. You cannot make miracles overnight.”
Ferrari’s turnaround – after widespread staff changes – has also inspired Red Bull boss Christian Horner, despite his team’s poor start.
Red Bull were champions supreme from 2010-2013, and were the only team to beat Mercedes last year, but have yet to improve on sixth this season.
“As Ferrari has demonstrated, things can turn around pretty quickly when you’ve got clear direction and a clear focus,” said Horner, who insisted that he retained faith in engine suppliers Renault’s ability to revive their performance.