Lewis Hamilton, clearly jubilant after his win in Bahrain, his third of the season and one concluded after a weekend in which the threat from Ferrari was expected to push his team to the limit, revealed after the race that he was happy just to have made the chequered flag in front.
“I think winning is winning so it doesn’t particularly matter who it’s against,” he said.
“You’re trying to beat everyone out there. Naturally it’s great to be having a fight with the Ferraris. I think for us as a team – and I think still today that Mercedes are still the best and we are working as hard as we can to keep up with this momentum that we have – that they are pushing very hard to close up.
The closest his rivals came to the world champion on track, however, was as he exited the pits from his first stop, a moment he acknowledged was key in the race.
“I think I had a decent gap and then all of a sudden I was coming out of the pits and they were right there,” he said. “So I think I had a fairly slow pit stop and naturally that’s really why, I guess, the gap closed up.
“I came out of the pits, braking into turn one and I saw them in my left mirror and I’m like: ‘Oh my God, this is close.’ But it was so much fun. Really good fun.”
His team-mate Nico Rosberg, who was pipped for second by Kimi Raikkonen at the end, was philosophical in turn about what had been a tough race. Having lost a position to Raikkonen at the start he was determined to come back. “I felt that the car was awesome, so went full on the attack straight away and was happy to get by Kimi and Sebastian [Vettel],” he said. “Great fight with them, that was very exciting at that point in time. Then dropped back again behind Sebastian after a pit stop so had to get him over and over again.”
Rosberg confirmed it was a brake problem that allowed Raikkonen to slip past on the penultimate lap. “Unfortunately I was struggling with brakes a little bit throughout the whole race and just lost them.” he said. “Two laps from the end I lost the brakes, so I went straight on and had to carry the car home for the last two laps.”
But it is perhaps Raikkonen who will come away best pleased from Bahrain. His contract concludes this year and he has been told by Ferrari’s team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, that any discussions about him re-signing with the Scuderia depend on his on-track performance.
Hence there were reasons to be very optimistic after he finished in second while his team-mate, Vettel, came home fifth.
“We had decent speed today. I think we just have to keep working and improving the whole package,” he said. “I’m sure we will get there and we can fight every weekend after that.
“I’m very happy with the team and I think many people didn’t expect after last year that we would be in this position this early.”
“The whole package has gone forward,” he added. “A big chunk of it is the engine but you cannot give all the credit to them. The car has improved a lot, there’s a lot more down force, it’s handling a lot better. People are working more closely, which has helped us get to where we have now.”
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