Rosberg takes 17-point lead after two of 21 F1 races
Lewis Hamilton strode into the Sakhir circuit in the style of a Bahraini prince but could only hobble round the track like a deposed emir in his battered Mercedes after another inelegant start.
As immaculate as he was in the traditional Arab robe, Hamilton’s car was grubby and damaged by the end of a frustrating race under the lights. After a spluttering getaway, which brought him into the clutches of an over-eager Valtteri Bottas, rescuing a podium was the best the world champion could do.
Nico Rosberg did not make the same mistake, roaring off the line to set up a trouble-free victory,comfortably clear of Kimi Raikkonen. Rosberg’s fifth win in a row opens up a handy 17-point lead, even at this early stage of a marathon 21-race season.
Hamilton adorns himself in countless different attires - some more questionable than others - but the fashion so far this season has been for suspect starts.
In Melbourne two weeks ago, he fell into the pack, rendering his chances of victory impossible.Here was possibly even worse, thanks to Bottas’s error of judgment. He careered into the side of Hamilton and was deservedly punished with a drive-through penalty.
Nico Rosberg celebrates his second successive Formula One Grand Prix victory in Bahrain last night. Picture/AP
But the point remains that if you fly off the line, no blundering Finns have the opportunity to ruin your race.The three-time champion shouldered the blame rather than shift it on to the team.
It seems the new system of using a single-paddle clutch operated by his left hand, rather than the two that the drivers released last year, is not to Hamilton’s liking.
At least Formula One has managed to get one rule change right.
“Two separate incidents, both equally painful - perhaps today more painful,” Hamilton, who had started from pole position, said. “Again, damage limitation. Congratulations to Nico. I had so much damage to the car, I couldn’t fight with Kimi.”
There was still time for a little dig at his team-mate, not to mention his typically excessive fawning over the locals (he was not alone in that).
“An easy race for him [Rosberg], I assume,” he said on the podium.
The 31-year-old will not be too concerned just yet; the fundamentals of speed remain in his favour. But this blip will become a wobble if he fluffs the start again in China two weeks from now.
Nico Rosberg steers his car as he escapes from an accident behind him during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix last night. Picture/AP
While Hamilton’s race was a fraught affair, clawing himself back through the field having fallen to ninth, Rosberg’s was the epitome of calm.
Raikkonen, too, had a dreadful start, allowing the German a clear run.
The Finn, monosyllabic as ever on the podium afterwards, never got within five seconds or so.
True, Rosberg was never challenged, strolling ahead into the distance, but the German did not puta foot wrong. He did all he had to do, no more, no less.
Although his 16th victory does bring up one unwelcome statistic - he is now tied with Sir Stirling Moss as the most successful driver never to win the world championship - things are falling his way so far in 2016.
This race was a bit like the wretched new qualifying format, which the sport’s bosses have still not agreed to ditch: all the action came at the start.
Some of it even came before that.Sebastian Vettel, the man most likely to challenge Mercedes, did not even finish the parade lap. Huge plumes of smoke billowed from his Ferrari as the engine gave way while cruising around to take his mark on the grid.
Formula One will be suffocating on black smog before long if it keeps holding 90-minute meetings like yesterday’s on qualifying which produce no white smoke.
Bernie Ecclestone, Jean Todt and the teams will meet again on Thursday to sort out this mess, with an entirely new proposal now on the table, for qualifying to be decided on an aggregate system.
It is as unwelcome to the season as Ferrari’s apparent frailty.
“We didn’t expect to have any problems,” Vettel said. “I think we have reason to be confident but it caught us by surprise today.”
After Raikkonen’s retirement in Australia - also with an engine failure - this sets a worrying trend.
Vettel and Ferrari have no chance of winning the world championship if their car is slower and more brittle than the Mercedes.
Ecclestone joked in recent years the team have been running an ice cream shop, and they are doing nothing to prove him wrong.
Englishman Jolyon Palmer, in his second race, also pulled in the pits at the end of the parade lap to park his Renault.
It was not a great day for the Brits all round, with Jenson Button retiring his McLaren on lap seven. Watching from the garage after he was ruled unfit, Fernando Alonso winced.
His replacement, 24-year-old rookie Stoffel Vandoorne,impressed to take 10th.
After a frenetic prequel and first chapter, the race settled down into the usual intrigue of tyre strategies. Hamilton went for the hardest compound, confusingly called the mediums, in a bid to make it somewhere near the finish without stopping again.
He abandoned this plan after 15 laps. With the car bruised, down on performance, he settled in for third.Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth for Red Bull, the best he could hope for, while Romain Grosjean impressed again with fifth place for newcomers Haas. What an opening to their Formula One lives.
Hamilton could do with learning a thing or two from the American team about starts at the moment.