Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has said he relishes the prospect of another wheel-to-wheel scrap with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari team at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Hamilton, 31, who finished second behind Rosberg at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, has been involved in previous thrilling and close battles with the German at the Bahrain International Circuit.
And he fought back after a bad start in Australia to help Mercedes deliver a one-two at the opening race after a fight to catch and overhaul the Ferrari drivers, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and the Finnish 2007 title-winner Kimi Raikkonen.
“I’m excited by the thought that there will be more races like Melbourne,” Hamilton said.
“We know there are going to be weekends where we are a few seconds up the road ahead of the Ferrari (team), races where it’s wheel to wheel and some races where they might be ahead.
“At the moment, we really don’t know what lies ahead and that makes it exciting. Bahrain has been very entertaining for the past two seasons so more of the same would be great for everyone.”
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Vettel and Raikkonen made the most of slow starts by the two Mercedes men in Melbourne to take control of the race and lead for more than half of the distance before they were reeled in — partly due to tyre strategy decisions — and overhauled.
This weekend, Ferrari expect to be stronger still and may have a good early opportunity to break the Mercedes grip on early-season victories.
“We’ve stepped up our game once again this year, but Ferrari were a real threat all weekend in Melbourne and it’s clear that we’ve got a big battle on our hands,” Rosberg said.
“I’ve had some great battles in Bahrain in the last two years, with Lewis and the Ferraris, so I’m expecting more of the same and looking forward to that.”
Team chief Toto Wolff confirmed that Mercedes fear Ferrari more than ever this weekend, but said that he was as worried about the sport’s image and the likelihood of another fiasco in qualifying on Saturday.
A new format of ‘progressive elimination’ in which a driver was knocked out every 90 seconds resulted in near-uproar in Melbourne when the session ended without a car on the track.
An immediate unanimous decision by the teams to revert to the former system of qualifying, in three timed mini-sessions without individual eliminations, failed to gain the full support of the F1 Commission.
As a result, the much-maligned new format will be used again in the hot and dry conditions at the Bahrain track at Sakhir, 30 kilometres south-west of the island capital Manama.
“The teams were unanimous in their opinion of it in Melbourne — and it wasn’t positive,” Wolff said.
“We haven’t found the right format with this change and it’s hard to see how it might be more entertaining for the fans this weekend in Bahrain.
“The sport is under scrutiny on this matter, so careful thought is required to make coordinated, intelligent steps forward from the position we are in.
“The fans want close racing in a format they can understand between the best drivers and cars in the world, in that order. We should be capable of delivering that.”
Since the Australian race, the drivers have voiced their concerns at the knee-jerk decision-making system and called for an overhaul of the administration of the sport.
In an open letter, the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) said the rules structure was “obsolete” and in need of reform — a position that was quickly supported by F1’s veteran commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.
As the circus flies in to Bahrain, there will be as much attention paid — once again — to the politics in the paddock and beyond as the action out on track.
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