Delight for relieved Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has admitted his victory in the Bahrain GP was on a "knife-edge" after triumphing in a thrilling duel with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg
In one of the most exciting races for many a year, and on an afternoon when critics of the 'new Formula 1' fell silent as the nail-biting 57 laps produced action and drama galore, Hamilton prevailed by the narrowest of margins as he crossed the line just one second ahead of his team-mate and title rival.
It was a race which, in effect, Hamilton had to win three times: first at Turn One when he out-braked the pole-starting Rosberg with scarcely a tyre's width between the two W05s as Hamilton snuck into the lead, then on Laps 17-18 as he just rebuffed Rosberg's advances to retain the critical strategic advantage of pitting first and finally, after the Safety Car deployment wiped up the ten-second lead he had painstakingly built up, holding off Rosberg during the edge-of-the-seat final laps despite running on the slower medium compound. This was F1 at its very best with the winner of the race still in doubt all the way to the chequered flag.
"I thought he was coming past me at some point," Hamilton confessed to Sky Sports F1. "It was very hard but very fair. It was on a knife-edge and such a relief when I crossed the line."
Twice Rosberg edged ahead of his team-mate into Turn One over the final laps and twice Hamilton defiantly clung on to the inside line at Turn Two to hold on for the lead and a victory which narrowed his World Championship deficit to 11 points.
"He was so quick at the end and to try and stay ahead of him out of the DRS zones was so hard," reflected Hamilton. "To be overtaken, when you do allow him to go past you have to calculate how you are going to get back. Every time I did it perfectly.
"He had the option tyre so I thought he was coming past at some point, but in the last couple of laps I was able to hold onto it.
"It was one of the toughest situations I've been in for a long time."
Rosberg, to his immense credit, warmly embraced Hamilton before the podium ceremony but couldn't disguise his irritation at being beaten on an weekend when even Hamilton admitted the German had been the faster Mercedes driver.
"I strongly dislike coming second, but that was the most exciting race of my career," said Rosberg. "It was very intense, a big battle and really aggressive, putting everything to the limit and so many times I thought 'now I've got him' and he just came back at me.
"But this was a day for the sport, I think we put on a great show."
They certainly did that with the breathtaking spectacle served up under the lights occurring in the wake of fresh criticism of F1's new model.
"That's the spirit of Mercedes and what motor-racing should be," countered team boss Paddy Lowe. "We went out there today and showed everyone not only can we bring fantastic technology to the sport but we can bring entertainment too."
Just before the race was reactivated following the lengthy Safety Car deployment following Esteban Gutierrez's crash, Lowe was overheard on the Mercedes pit radio urging both his drivers to "bring the car home", but he was at pains afterwards to clarify that the directive did not constitute a team order.
"It didn't mean don't race, we aren't about that - and we proved that today. They are such great drivers, they made it easy for us because they took it right to the limit but not beyond."
Added Hamilton: "It felt very close - and I guess the team will decided how close that was. But Nico drove very well and hopefully I drove safe enough to stay in front. Hopefully we have more races like that in the future."
Amen to that.