MANAMA: Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton extended his lead in this year’s title race on Sunday (Monday in Manila) when he drove to a near-flawless victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Briton, starting from the 42nd pole position of his career, led from lights to flag apart from two spells around the pit-stops to claim the 36th win of his career and his third in four races this year.
Hamilton came home 3.3 seconds clear of Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari who stole second ahead of Nico Rosberg when the second Mercedes driver suffered a braking problem on the penultimate lap.
It had seemed that the 29-year-old German would hold off Raikkonen’s late challenge, but both Mercedes lost their brakes in the final laps, Hamilton just hanging on to win.
Hamilton’s victory lifted him to 93 points in the championship, giving him a clear lead ahead of Rosberg, on 66 points.
Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams finished fourth after resisting a late attack from German Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth for Red Bull, his engine blowing up as he crossed the line ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India.
Russian Daniil Kvyat in the second Red Bull was ninth, and Brazilian Felipe Massa was 10th in the second Williams.
After another sweltering day at the Sakhir Circuit, the race began as the floodlights replaced the sunshine with a calm Hamilton making a perfect departure from the 42nd pole position of his career.
At the other end of the grid, Briton Jenson Button’s wretched weekend was completed by his failure to start the race, McLaren-Honda having been unable to resolve their electronic problems.
Brazilian Felipe Massa started from the pit lane after failing to start the formation lap in his Williams, but he made light of that in the opening laps behind a field led in confident fashion by the Mercedes of world champion Hamilton.
Raikkonen made a fast start, as did Rosberg who attacked Vettel, and this lifted him into third when the Mercedes’ man slipped back after his failed assault on seizing second place.
But Rosberg fought back to regain third and squeeze inside Vettel’s Ferrari at turn one on lap nine.
Hamilton opened up a six-second lead before Vettel was the first of the leading group to pit for new rubber after 14 laps, swiftly followed by Rosberg.
When Hamilton pitted, two laps later, Raikkonen led until he followed suit on lap 18. This gave the lead back to Hamilton, but Mercedes’ need to give Rosberg the first stop had clearly reduced the Briton’s control and lead at the front.
This was shown when Hamilton rejoined from his first stop just ahead of Vettel as Rosberg passed the Ferrari to take second.
By lap 24, a lead that was six seconds was trimmed to just 2.2 with Vettel less than a second adrift and Raikkonen, on the “harder” medium tires, closing.
Hamilton pushed to extend his lead to 3.9 seconds by lap 30 with Vettel a further 4.3 adrift and Raikkonen, 4.1 seconds further back, holding a strong fourth on mediums ahead of Bottas.
Vettel made his second stop to switch to medium tires after 33 laps. Hamilton followed a lap later for the same and then Rosberg, who lost his place to Vettel, who clocked a fastest lap of 1:37.547 to regain second.
All this left Raikkonen, running a different strategy, out in front of Hamilton with one more stop due, as Rosberg fought back against Vettel, taking second again as Vettel ran wide at Turn 14, damaging his front wing. Vettel had to pit for a new nose and re-joined fifth.
As Raikkonen struggled on his worn tires, Hamilton swept past to lead at the start of lap 40, both men avoiding an incident with Hulkenberg’s Force India as the German came out of the pits.
Ferrari finally called Raikkonen in for lap 41, putting him on soft tires for a closing dash after the Mercedes men and a potential podium finish.
With 15 laps to go, Hamilton led Rosberg by nearly five seconds and Raikkonen, clocking fastest laps, was adrift by 18 seconds in third.
The Finn cut into Rosberg’s advantage as the laps unfolded with Hamilton staying ahead of them both as the leading trio cut their way through lapped traffic on the closing laps. Seeking his first podium finish for 26 races, Raikkonen became ever more animated. “Come on! Blue flags!” he shouted over the team radio. “They just don’t move those people.”