Daniel Ricciardo was beaming with pleasure in the desert on Sunday after claiming an excellent fighting fourth place for Red Bull in an incident-filled Bahrain Grand Prix. He is now third in the drivers championship after two of this year’s 21 races.
The Aussie racer was caught up in a collision at Turn One on the opening lap – an accident that wrecked world champion Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of turning his 51st career pole into victory – but recovered to track down the leading pack.
In the end, he was left driving around out on his own as Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg claimed his second win of the season, fifth in succession and 16th of his career ahead of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and third-placed Hamilton.
"Fourth is good and I am happy,” said Ricciardo. “The last part was a bit lonely for me, but it was a nice lonely because we know Mercedes and Ferrari are a step ahead of us…”
Hamilton’s mishap at Turn One, where Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams slid into him, and the pre-race loss of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari with an engine failure on the formation lap, gifted Rosberg an easy win under the floodlights at the Bahrain International Circuit.
"The start was interesting,” said Ricciardo. “I didn't think I got a very good launch and the first corner was tight. I saw some contact in front of me and managed to get caught up in it as well.
“I damaged the front wing. I was worried that I’d have to come into the pits and fix it, but in the end the damage was not as bad as I thought so I was able to carry on."
Just as at Albert Park in last month’s season-opener, Rosberg was able to profit from Hamilton’s misfortunes and take victory, leaving the Englishman to recover from eighth on the opening lap and claim a podium finish.
“This has been an awesome weekend for me, and it is awesome to get another win!” said Rosberg, delighted to have a 17-points lead over Hamilton after just two races. “The key was the start -- I had a great getaway and then, from there, I was just trying to control the race.
“I really enjoyed it and I must congratulate everyone here in Bahrain – this has been an awesome race weekend and on a great race circuit.”
Hamilton played down the setback and said there was no connection between the two first corner incidents that have upset his start to the season.
“I think they are two separate incidents, but equally painful – perhaps today more painful. Again, for me, it was damage limitation and I was glad to get up there and score some points.
“Congratulations to Nico, but I guess he had a pretty quiet race! I am just glad that I didn’t drop more points here. I feel very chilled about the situation, to be honest.”
Hamilton also praised and thanked the Bahrain organisers, explaining that he had arrived on Sunday morning in full traditional Arab dress partly as a signal of his gratitude to his hosts for their kindness and hospitality. “I really enjoy it here,” he said.
The two Mercedes drivers had started from their eighth successive front row lockout on the grid ahead of the Ferraris of four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen.
Vettel, expected to produce a challenge to the Mercedes domination, failed to make the start for the first time in his career after a pre-race engine failure and it was left to Raikkonen to produce his customary charging race to claim second.
“It’s not too bad to finish second,” he said. “I had a bad start and we did what we could. I think we will take second today from this race.”
Vettel said he was not sure of what caused his engine failure. “I don’t know why it happened, it was very unexpected,” he said.
His absence and Hamilton’s clash with Bottas’s Williams at Turn One took much of the heat out of the contest and allowed Rosberg an easy drive to 25 more points. He now has 50 to Hamilton’s 33.
Bottas, who was given a drive-through penalty by the stewards for his part in the crash, finished ninth behind his Williams team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa.
He said: “I was braking as hard as I could, but I went a bit sideways and we hit…”
Ricciardo finished fourth ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who secured a fine fifth for the new American Haas team after finishing sixth on debut in Melbourne, and sixth placed Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso.
Russian Daniil Kvyat finished seventh in the second Red Bull ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams, Bottas in the second Williams and Belgian debutant Stoffel Vandoorne who took a point in his first race with McLaren Honda.
“To score a point in my first race is amazing,” said Vandoorne, who raced only because two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso failed a medical test on Thursday following his huge shunt in the season-opening Australian race. “It has felt really great for me all weekend….”