First blood to Lewis Hamilton in Britain's battle of the world champions. The 2008 victor took third place in Bahrain yesterday, some four places ahead of Jenson Button, champion last year and now his team-mate at McLaren. Button, expected by many to struggle against Hamilton having left Brawn in the off-season, blamed a slow start for his moderate display.
"At the start, I didn't know what was going to happen to my tyres so I took it a little easy," he said. "I was a bit disappointed that we pitted when we did, because I'd probably looked after the tyres a little too much. At the stop I jumped Mark [Webber], and then paced myself on the tyres until there were about 20 laps to go. I caught up with Michael [Schumacher], but didn't have enough pace through the middle sector to stay with him and have a go at him in the last sector."
Hamilton, in contrast, was delighted with third even if he was left feeling it could have been even better. "My race was decided on the first lap when I locked up at turn four, ran a bit wide, got in a bad position and [Nico] Rosberg got past me," he admitted. "After that, I spent the whole first stint close behind him, but just couldn't get close enough to pass him. At the pit stop the guys were able to get me out ahead of him, and if I hadn't got stuck behind him I think I might have been able to challenge Felipe for second place."
Ferrari's Felipe Massa was happy with second on his return to racing following his accident in Hungary last year, even though a fuel consumption problem obliged him to reduce pace after he had overtaken Sebastian Vettel on the 35th lap. "It's fantastic to be here, and thanks to God everything is great," he said. "I'm with the best team in a good car, and we have very good race pace. The problem was disappointing but this is still my best start to a season."
Vettel admitted it was hard to stomach the mechanical problem that cost him victory. "It's a pity, but what can you do? I think it was 15-20 laps to the end, I just lost power. I don't know what it was but I think something mechanical. Luckily we could continue but we should have won really. It's not easy. You are leading, everything is fine and you just have to bring the car home. And then we had the failure. At least we scored 12 important points."
Rosberg was happy with fifth, beating his Mercedes team-mate Schumacher. "I lacked pace on the option tyres in the first stint and struggled. Lewis beat me on strategy in the pit stop, and I couldn't quite get Sebastian at the end as I lost grip in the dirty air when I got close."
Schumacher said: "After three years away, I'm happy to say that I had fun out there today, especially at the beginning with the good start that I had. I can live very well with sixth and it gives both me and the team a good base to make progress. I have every confidence that we will improve."