While Paul di Resta was pressuring Fernando Alonso for second place by the seventh lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix, having overtaken pole-sitter Nico Rosberg with insouciant ease, it seemed that the latter's team-mate Lewis Hamilton was about to have the worst race of his illustrious F1 career.
While the Scot in the Force India which uses the same powerplant was having his best race, Hamilton in the works Mercedes languished in 11th place, having lost two positions from his ninth place starting slot on the grid.
Force India had gone to Bahrain optimistic of a strong performance, but as Di Resta picked up the lead for three laps once winner Sebastian Vettel had pitted for fresh tyres on the 10th, things were exceeding their expectations. Running the same two-stop strategy that would help Kimi Raikkonen to second place, Di Resta remained in play for the rest of the race, running comfortably ahead of luminaries such as Red Bull's Mark Webber, Ferrari's Felipe Massa, Rosberg and Hamilton and the McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. He had looked strong in Malaysia and China only to have his performances overlooked due to misfortune beyond his control. But now he was showcasing an ability that saw him beat Vettel when they raced together in Formula 3.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was struggling in his Mercedes, until he got off the medium-compound Pirellis and onto their harder rubber. That coincided with a three-degree drop in the ambient and track temperatures, and suddenly the Mercedes became switched on and the old Hamilton was back as he began scything his way forwards.
In the end, Di Resta had to settle for fourth place, just when his first podium seemed a probability, because his car could not match the pace of Romain Grosjean's Lotus, but fourth made a point for the quiet man who was overlooked for the McLaren ride that went to Perez.
"It's great to round off the fly-away races with a fourth place and a race that was probably my strongest grand prix," he said. "The podium was very close, but with our strategy we were always going to be vulnerable at the end of the race – especially to Grosjean, who had two new sets of medium tyres.
"I had a good start, a strong opening stint, and we showed our true speed today, but ultimately fourth place was the maximum that was possible. We'll get on the podium one day, hopefully soon, but for now we can be very happy with the points we've scored today. A big thanks to the whole team; it's been an excellent weekend and I feel we managed to get 100 per cent out of the car."
Hamilton was equally happy, having enjoyed a brutal slugfest with Webber. He grabbed fifth place from the tough Australian on the final lap, and as Rosberg over-taxed his tyres and needed a fourth pit stop, his unexpected result moved him ahead of Alonso in the points table.
"I'm really happy with our race today," Hamilton said. "It's been a tough weekend for us but we got through it and finishing in fifth place was some good damage limitation.
"My race didn't start well at all. I was looking after the tyres but I really struggled on the first two stints and was falling back. But as the temperatures dropped, the car picked up and then I had the grip that I needed to push and close the gap. I had so much fun fighting with Mark at the end. We really needed the points and I was so determined to get by. It was good, clean wheel-to-wheel racing."Reuse content