Formula 1

Bahrain GP: Nico Rosberg facing crucial weekend as Hamilton holds advantage

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Fresh off a second victory of the season in Shanghai, Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the F1 grid has headed from Asia to the Middle East for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The story heading into last weekend in China was about whether Ferrari could maintain the challenge to the leading Mercedes after Sebastian Vettel's win in Malaysia but ended with Nico Rosberg's outbursts stealing the spotlight.

Rosberg looking to ignite season

The German has become the forgotten man this season after two rather inconspicuous races to start the season failing to remotely challenge his world champion team-mate and Vettel seemingly establishing himself as Hamilton's biggest threat.

It seemed Rosberg could have put his name back in the picture almost edging the Briton to pole position in qualifying but in the race made some strange radio calls even calling on his engineers to ask Hamilton to speed up rather than attempt to attack him out on track.

After the race, Rosberg would let his frustrations show claiming Hamilton had deliberately driven slower than he could of to back him towards the approaching Vettel in third.

The second generation driver also explained his radio messages in a video posted on Twitter after the race as fans accused Nico of crying rather than fighting. He claimed he didn't attempt to catch Hamilton because he didn't want to damage his tyres, something that could have put him under greater threat from the Ferrari's behind.

Another great battle in the desert awaits?

While it is a valid point, questions are now rampant as to whether the man who pushed Hamilton to a championship decider last year in Abu Dhabi really can compete with the double world champion this year as the sport heads to the circuit which hosted perhaps their biggest on-track battle last year.

Before their rivalry really picked up from the Monaco Grand Prix, Hamilton and Rosberg put on a show that may never be forgotten as they went head-to-head in Bahrain with the Briton coming out on top.

This year it is almost imperative that Rosberg manages to reverse that result with the German already 17 points behind in the championship at a track that should suit Mercedes over Ferrari.

Night race should favour Mercedes

For the second year Sakhir will host a night race and the cooler temperatures mean there should be less of the tyre issues that allowed Ferrari to get close to the Silver Arrows in the last two races.

That said, however, one area Ferrari have also had an edge over Mercedes is in a straight line and with four sections where the cars will nudge if not surpass 190mph if that advantage remains in Bahrain then maybe we could have a Sepang-style scenario with Ferrari quicker in the first and final sectors with Mercedes ahead in the middle part of the lap.

The straights will also give us our best indication as to where Williams stand as the track should also favour the slipperier body of the FW37, ultimately the pecking order should see Mercedes ahead by several tenths with Ferrari and Williams in a battle for the final podium place.

Red Bull looking over their shoulders

After showing signs of improvement in qualifying, Red Bull failed to capitalise in the race in Shanghai as a poor start dropped Daniel Ricciardo down the order with Daniil Kvyat retiring mid-race with an engine failure.

The Australian recovered to gain ninth after being as low of 17th on lap one but I think the Renault-powered RB11 could once again be dragged back into the midfield in Bahrain.

Sauber, Lotus and Toro Rosso have been very impressive in the first three races and I expect all three to be strong at Sakhir.

Young guns showing their skills

At Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen continues to prove why Dr. Helmut Marko was right to thrust him straight into F1 though two mechanical retirements in three races don't represent just how good the 17-year-old Dutchman has been while his team-mate Carlos Sainz has also had some good showings in his first few Grand Prix's.

Sauber have shadowed their engine supplier Ferrari in terms of progress which has seen the Swiss team vault from dwindling midfielders to genuine points scorers early this season.

Felipe Nasr put a tough weekend in Malaysia behind him and produced another solid performance in China while Marcus Ericsson has his moments at both ends of the spectrum meaning consistency is the biggest thing the Swede needs to find more of.

Lotus look to build

The same can be said of Pastor Maldonado who had an excellent first two stints last Sunday before an issue entering the pits saw him miss the sharp left turn before being hit from behind by Jenson Button ended the Venezuelan's race.

His team-mate Romain Grosjean was finally able to replicate some of the form he had in late 2013 and the former double podium finisher in Bahrain will be hoping for another solid top eight finish this weekend.

It promises to be a fascinating battle between those eight cars.

McLaren aiming for midfield

Force India and McLaren both seemed to have made progress before eventually returning to their place just behind the main midfield pack.

For McLaren the double finish was an important step forward and as more power is edged out of the Honda power unit there are signs that they can be perhaps in the Williams/ Red Bull area just behind the top two later in the season.

In Bahrain, however, continued reliability and closing the gap on the midfield will be their main aim.

Finally at Manor Marussia, they also enjoyed double success with both cars making the finish in Shanghai but with the team so far behind the rest of the grid for now the team-mate battle between Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens is all they have to look forward to.

Attitude shift could benefit Rosberg

At the front, however, and at Mercedes it will be interesting how the spat that has broken out between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will affect the team this weekend, there could be a few more fireworks to match those that will go up when the leader passes the chequered flag on Sunday and if that is the case then Ferrari could well be there to pick up the pieces.

One of the facets from last year's battle was Nico Rosberg really failing to pick which side of the emotional divide he wanted to be on, it appears that from his sense of unsportsmanlike gamesmanship from Hamilton last weekend the German may just opt to join the dark side, as it were, this year and if he can add that aggressive side to his driving then it may just be the key to taking the challenge to Hamilton not just in Bahrain but for the rest of the season.

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