Lewis Hamilton wins thrilling Bahrain GP after Rosberg battle

Lewis Hamilton beat Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in a thrillingly close battle at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

With the pair in a league of their own, the battle became a 10-lap sprint after a late safety car period wiped out Hamilton's 10-second advantage.

On the faster soft tyre, Rosberg had the advantage, but Hamilton held him off to the end with aggressive defence.

A frantic battle for third place was won by Force India's Sergio Perez, from Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

Bahrain Grand Prix: Gutierrez flips car in terrifying crash

Bahrain Grand Prix: Gutierrez flips car in terrifying crash

The Australian was able to pass Perez's team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, struggling with energy harvesting problems in his Mercedes power-unit, with four laps to go and close in on Perez, who did just enough to keep the Red Bull at bay.

Hulkenberg held off a train of cars including Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull, the Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, and the Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who took the final points positions.

It was a sobering day for the Italian team and not just in terms of the results, as their world champion driver pairing were literally powerless to beat drivers in teams with far fewer resources but powered by the dominant Mercedes engine.

Before the race Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo had criticised the new efficiency-based F1 for being like "taxi driving".

Those claims were made to look ridiculous by a thrilling grand prix that featured breathless action from start to finish throughout the field.

Mercedes were true to their word to let their drivers race for victory untroubled by team orders.

Rosberg started from pole, but Hamilton made a better start and took the lead at the first corner.

Bahrain GP

Rosberg tracked him in the early stages, keeping within 1.5 seconds, and then closed up as they approached their first pit stops.

The German dived for the inside at the start of lap 18 and was briefly past Hamilton, only to run wide and see his team-mate chop back across his nose to reclaim the lead.

"Warn him that was not on," Rosberg said to his team over the radio.

He tried again the following lap, but again Hamilton held him off, this time by edging him wide as Rosberg attempted to go around the outside of Turn Four.

Hamilton stopped for fresh tyres the next time around, and Rosberg chose to adopt a different strategy when he made his own first stop two laps later, switching to the slower 'medium' tyre for the middle stint of the race.

Hamilton, who fitted another set of the 'soft' tyres, decided to save his 'mediums' until the final stint, and he set about building a lead.

Hamilton was 9.5secs in front by lap 40, when the safety car was triggered by a dangerous collision between the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez and Lotus' Pastor Maldonado.

Gutierrez was turning through Turn One when Maldonado, who was coming out of the pits, smashed into the side of the Swiss car, sending it into a barrel-roll.

Maldonado was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty during the race. Stewards then gave the Venezuelan a further five-place grid penalty for the next race in China and added three points to his super-licence.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton discuss their friendship

Hamilton & Rosberg - best of friends

As the field prepared for the race to be restarted on lap 47, Mercedes co-team boss Paddy Lowe got on the radio to both drivers to warn them to "make sure you bring both cars home".

Rosberg appeared determined to reclaim the lead and tried several times to pass his team-mate into Turn One and through Turn Four, each time to be repelled by firm but fair defence.

Finally, with four laps to go, as the edge went off Rosberg's tyres, Hamilton began to build a margin and was able to secure his second victory within a week.

It closes his deficit to Rosberg in the championship to 11 points, following the Englishman's retirement from the opening race of the season in Australia where Rosberg won.

"Nico drove fantastically well throughout, very fair," said Hamilton. "He was very fast on the option tyres at the end. I was on a knife edge throughout but it was great fun."

"I strongly dislike finishing second to Lewis but on the other hand it was the most exciting race I have ever had in my whole career," said Rosberg. "Today was a day for the sport. I hope you all had a lot of fun.

Bahrain GP

"The team played it as fair as they possibly could today. Let us race flat out. I don't think you need any more evidence that we are here to race and there are no team orders."

The action was just as thrilling behind as Perez beat Ricciardo by just 0.4secs and, four seconds behind them, Hulkenberg held off a train of cars running nose-to-tail all the way down to Raikkonen in 10th.

It was a spectacular event on Bahrain's 10th anniversary as an F1 venue, and on the occasion of the first night race in the Gulf state. And it should lay to bed any criticisms that there is no racing in the new F1.

Bahrain Grand Prix results in full

2014 F1 coverage details