LONDON (Reuters) - The rivalry between Mercedes team mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg produced an epic battle under the floodlights in Bahrain last weekend but what Formula One fans saw was just the tip of the iceberg.
Behind the scenes, on separate sides of the garage and with teams of engineers trawling through banks of data, another duel unfolded witnessed only by those privileged few on the inside.
“One of the new games you can play in Formula One is energy management,” Mercedes executive technical director Paddy Lowe told reporters after his team’s third win in three races this season and second one-two finish.
”There are opportunities to manage your energy flow, save it up perhaps and play it out in different places. The team are very well practised and trained in doing all that and how to use that with the drivers.
“And what we saw during that last 10 laps was not only the drivers competing but each side of the garage competing in terms of playing the game of energy deployment. A cat and mouse game, staying ahead of the other with the energy around the lap.”
Last season Formula One had just the KERS kinetic energy recovery system which provided a limited boost for overtaking and defending a position.
The new rules have seen the old V8 engines replaced by a V6 turbo and ERS - energy recovery systems - harnessing exhaust gases and brake heat, which provide a much greater boost and more strategy options.
Which is where the engineers play a bigger role, like a game of high speed chess.
“Obviously you wouldn’t be very aware of that although you may have heard a lot of strategy calls on the radio. That was a pretty exciting internal aspect to that competition,” said Lowe.
“They (the driver’s separate teams of engineers) can see each other’s data so they immediately know ‘OK, he’s done that, you do this’. You could hear all of this going on.”
The drivers are also delving deep into the data, with Mercedes maintaining an open policy on sharing everything between the two.
Both before and after the race Hamilton, victorious in Malaysia and Bahrain, and Australian GP winner Rosberg immersed themselves in their rivals’ telemetry searching for anything that might tip the balance.
With the team still unlocking the potential of the new power units, the unseen engineers are playing a massive role.
“We’re in a period of time where technology is everything,” said Hamilton.
”You don’t see what goes on in the (engineers’) room. You can’t predict anything, everything’s changing all the time from session to session...the target’s moving all the time still, for us, and we’re trying to pinpoint the setup on that target.
“As a driver and engineer it’s massively challenging. It’s really good fun for us back in there but you don’t get to see that stuff, what goes on behind closed doors.”
After Hamilton’s dominant win from pole at Sepang, the team conducted an exhaustive analysis of the data to see where he had made the difference.
“Someone in the team did a huge study on my pace last week and, as I arrived (in Bahrain)...there was this big document with all the reasons why I was quick. And he (Rosberg) used that to his advantage,” Hamilton revealed.
In Bahrain, Rosberg showed how much the labours had paid off, even if it is a circuit he has always liked. He started on pole position and the two crossed the finish line barely a second apart.
“A lot of the advantages that I had in the last race Nico found them as we came here and applied them and did even better,” said Hamilton.
“So I’ve got to go now and find out what he did better than me and see if I can improve for the next race.”
Editing by Josh Reich