By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday after a duel with Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg in a floodlit night race full of overtaking and wheel-to-wheel battles.
The win was the Briton's second in a row, the 24th of his career and also a second successive one-two for a team in a class of their own and with two drivers free to race each other from start to finish.
Mercedes have now won all three races so far in 2014.
"Nico drove fantastically well. It was so fair but so hard to keep him behind me," smiled Hamilton, the 2008 world champion who last enjoyed back-to-back wins four years ago with McLaren.
"I was on a real knife edge at the end," said the Briton, who won by 1.085 seconds and described the race as the hardest since his 2007 debut season.
Mexican Sergio Perez took third place - 22.9 seconds behind Rosberg - as Mercedes-powered Force India celebrated the second podium finish in their history.
Rosberg, winner of the season-opener in Australia, stayed top of the overall standings with 61 points to Hamilton's 50 after three races.
"I strongly dislike coming second to Lewis, but it was definitely the most exciting race I have ever done in my entire career," said the German, who had started on pole and whose disappointment was clear as he stood on the podium.
"I think today was a day for the sport, we put on a fantastic show."
Hamilton, whose tally of wins pulls him level with the late Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio in the all-time lists, made the better start from second place on the grid and led into the first corner.
He was never able to shake off Rosberg though, with both jostling for the lead in a race that made a mockery of suggestions the new V6 turbo hybrid era had turned flat-out racers into fuel-saving taxi drivers.
The Briton's task was made tougher when the safety car came out 15 laps from the end, after Pastor Maldonado T-boned the Sauber of Mexican Esteban Gutierrez and flipped it spectacularly through the air.
With Rosberg on softer tyres and ready to pounce as soon as racing resumed, it looked like Hamilton was sure to be passed but he held on.
"With 10 laps to race, can we just make sure we bring both cars home," technical head Paddy Lowe told both drivers over the radio and they did so but not without some heartstopping moments.
Behind them, the rest of the field was fighting similar battles with team mates running in close two-by-two formation and scrapping for position.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth, despite starting 13th and behind quadruple champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, who ended up sixth and had to let his young team mate through early on.
Nico Hulkenberg split the two Red Bulls in fifth place with Williams team mates Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas seventh and eighth.
Ferrari's pairing of past champions, Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, rounded off the scoring positions in ninth and 10th.
(Editing by Martyn Herman/Rex Gowar)