Mercedes may be on top again, but Ferrari proved in China that its Malaysia pace wasn’t a one-off

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Lewis Hamilton resumed normal service for Mercedes during yesterday’s Chinese Grand Prix, claiming a dominant win to cap off a perfect weekend that saw him go without much of a challenge from his teammate, Nico Rosberg.

It was a world away from the race in Malaysia where Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari sprung a surprise on the Silver Arrows, beating them fair and square in the dry.

This time around, Vettel never looked like a serious candidate for the win, but he proved that the prancing horse is certainly a force to be reckoned with in 2015 just by keeping Hamilton and Rosberg in sight at the front.

But this weekend was always Lewis Hamilton’s to lose. The British driver has been in the form of his life over the past six months or so, winning eight of the last ten races and making clear to Rosberg that he is the number one at Mercedes. Any concerns about Hamilton’s mentality following his break-up with his girlfriend, Nicole Scherzinger, have been allayed. Right now, he’s the man to beat.

Rosberg, on the other hand, is ailing. His head is clearly not in the right place, with a ninth defeat in the last ten races in China clearly taking its toll on him. Speaking to NBCSN after the race, he rued the fact that he had missed out on pole position by just 0.042 seconds – arguably, the difference between him celebrating a first win of the season and his post-race meltdown.

It’s about having the edge when it matters, as Ferrari proved in Malaysia. What Vettel and – don’t forget – Kimi Raikkonen did in China was make clear that they are not a million miles behind Mercedes, nor do they need conditions to be absolutely perfect for the SF15-T to be able to put up a fight.

Forget the idea of Hamilton backing Rosberg into Vettel; forget the idea of Bernie Ecclestone, Toto Wolff and Maurizio Arrivabene conspiring to create a race. The simple fact is that Vettel did give Rosberg plenty of grief in China. Ferrari’s pace was such that Mercedes had to change its strategy and react quickly in the stops, and although Vettel faded in the final stint on the medium compound tire, the team did an excellent job.

China was supposed to be like Australia. Mercedes was meant to dominate proceedings and charge home with a 30 second-plus advantage. The hotter conditions did draw Ferrari closer, but Vettel’s ability to keep pushing lap after lap and hassle Rosberg is testament to his place among the all-time greats – and why his four titles weren’t ‘just about the car”‘ as his critics claim.

Kimi Raikkonen is also coming good again. Both he and Vettel endured difficult 2014 seasons with cars that weren’t to their liking, but both are now coming good again. The Finn didn’t lose his skill behind the wheel of an F1 car in 12 months, with his gutsy start on Sunday proving that he still has the fight within him, even if his demeanor suggests otherwise. He won’t want to be known as the number two, so we can expect another close, albeit far less tenuous, intra-team fight.

The Ferrari racing now appears to be a million miles away from the one that limped across the line in Abu Dhabi last November. The negativity and ego of the team has evaporated over the winter. Had it remained, another year of frustration would have ensued as Fernando Alonso didn’t win the championship, which was the expectation ahead of every season the Spaniard spent at Maranello.

Is Ferrari remaining realistic by saying it won’t change the pre-season target of two wins? Yes. Perhaps too realistic, but any talk of a title fight now seems premature.

The fire has been lit beneath Mercedes though, and the margin of error has shrunk dramatically for the German marque. Be warned: the prancing horse is coming.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III