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.