If the Australian Grand Prix was to be an indicator of the possible outcome of the 2015 Formula 1 season, then Mercedes looked set to run the tables and own the title once again.
That was all fine until the Malaysian Grand Prix overturned the apple cart and handed Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel his first win with the Scuderia—the bells in Maranello Italy rang with joy if not slight bemusement at a very un-planned win.
There were several factors that played into Ferrari’s win and most agreed that the extreme heat and the tyre sympathy the Italian car had, foreshadowed Sunday’s result as early as Friday’s Free Practice sessions.
Having a win, for the first time since Spain in 2013, under their belt, the big question heading into China was focused on one simple concept—does Ferrari have the pace to take the battle to Mercedes in 2015?
Cooler temperatures and a redoubling of efforts saw a determined brow on the faces of Mercedes as they arrived in Shanghai—a track which Lewis Hamilton had won three times before. Lewis seemed perfectly at ease all weekend and wasn’t rattled by Ferrari’s pace in Malaysia but he did admit he felt the red car’s pace was legitimate.
The conventional wisdom was that Mercedes would fare much better in China and that wisdom, as it turns out, was spot on. Mercedes claimed a one, two victory with Lewis Hamilton securing his fourth Chinese Grand Prix win followed by a bitter teammate in Nico Rosberg who felt Hamilton may have been purposefully running a slower pace than needed putting the German in the clutches of Ferrari’s Vettel.
The tension during the post-race press conference was tangible as Rosberg accused Hamilton of deliberately being selfish while the 2014 champion suggested it wasn’t his job to manage Nico’s race.
While Ferrari may not have the outright pace to beat Mercedes over one lap, their new-found performance gain has nevertheless impacted Mercedes. The team’s boss, Toto Wolff, suggested that the team would now split strategies and manage their races for optimum results—as any team should do.
This plainly meant that Rosberg would not be in the same equipment on the same strategy as Hamilton for every race—as he was in 2014—and the news visibly hung on the German like a poorly tailored suit from a thrift store in the middle of America with the word ”Warehouse” or “shack” in it.
Rosberg has no choice but to commit to the team’s strategies that should, and most often do, favor the point’s leader or forge his own strategy and beat Lewis on track. He could gain inspiration on what to do by such drivers as Senna, Schumacher, Vettel or Hamilton himself who force McLaren to reckon with his talent regardless of team strategy back in 2007 when teamed with two-time champion Fernando Alonso.
It’s all to play for now with Ferrari nipping at their heels and their strategies split heading in to the Sakhir Circuit for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Mercedes suffered tyre degradation beyond Ferrari’s in Malaysia but China was a different matter and if the team can get their core and tread temperatures more in harmony in the cooler evening air of Bahrain, we may be heading for another dust-up like the one we enjoyed between Hamilton and Rosberg in 2014. This time, Rosberg has to mean business or he may find himself relegated squarely as the number two driver at the Silver Arrows.
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