Lewis Hamilton returns to Europe with the momentum necessary to claim a second consecutive championship.
The Briton’s victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix consummated a dominant flyaway experience, conceding just seven points from the maximum yield across the four events.
Though his dominance isn’t entirely surprising, the revelation that Mercedes has a genuine fight on its’ hands courtesy of a resurgent Ferrari certainly is. The notion “be careful what you wish for” is applicable upon contemplating Nico Rosberg’s post-Australian Grand Prix lamentation that it was all too easy for the German marque.
We didn’t have to wait long for this realisation – a fortnight on, Malaysia delivered this moment, with Sebastian Vettel capitalising on an early safety car and warm conditions to deliver Ferrari their first victory in nearly two years.
The four-time champion seems like an individual who has fallen back in love with the sport following his indifferent 2014 campaign and subsequent switch to Italian marque.
Whilst not as potent at China, Ferrari’s pace was adequate enough that Rosberg engaged in an extraordinary post-race outburst directed at his team-mate, accusing Hamilton of backing him into Vettel’s path. Tension over the threat from third place wouldn’t have been fathomable twelve months ago, let alone caused by the Italian marque, Stefano Domenicali having resigned prior to the corresponding event.
Meanwhile, another lap at Bahrain and the likelihood of Kimi Räikkönen prevailing – with a little assistance from brake-by-wire failure on both Silver Arrows, was greater than distinct.
The Finn finally enjoyed a trouble free run, showing flashes of the reputation garnered in his McLaren days. His tandem with technical director James Allison harks back to the Lotus days, with the SF15T bearing characteristics akin to the packages Räikkönen enjoyed success with in 2012 & 2013. If he keeps up these performances, a contract extension which appeared so unlikely last season is surely a formality.
As it is, a massive wake-up call has been handed to Brackley. The days of resting on their laurels, whilst cruising and collecting on Sundays are a distant memory.
For all that Ferrari has achieved to date, the fact stands that it is going to take something majestic to reign in Hamilton. The 30-year old has remained oblivious to his team-mate’s antics, and mentally appears in a place where only the most concerted effort can destabilise his tranquillity. The breakthrough title last season , even the ongoing contractual limbo
Rosberg conversely edges closer to the dreaded number two status with each race. His China antics were not unrelated to this frustration. If the German fails to enjoy the better of his team-mate by Monaco – arguably his home race having resided there for the majority of his life, not to mention that he has claimed the past two events, the call will surely be imminent. That he has beaten Hamilton just once in eleven attempts since their infamous collision at Belgium begs the question whether he can ever regain the form which saw him lead the standings for the majority of the season.
Williams hasn’t slipped in the strictest sense, yet they haven’t made the presumed evolution expected following their sensational 2014 resurgence, instead usurped by Ferrari. Podiums and victories aren’t on the cards yet, however solid top six placings have laid a strong foundation to push for greater outcomes. Valtteri Bottas took the majority of the flyaway phase to recover from his back injury which ruled him out of the Australian Grand Prix, but reminded everybody of his talent in holding off Vettel for fourth at Bahrain. Felipe Massa looks the most at ease behind the wheel since his near-title winning days, giving the Finn a much closer run for his money than expected.
With Red Bull a shadow of their former glory, Daniel Ricciardo has extracted the maximum from an uncompetitive chassis & power unit. The energy drinks company and supplier Renault engaged in a war of words in the lead up to Malaysia, but both parties appear to have realised no success will come from this. If Renault can provide worthy upgrades, the Australian has an opportunity to compete regularly for top five positions, though it is unlikely that he will repeat his glorious 2014 campaign which yielded three victories and third in the standings. Daniil Kvyat has struggled to find his feet following a solitary season at Toro Rosso, the Russian will need to lift his game if he wants to retain his seat.
At the junior outfit, Max Verstappen has been a revelation despite non-finishes at three of the four events. His race combat reminds many of a certain Ayrton Senna. Not yet of age, the Dutchman will be going places in a hurry if the potential witnessed in his first four races is anything to draw on. Indeed, he could be eyeing off Kvyat’s seat if power unit upgrades allow him to capitalise on the raw speed he possesses.
Lotus and Sauber have both made huge inroads on dismal 2014 campaigns, the former benefiting from a switch to Mercedes power despite early reliability issues, whilst the Swiss outfit has enjoyed the much improved Ferrari offering despite the off-track woes which blighted their Australian Grand Prix preparations. Force India is still running what is essentially last season’s challenger, and having missed the opening test, didn’t appear to be in great shape. However, they have gleaned solid points at Australia and Bahrain, with a B-spec car due for the Austrian Grand Prix.
McLaren continues to make inroads at a snails’ pace, Jenson Button having endured a nightmare weekend at Bahrain which culminated in his first non-start in a decade. Fernando Alonso eventually marked his return at Malaysia, with the details of his pre-season accident still causing much debate. Points are realistic in the near future, it’s a question of patience for the Woking squad.
Last but not least, the herculean efforts by Marussia to remain on the grid resulted in their belated on-track presence at Malaysia. Will Stevens was forced to wait until China to race, but has since outshone Roberto Merhi – the Spaniard a race by race proposition pending his commercial package. They too have an updated chassis, accompanied by the improved Ferrari power unit in the wings as the season progresses.
An analysis of the flyaway events and team outcomes at each will be released in coming days. Some outfits performed as predicted, whilst others surprised – not always for the right reasons. Prospective fortunes as Formula One buckles up for the return to European heartland will also be discussed.
Can Ferrari sustain their momentum and take the fight to Mercedes for the balance of the season, or is it all in vein as Lewis Hamilton goes about his business unperturbed by outside influences?