Time to be tricky
It may only be the second race of the season but Nico Rosberg needs to focus on irritating his team-mate in Malaysia. Last season it was clear that when Lewis Hamilton drives with his emotions, there are chinks in his armour. Based on the Australian GP, Hamilton’s head is fully engaged.
After Monaco 2014, Rosberg went on a glorious run as Hamilton got upset, emotional and very suspicious. It was only after the public dressing down and internal punishment of Rosberg by Mercedes that Lewis got his head back in the game. The fact Hamilton was four tenths faster in second practice today – despite missing all of FP1 – only bears out the urgency of the task for Nico.
Rosberg has to do something to unsettle his team-mate ahead of scoring what could be his eighth race win on the trot. With Ferrari’s testing form seemingly genuine, the German cannot rely on guaranteed second places to keep him in some sort of contention. For now, speed and race craft alone will not topple Hamilton.
Ferrari are fast
I called it wrong in pre-season and believed Ferrari were playing to the media with their testing pace. On the basis of Melbourne and FP1 and FP2 today, their pace is genuine and their gap to Mercedes has closed.
Kimi Raikkonen set a pace today on mediums that looked good enough to keep the Mercedes cars honest in race-trim. The Iceman has a habit of performing well in the hot and humid conditions in Malaysia, and with a car he finally seems comfortable with, he might be able to give Mercedes something to think about. Team mate Vettel is relishing the new lease of life at the Scuderia and the better than expected performance of the Ferrari. Twice a winner at Sepang, Vettel doesn’t have enough in his car for Mercedes yet but with reliability issues already for the Silver Arrows today, you just never know.
Should we stay or should we go?
Renault’s reaction to the unfettered criticism from their ‘lead’ team, Red Bull has been quite fascinating. F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul indicated today that the manufacturer is considering ‘lots of options’ from taking over a team (rumoured to be Scuderia Toro Rosso), to quitting the sport altogether. The latter – as a means to evade the increasingly irritating whingeing of Christian Horner at least – is a bit dramatic but the relationship between F1 and car manufacturers has always been a tempestuous one.
For observers it is impossible to understand where the relative deficiencies lie in the package. Red Bull and Renault have access to data we do not see and it may be that the Renault power unit is the sole problem, or the Red Bull design or a combination of both. Red Bull have clearly decided that the ‘carrot’ approach to getting Renault on par with Mercedes has not worked, thus it is time for the ‘stick’. In the short term it is helping neither party and will only perpetuate the advantage Mercedes retain.
It is great to see Fernando Alonso back racing this weekend. F1 is definitely lacking something without him, even if he is going to be running at the back of the pack trying to drag McLaren up by the boot straps.
His interview on Thursday left many wide-eyed when he directly and unequivocally blamed the steering of his McLaren for his testing shunt. I was not that surprised as no F1 driver of Alonso’s calibre would ever allow his talent, skill or ability to be questioned, let alone declared publicly to be lacking. The Spaniard needs to go in to his first race back with no hint of doubt in his own mind about his ability or health.
Based on FP1 and FP2 today, McLaren seem to have made progress. In interviews Alonso declared himself happy with what appears to be a 1 to 1.5 second speed improvement over Melbourne. If genuine, the rate of improvement is impressive but in context it is the minimum the team need to be achieving in order to save continued embarrassment. Fernando is lacking fitness and seat time but that did not stop him ending FP2 over two-tenths faster than Jenson Button. In his hands, the McLaren could be mixing it with Force India and Sauber legitimately on Sunday if his body can hold up in the heat.
The race is Mercedes’ and Hamilton’s to lose. The questions are whether the heat of Malaysia will derail their plans, if Rosberg can unsettle his team mate and which Ferrari could pick up the pieces.