Hamilton & Rosberg hat-trick

SHANGHAI REVIEW

The biggest moment of the 2014 Formula 1 UBS Chinese Grand Prix was at the start. Felipe Massa veered his FW36 left wards into the charging field resulting in a heart-stopping thwack with Fernando Alonso’s F14T. They both continued into Turn 1 unscathed. But the Williams’ left rear wheel nut was jammed in, causing a disastrously long pit stop later in the race that saw the Brazilian finish only in P15.

Nico Rosberg starting from P4 dropped down four places after a poor start. After that his afternoon was all about using the W05’s superior pace to claw back the gap to his teammate and rival. He managed to finish 18s behind in P2 ultimately. For the third time in a row. His body language post-race spoke frustration. His mind was perhaps wandering to his victory in Melbourne and wondering what might have ensued if his weekend nemesis did not have engine troubles there.

Maybe Lewis Hamilton would’ve recorded a lights-to-flag victory there too? The 2008 World Champion has everything covered so far. If he finishes, he finishes first. If he loses Pole he still wins the race. His pace is outstanding. His confidence is such that even though Rosberg leads the championship by a slim margin currently it’ll only be a matter of time before his lead is overhauled. It’s not going to be an easy season for the German for sure. For Ferrari, things looked promising in China. Fernando Alonso was at his fighting best. Just how he managed P3 in a slow car overcoming the Red Bulls is one for the story books. After surviving the collision at the start his was a calculated drive to the podium.

He offered no challenge whatsoever when Rosberg came past him fully aware that his race pace was no match for the Mercedes. But crafted his last stint managing a gap that was fast diminishing to the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in P4.

Ricciardo put his illustrious teammate in the shade again. After Qualifying, Sebastian Vettel admitted he cannot do much if his teammate is genuinely faster than him in the RB10. However during the course of the race it seemed like he would disobey team orders and hold back the charging Aussie. When Vettel did allow his teammate through it didn’t seem like he did so deliberately as he seemed a bit out of control and ran wide off the apex. Christian Horner agreed that the German defending champion is not in sync yet with the new low-downforce cars. Lets prepare for some fireworks within Red Bull when he is.

The Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez recorded another dual points finish topping the race for best-Mercedes-customer engines. Hulkenberg held off Valtteri Bottas from a dismal Kimi Raikkonen. Behind them Sergio Perez made it into the points from P16 and Daniil Kvyat claimed the last point after starting P13. The young Russian has 3 points finishes in the premier league of racing before his 20th birthday. Imagine the support for him at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix later this year! His stellar drives so far can only be overshadowed by car #44, a full lap up the road from him.

Lewis Hamilton led home Nico Rosberg again in a third consecutive one-two finish for Mercedes AMG Petronas. They head into Barcelona in three weeks time with almost a 100 point lead in the constructors championship. Hamilton is now 8th in the all-time winners list with 25 victories to his credit. And his career seems to have resurrected by Mercedes on Easter Sunday. How fitting.

Hamilton completes the hat-trick! Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Hamilton completes the hat-trick! Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

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PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 33m 28.338s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Alonso – Scuderia Ferrari

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Mercs shook us all night long!

BAHRAIN REVIEW

It was difficult to lip-read what Bernie Ecclestone was saying to Australian rock band AC/DC’s frontman Brian Johnson on the starting grid. But it could’ve well been something to do with ‘noise and performance’. However, after 57 action-packed laps in the desert sands of Bahrain it felt like Mercedes had rocked more than just the F1 fraternity.

With a brave policy of allowing their drivers to genuinely race each other with no team orders thrown in, they’ve brought back true competition to Formula One. Along with the best engine of course. Six of the top eight finishers were Mercedes powered.

Lewis Hamilton stole the lead from teammate Nico Rosberg going into the newly-christened ‘Schumacher corner’ or Turn 1. With equally powered cars it was always going to be a challenge to break away from each other but Hamilton just about managed to keep Rosberg behind at one time even driving him off track. It was tough wheel-to-wheel racing through the sequence of Turns 1-2-3 and 4! The slow motion footage of which is guaranteed to go viral on the internet soon.

Once Lewis built a gap to Nico to avoid being within DRS striking range the race settled into a rhythm for P1 & 2. Behind them though it was a game of strategy, outright pace, aggressive attacking and sporty defensive driving. This is what F1 should be about after all the innovative technologies and cutting-edge sciences are sorted.

Before the first round of pitstops it looked like the Williams pairing of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas would battle for P3. Then it was the turn of the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel to stake their claim on the last step of the podium. Even Jenson Button in his 250th Grand Prix start looked promising for McLaren. But it finally emerged that the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg were truly in contention behind the Mercedes duo who were now a clean 24 seconds up the road.

Lotus had a bad day at the office with Romain Grosjean struggling for performance in P12 and Pastor Maldonado causing the accident of the race, invoking a ten-place grid penalty in China for himself. He literally broadsided Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber coming out of the pit lane, an impact that saw the young Mexican’s car flip over dramatically and bring out the Safety Car.

Behind the Safety Car the entire field bunched up together to take a rolling restart. This bunching up completely erased Lewis Hamilton’s 9 second lead advantage over his teammate. Since Nico was now on fresh soft tyres for his final stint it looked like the race was in his bag. But Lewis wasn’t going to give in. He blocked, defended and cut back across sharply but within the limits to hold Nico a thrilling 1.085s behind! The racing was enthralling. And the fireworks at the end of it all at Sakhir seemed fitting.

At Parc fermé the camaraderie between the two Mercedes AMG Petronas drivers revealed a fresh, welcome side of F1. It reminisced the days of Mercedes’ previous winning era in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio. Whose 24 wins, Lewis Hamilton equalled tonight.

Podium lock out. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

‘Bromance’ on the podium. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

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PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 39m 42.743s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Perez – Force India Mercedes

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Lock out & lock up

The eyes have it. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

The eyes have it. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

The two Mercedes AMG Petronas cars locked out the front row of the  grid for the first time in 2014. Nico Rosberg set a fighting time in his last run in Q3 and it wasn’t matched nor beaten by teammate Lewis Hamilton because of a mistake.

Under pressure the 2008 World Champion locked up his tyres and aborted the crucial lap.

Only 6 days ago the Mercs were untouchable in Malaysia. Nothing much has changed from the team’s point of view. But Nico reminded everyone that he was indeed the Championship leader currently, even though the other side of the garage has hogged the limelight with consecutive poles and a commanding win.

The big surprises in Qualifying were Alonso in P10, Vettel in P11 and Hulkenberg in P12!
It bodes well for an exciting fight from the middle of the starting grid tomorrow.

A fight for P3 or ‘best of the rest’, behind the Silver Arrows. 

—

P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 33.180s
P2 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 33.464s
P3 Ricciardo – RBR Renault 1m 34.051s

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Win #23, Car #44

MALAYSIA REVIEW

Team celebrations at Malaysia. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

Team celebrations at Malaysia. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

When the chequered flag brought the 16th edition of the Malaysian Grand Prix to an end an interesting statistic developed. The last time Mercedes finished a race in P1 & P2 respectively was way back in 1955! As a works team that is.

Ferrari, a fully-fledged works team too, must be frustrated. Alonso finishing in P4 has become a common sight in recent years. His battle with the Mercedes powered Force India of Hulkenberg kept the fans at Turns 1,2 & 3 in Sepang enthralled. But the fact that he was nowhere close to the Bulls or Mercedes in true pace was telling. Raikkonen had his work cut out by a fighting Lotus in the hands of Grosjean. Both drivers finishing out of the points eventually. The Scuderia believe they’ll have an advantage at the circuits that consume more fuel as their engine is more efficient but somehow that doesn’t sound like a convincing way to go challenging for a championship.

Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas raced intensely for Williams Martini Racing to P7 & P8. Whether or not Felipe should have let his teammate through to attack the McLaren of Jenson Button for P6 is to be seen. Malaysia once again, throws up the controversy of team orders and the disobeying of them!

In the other Red Bull RBR10 it’s all turning into a game of luck for Daniel Ricciardo in 2014. After all he has gotten into the seat of another Australian famed for bad luck. How the best crew for fastest, most-efficient pit stops last season could release him from his box without securing a wheel nut is anyones guess. Then his front wing played up on a kerb. And finally retirement. A DNF after a DSQ. Poor Dani.

Hamilton on fresh rubber. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

Hamilton takes on fresh rubber. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

The champion’s RBR10 however, held on together nicely. At one point even challenging the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for P2. Has Sebastian Vettel finally got a car that’s there, but not really there? And will he have to dig deep to hold on to his crown? Whether he likes that or not, the fans all over are relishing a good fight. Nobody wants predictable dominance. Unless of course you’re Toto Wolff.

Watching his team take a dominant win with Lewis claiming pole, setting fastest lap and leading every lap from start to finish, followed home by Nico, one wonders how things are going to develop towards the end of the season. If Mercedes AMG Petronas can keep on winning like this with a 25 second advantage over the field and dominate all proceedings like they have done in rounds 1 & 2, which driver will they back for ultimate honours.

And most importantly how will they go about it?

It could get louder than the engines of 2014 for sure. Bring on Bahrain!

PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 40m 25.974s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Vettel – Red Bull Renault

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Sound of silence

AUSTRALIA REVIEW

“What do you mean cancel the order?”
“There’s no need for them anymore!”

Surely this must’ve been the telephone conversation at an ear-plug manufacturing factory somewhere in the world before the red lights went out at Melbourne. The Turbo cars of the new era sent out a new message to fans all over.

And it was loud and clear.

No more brightly coloured pieces of foam stuffed into your ears then. You can actually have a relaxed conversation with a fellow race goer on the main straight at any circuit now.

That’s not a bad thing. But if it’s about dissing the new oddly-shaped noses of the cars then the old wailing V8s would’ve helped censor that.

The Turbo Hybrid ERS cars are so quiet on TV that if it weren’t for a botched up late-braking attempt from Kamui Kobayashi at Turn 1 providing visual relief, the start of the Grand Prix would’ve been almost dead silent!

Sadly, Felipe Massa’s Australian outing was as dead as the muted sound of his FW36 thanks to the crashing Caterham. Both these guys need strong results this season.

There were more DNFs waiting to happen as pole sitter Lewis Hamilton was called in to retire on Lap 3 with a misfiring cylinder. And soon defending champion Sebastian Vettel too joined him at the paddock.

Nico Rosberg demonstrated that his superb long runs in pre-season testing were no fluke. After his teammate’s woes ensured he had no real threat, his became a victorious walk in Albert Park. Although he was followed home by local boy Dani Ricciardo in the RBR10, the podium places fell to a team that were denied a podium the whole of last season! McLaren.

Kevin Magnussen equalled the best performance by a rookie in his debut Grand Prix leading home his World Champion teammate Jenson Button. Finishing 2nd and 3rd for McLaren after Ricciardo was DSQ on a technicality.

Valtterri Bottas entertained the fans with some close racing with the wall too! After replacing a damaged wheel rim he fought back to finish a fine P6 behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard and Kimi had a lack lustre afternoon in Melbourne.

19 year old Russian debutant Daniil Kvyat put in a spirited performance to claim P10 in his maiden Grand Prix for STR while Nico Hulkenberg showed off his superior race craft yet again. His amazing drives have gone largely unnoticed by the big teams so far. It won’t be long before he is the reason for the German anthem in the FIA’s playlist.

But for now he’ll have to allow Rosberg and Mercedes that honour. They went into this season as the team to beat. And they’ve started off on a flyer. It seems the Silver Arrows have mastered the futuristic, high-tech, energy-efficient and quiet battle of 2014.

It’s about time the others make some noise.

Nico Rosberg

Turbo spray at Melbourne. Image Copyright © 2014 Mercedes AMG

PODIUM
P1 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG 1hr 32m 58.710s
P2 Ricciardo [DSQ] – Red Bull Renault
P3 Magnussen – McLaren Mercedes

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Still I rise

LH's lid

Hamilton’s 2014 F1 helmet. Image Copyright © 2014 Mercedes AMG

Timing is everything.

Switch on your flatscreen LED and theres a Bond-like commercial that features a rejuvenated star in a spot called Liquid & Metal. For the Malaysian oil company, Petronas.

Flip open a glossy and you’re assaulted by stunning portraits of F1’s first ever black driver, staring right back at you.

Touch social media on a smart device anywhere and you’ll notice after a few retweets and post-shares from the man himself that he could indeed be a rapper from LA!

Tattooed. Young. Bold. Bling.

These are words you don’t normally associate with Grand Prix racing. But maybe it’s time. Because at Melbourne, Albert Park. Pole belongs to Lewis Carl Hamilton. And the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 brand cannot be happier.

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 44.231s
P2 Ricciardo – RBR Renault 1m 44.548s
P3 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 44.595s

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F1 2014: Time for change

W05

Lewis locks up at Bahrain. Image Copyright © 2014 Mercedes AMG

SEASON PREVIEW

Okay. So the defending world champion has admitted his RB10 isn’t really in great shape for Melbourne. Not worth bowing down to…yet. It hasn’t put in the number of laps it should have by now. Reliability of the Renault engine plant then? Not so. The advanced aero required to cool the all-new Energy Recovery systems isn’t working as it should either. No Red Bull domination so far? The season sounds exciting already and it hasn’t even begun!

Elsewhere, across social media and newsrooms the pace of the current-spec Turbo Hybrid ERS F1 cars has drawn hasty comparisons with GP2 and the lesser formulae. Interestingly, everyone agrees that it’s only pre-season testing and the time sheets don’t tell an accurate story.

Mercedes power however, appears stronger than Renault or Ferrari right now. To see Williams top the time sheets frequently at Bahrain is a strong indication that their new German engine supplier may just have the advantage. McLaren have been clocking up the miles and so have Force India. All on Mercedes engines. Lewis Hamilton assures us though that it’s all a journey into the unknown come the ides of March at Albert Park.

Christian Horner famously said last year that he wouldn’t be surprised if half the grid didn’t finish at Melbourne! So is reliability the new ‘X factor’?

To fall back on the old racing adage, to finish first you have to first finish, Formula One seems to have moved from purpose-built unreliable tyres to complicated energy recovery systems with unreliable engines.

Through all these new rules and regulations a few fresh talking points have emerged. The Mercedes AMG Petronas W05, will it finally pay back? Kevin Magnussen in the other McLaren alongside Jenson Button, is he special? The new throaty Turbo sound, is it right for F1?

The old ones from winter remain too. Will Kimi get the upper hand over Fernando at Ferrari? Should Dani assume the #2 driver’s role at RBR? Can Massa revive Williams and vice versa? Are these the ugliest cars we’ve ever seen? Where now for Team Lotus? And many more…

But deep down, the seasoned Grand Prix critic in all of us is smiling nervously. There’s uncertainty in the air. It’s all a gamble. Like a wet weather race. The green formula, the new look, the new rules. It’s all looming large like a big cloud of doubt. And yet, there appears a ‘silver’ lining. With a champion waiting to be crowned hidden behind it.

The 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship is here.

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The King returns

Will his young successors welcome him?

Michael Schumacher. Image Copyright  © Mercedes AMG

Michael Schumacher. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

After a 36-month hiatus Michael Schumacher has decided to have another crack at winning in his sport.

“More of the same!” he seems to demand from the sport that defined him. The sport that crowned him. Made him a legend. And carved his initials onto gleaming trophies that he proudly brandished so often all over the world. All other competitors were mere actors. It was his stage. His sport.

His sport however, tore him and wore him out too. At the end of the 2006 season his followers began to believe his best days were behind him. Fernando Alonso had dethroned him twice in 2004-2005 and Ferrari, his team, were getting impatient.

They wanted a successor. One who would dominate all over again for them. Finnish ace Kimi Raikkonen brought the World Drivers Championship back to Ferrari in 2007, the season after Schumacher’s retirement from the sport. In the following season, Britain’s Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever World Drivers Champion aged 23, for McLaren. And Jenson Button wrapped up the title last season in the dominant BrawnGP car.

These young champions were imposters to his throne. The new rulers in a new era of Formula One. And now they all want to add to their booty.

Sebastian Vettel, touted by many as the next ‘king’, is in the hunt to claim his rightful throne too. His team Red Bull, had the fastest car last season and have promised him a winner in the New Year. Nico Hulkenberg, another German prodigy, is all set to make his mark as the challenging prince in Formula One.

Meanwhile, the Spaniard, Fernando Alonso is eager to clean up his image after Renault’s Singapore ‘crash-gate’ scandal last year. He along with Felipe Massa, launch a fresh conquest with Ferrari’s complete weaponry in 2010. Ferrari have unveiled an aggressive design approach for their new car after suffering a humiliating season.

Amongst all these fiery intentions and battle plans Schumacher has decided to return to what was once his. Will the announcement of Michael Schumacher’s return worry the new protagonists? Surely any racing driver would want to dice with the legend, go wheel-to-wheel with him, post fastest-lap times and grab pole from him.

Hamilton, Vettel and Hulkenberg have never sat on the grid alongside him before. They have never had the legend as a direct competitor. Would they lift off at Turn 1? Would they brake later than him? To what extreme would they go to win. To beat the king.

One thing’s for certain. Schumacher cannot hide his craving anymore. He’s out in the open. The whole wide world of Formula One racing is staring into his visor anxiously. There are those who believe he would dominate in the new Ross Brawn penned Mercedes. There are others like ex-Grand Prix driver and former teammate Johnny Herbert who believe he will find it tough.

A three-year contract with the legendary German marque who themselves are returning to conquer the sport they once dominated, takes Schumacher’s career full circle. Back to where it all began with Mercedes in Group C Sports cars way back in 1990.

That’s when Michael as a young charger learnt and mastered the art of conserving tyres and fuel. He learnt to endure a race distance. He developed superior race craft, which many years later brought him endless victories in Formula One.

Two decades on Mercedes call on his experience in a bid to maintain the advantage BrawnGP enjoyed in 2009. To rule once more. But can the King no matter how dominant return to his sport and win all over again? Maybe. But with his return he runs the risk of being conquered. Being banished forever. By young successors, who more than ever, will relish that.

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