This weekend Lewis Hamilton took what I believe to be a commanding victory at the wheel of his Mercedes W06, despite the talk of Ferrari closing in on the pace of the dominant Silver Arrows.
Whilst Ferrari seemed like they were on top of Mercedes’ pace in the opening first stints, having saved a set of Soft tyres so Vettel could match their lap times, they were still never the less on the limit of what they could achieve – something Hamilton all-but confirmed when he smashed the lap record at the end of the middle stint by a second.
The two-time world champion was clearly toying with the Prancing Horses, much to the displeasure of his teammate Nico Rosberg. During the race we heard him over the team radio asking the them to tell Hamilton to up his pace, knowing full-well that it was still in reserve. In the post race press conference Rosberg also called Hamilton out, saying his pace was destroying his tyres in the second stint, leaving him vulnerable to the Ferrari’s.
Whilst you can understand Rosberg’s point of view comes from the ‘fairplay’ tactics that Mercedes employ in order to allow their drivers to race fairly whilst still getting the best result for the team, I fear Rosberg may have lost grasp of what he is meant to do in order to maximise his chances of winning the title battle.
As much as Formula 1 is a team game, the main aim is to win the drivers championship. It’s what gets associated with you in the books of history; what people remember you for in decades to come. Remember when Raikkonen and Massa won Ferrari the constructors battle in 2008? The shots of mechanics bashing their pit box walls when Hamilton crossed the line in sixth to snatch the drivers title from Massa by a point says it all.
With Rosberg’s comments in the press conference, its almost an omission that he knows Hamilton is faster than him. He clearly had the opportunity to overtake him, but if he responded to his pace chances are Hamilton would’ve went faster, meaning the tyres get destroyed more as they battle for track position.
But none of this is something Hamilton should worry about. Damon Hill pulled the famous quote from Fangio in Sky’s post-race coverage: “The goal is to win the race at the slowest possible speed” and it hits the nail on the head. Lewis knows what he needs to do to win, and his antics on track act as a wind up to the relentless psychological battle between these two sportsmen at the top of their game.
Further behind in the midfield we saw yet another exhibition from the two Red Bull teams. Max Vestappen continued to show no fear in his Toro Rosso, whilst Kvyat, Riccardo, and Sainz all struggled with either braking or Power Unit issues in their cars. You could say that Vestappen’s ability to adapt to the driving conditions of his car are superior to that of his fellow Red Bull compatriots, however you do that at the expense of writing off their abilities.
Having seen all these guys in their junior single seater years, I can testify to Red Bull’s ability to spot genuine, no nonsense talent. But having heard Vestappen’s comments after the race in Malaysia with regards to his brakes and how he had to get used to the change in balance it gave him, and still pull the moves off that he did, it makes me very excited for his future in the sport.
It’s just a shame his hard work was spoiled by the Power Unit failure, something Renault have admitted was a mistake on their part amidst the war of words between the two parties over the last month.
That actually leads me onto my next subject, which is the marshalling at the end of the race that led to it ending under Safety Car. Whilst I’ll always commend marshals for what they do for our sport – after all we wouldn’t be able to do it without them – I certainly think the standards in circuits we visit, particularly in Asia need working on.
Communication seems to be a big barrier. During the Malaysian Grand Prix I saw a marshal run into oncoming traffic during Practice on the back straight to pick up debris from when one of the Lotus’ shed its engine cover, without any flag warnings. And here we saw them bash a multi-million pound F1 car into a barrier because of the rush to try and get the track cleared for a potential one-lap shootout.
Their standards throughout the weekend are normally quite good, but there are issues that need working on and perhaps could use the help of drafting in the likes of the British marshals – who we know are the best in the world.
Elsewhere we finally saw both McLaren reach full race distance, after they brought just one home in Australia and suffered a double retirement in Malaysia. Although I couldn’t help but cringe when I heard Raikkonen say over the team radio “Get this McLaren out of my way” when lapping Alonso. Meanwhile I thought Button’s display of race craft battling with Maldonado was just a masterclass of perfection, before he ended up getting caught out by the Lotus drivers aggressive defensive tactics.
And finally Manor managed to also reach full race distance with both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, despite the talk of them not being able to run both cars on track at the same time. I guess their determination can be seen as a tribute to Jules Bianchi, who suffered his tragic crash at Suzuka six months ago.
Speaking to French media his dad, Philippe Bianchi has said that whilst his body is in a healthy condition, he still remains in a coma. It’s encouraging to hear that he is responding to the likes of family members and his girlfriend Gina, through their constant presence. But it’s heartbreaking to hear of the “daily torture” the family face with his road to recovery. Like many of us he still remains in my thoughts constantly throughout an F1 weekend, even more so with the story of Manor’s revival.
We head off to Bahrain next this weekend, where of course we saw that epic wheel-to-wheel battle between Rosberg and Hamilton 12 months ago. Wonder if we’ll see a repeat? The fighting talk from both drivers after China certainly sets us up for what will be a brilliant weekend of action.