Even before heading into the off-season, there were rumors swirling about Mercedes already showing a spectacular affinity for the new engine formula. Many dismissed the claims as sheer nonsense, others (mainly Red Bull’s detractors) held onto a quiet modicum of hope that it would be true. How the hopeful would be rewarded.
Straight from the start of pre-season testing, the silver arrows looked to be in an entirely different league from the rest of the field. Their dominating speed was matched only by their unrivaled reliability. Though Bahrain and the Australian Grand Prix would reveal glitches in the machine of last year’s runner-up, there can be no mistaking the likelihood that Mercedes AMG Petronas are already looking likely to cart off with the championship.
Like Ferrari, Mercedes have adopted the “vacuum style” nose cone, though there is speculation that it features a design similar to Lotus’ “twin tusk” nose beneath a vanity panel. The sloping of its nose seems less aggressively sloped than seen on the Ferrari.
The rear bodywork is rather tight, and the side pods are slightly narrower compared to, say, Williams, but it hasn’t come at the expense of reliability: Mercedes ran the most laps in pre-season testing of any team and set the second quickest time at Bahrain while using the soft tyre, as opposed to the super-soft used by Felipe Massa on his Williams.
At the Australian Grand Prix, the speed of the Mercedes W05 revealed itself in part with an absolutely dominant weekend. In qualifying, Hamilton snatched pole from hometown hero, Daniel Ricciardo, by three tenths of a second in spite of having a sideways moment. More encouraging still, the car was able to keep the high power of the Mercedes PU under control even in the wet.
Hamilton wouldn’t get the chance to fight for a win (or even points) the following day, as his V6 engine decided that it wanted to be a V5, making him slow at the start and eventually forcing the Briton to retire. Rosberg would rise to first from 3rd and continue to take victory by nearly 25 seconds following a Safety Car period.
Alarmingly, Rosberg set the fastest lap of the race on lap 19, and it would take another 15 laps for anyone to get within one second of his time. From the time of setting his hot lap, Rosberg quickly pulled away and then managed the gap for the rest of the race, effectively cruising to his first victory.
Needless to say, the W05 looks like a monster.
Lewis Hamilton – A little bit of luck for a second championship
Possibly one of the least lucky drivers on the grid, Hamilton is readily labelled as “inconsistent” by those with a memory too short to recall his uncompetitive car in 2009, miserable reliability in 2012 and exploding tyre in 2013. Those with a strong memory will recall that he bested two-time and incumbent world champion Fernando Alonso as a rookie; scored podiums in his first nine races as a rookie (two of which were wins); made Heikki Kovalainen look like a bad joke on his way to a world championship in 2008; and only lost out to Jenson Button during an emotionally tumultuous season that saw him fall out with his father and girlfriend.
It’s worth noting that last year was his first year with a team outside of the McLaren family, and he was up against Nico Rosberg, who had beaten the legendary Michael Schumacher three years in a row. Even with the new surroundings, typically bad luck, unfamiliar faces and a car he didn’t care for, Hamilton managed to come out on top. With an extra year and additional input to the car, he should have a greater distance between Rosberg and himself.
If Australia is anything to go by, however, Hamilton may be in for yet another miserable time. His car broke down in free practice one and then decided it was too busy being broken to convert his pole into a win. A little bit of luck, and he should be able to take the WDC.
Nico Rosberg – The other main contender
Yet another driver who spent most of his career with everyone underestimating him, Rosberg has done a lot over his career to prove that he has a brilliant combination of speed and smarts. Beating Michael Schumacher three out of three years as teammates was largely overlooked until Rosberg finally took his maiden victory at China in 2012. And though he had the benefit of being more comfortable with the car and team, Rosberg displayed considerable prowess by nearly matching Hamilton last year as well.
Son of 1982 champion, Keke Rosberg, the German has done a lot to dispel the recent stigma that hangs around sons of former drivers by displaying top tier talent. His smoother driving style may give him an advantage in tyre wear and fuel consumption over Hamilton, though how much remains uncertain.
If Hamilton fails to take the championship for reasons of misfortune or driving style differences, Rosberg’s victory at Australia already has him in great form.
Qualifying Times (Wet)
Hamilton: DNF (Engine misfire – Retired Lap 3)
Fast Lap: 1’46.128 (21st – Lap 1)
Fast Lap: 1’32.478 (1st – Lap 19)
Jerez Total Laps: 309 Laps (1st)
Bahrain Figures (Test 1 &2 Combined)
Total laps: 666 (2nd)
Hamilton: 1’33.278 (2nd)
Rosberg: 1’33.289 (3rd)