F1 – Another Perspective: Mercedes ‘Dynasty’ to be tested in Melbourne
The feud between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg continues into another chapter on Sunday, and with the word ‘dynasty’ resonating well with Mercedes fans, it would appear to the untrained eye that Melbourne is merely the first step to another 1-2 for the Silver Arrows.
Yet, in a highly eventual off-season, the sport of F1 has seen a recent evolution in several different areas. It is not just the bodies of the drivers that are stimulated by the development of new cars, along with the better understanding of V6 physics, but their competitive spirit which is set to be tested. After a winter which saw a strong test performance from Mercedes’ title-defending W06, it will take a strong heart to go into this weekend’s race and give every sinew and nerve to the cause.
For the reigning champions, the Melbourne course provides a firm but fair test to the continuity of their title-winning credentials. The overtaking opportunities are not as plentiful as with other tracks, and the surface is well-suited to a team that will rely as much on speed as braking efficiency.
For that reason, a naturally shrewd driver like Nico Rosberg is at an advantage, even with more historically successful names amongst the throng of contenders. For instance, Sebastian Vettel seems to be improving by the day in the once fear-inspiring red of Ferrari, but a profound sense of continuity is often a good advantage to hold when going into a season-opening race.
Winter testing also proved particularly encouraging for Ferrari, with four-time champion Vettel now in the team, and a newly revitalised Williams-Martini that has a good blend of experience and youthful exuberance in the form of racing duo Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. Bottas certainly enjoyed 2014, a season in which he forged a reputation as one of F1’s latest young upstarts, finishing an impressive fourth – ahead of then-champion Vettel in the final standings.
The absence of expectation for Bottas will itself be a weapon ahead of Sunday’s season opener, and for a young driver he shows excellent composure in high-pressure situations. Last season he managed a 5th place finish in Melbourne and would be a good bet to improve on that – even if an Australian podium remains elusive.
Of course one should never rule out the power of home soil and, if the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg were to be taken out of the championship equation, there would be a significant number of fans backing Daniel Ricciardo to finish as ‘best of the rest’, having done exactly that in 2014. Ricciardo was another driver who enjoyed a consistent season, one which saw him gain points in every race that he finished, overcoming a disqualification in last year’s Australian GP.
The memory of that poor start will be one that the Australian native is undoubtedly eager to destroy.
MOTORSPORT 24 PREDICTS
The inherently slippery nature of the Melbourne surface will test the braking and steering reactions of all drivers to the limit.
The smart money is on Nico Rosberg to repeat his Australian win of 2014, as there have been no major changes to the circuit, and there is also a podium finish for Lewis Hamilton on the cards. However, we think the champ will be pipped to the silver by Sebastian Vettel, who has been in encouraging form of late. A glowing testimonial from David Coulthard, in which he states that the four-time champ can “revitalise” Ferrari, surely justifies the idea that Vettel’s natural skill can at least challenge the might of the W06.
While there is an overwhelming sense that race fans are going to see young, upcoming drivers such as Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Kvyat move into their element, it is difficult to see them gaining the sufficient early ground needed to truly challenge for glory. This is a theme that will no doubt be established on Sunday in Melbourne, when experience and racing pedigree will count for everything.
That being said, Bottas is certain to finish within the points.
Visit Motorsport24.com for live coverage from 5am UTC on Sunday!