With two wins from two races under their belt in the new Formula One season, Mercedes are powering confidently toward another speedster’s paradise in Bahrain this week, albeit with a watchful eye on fast improving rivals Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton’s pole-to-flag victory on Sunday ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg looked comfortable in the scorching Sepang sunshine, but quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel had managed to split the pair in a wet qualifying session.
The German Red Bull driver fell behind Rosberg before the first corner on race day in Malaysia but managed to push his compatriot for long periods before the gap widened in the final stages of the 56-lap race.
Vettel’s 15 points for third place were Red Bull’s first of the season and a jump in the right direction for a team that looked in disarray during winter testing after their Renault power unit suffered reliability woes.
“The last day of testing was four weeks ago or something and they were absolutely nowhere and now he (Vettel) was right in the back of me, pushing me,” Rosberg told reporters after moving further clear in the drivers standings ahead of Hamilton. “The way they’ve ramped up their pace, very impressive, so we need to keep on it to keep our advantage.”
Rosberg leads the drivers championship on 43 points, ahead of Hamilton (25) and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (24). Vettel’s team mate, Daniel Ricciardo, also showed promising signs before a botched pit stop, damaged front wing and punctured tire led to him retiring on lap 49.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was optimistic that they had made progress in bridging the gap on the Formula One pace setters.
“Considering where we were a month ago, to be on the podium with Sebastian in Malaysia in a dry race, is an incredible performance,” he said.
“We knew that we had some ground to catch up to the Mercedes, so to finish as close as Sebastian did today was a really positive performance and, while we know we’ve got a lot of work to do, we can begin to realize the scale of our challenge.”
Adding fuel to the Renault-powered revival was Russian rookie Danil Kvyat grabbing 10th to give Toro Rosso a second weekend of points after both he and team mate Jean-Eric Vergne’s top 10 finishes in Australia. Even struggling Lotus managed to finish a race, with Romain Grosjean ending in 11th in Malaysia.
However, they were all second best to Mercedes, whose pace on the quick Sepang straights was too much for the Red Bulls.
With similarly long straights awaiting them in Manama before they head to continued…