The race last week in China should have brought fear into the hearts of every Formula One fan who hopes to see competitive on track racing in the first half of this season.
Having a lightning one-lap pace advantage over Ferrari, the two Mercedes drivers established themselves on the front row of the grid in Sepang. Yet when the lights went out on Sunday, we saw a very different Mercedes.
In fear of Ferrari’s superior tyre management capabilities, Lewis and Nico were instructed to trundle around the circuit at about a second a lap slower than they were in fact capable of doing.
This nullified the Ferrari tyre degradation advantage, as the Mercedes pair were able to run much longer stints on the soft tyre due to their snail-like pace.
This also nullifies the likelihood of seeing a proper race between Nico and Lewis, as Mercedes goal is to deliver a 1-2 which meant both drivers had to extend their option tyre runs by not engaging in battle with each other.
With Lewis dominant in qualifying, this creates a problem for Rosberg this year. In 2014, the Mercedes pair were able to run split strategies – one adopting a tyre strategy which was theoretically slower but created a race between the two silver arrow protagonists.
Mercedes no longer have this advantage, so when the quickest way to the chequered flag is clear-cut – this year both cars will be forced to run the quickest strategy to defend against the Ferrari’s.
Today in Q2 we saw an interesting development. Those predisposed to the idea that Lewis is now über dominant and Rosberg is crushed, failed to spot that Nico had decided he would save the tyre he was to start the race on and trundle around setting a time good enough to make it into Q1, however this time was a whole 1.1 seconds slower than his team-mate.
Rosberg has been no further back than around 0.3 seconds in qualifying to Hamilton this year, so clearly this gap should have set the cat amongst the pigeons.
This tyre saving exercise in qualifying will give Rosberg a significant advantage in terms of tyre durability and longevity during the first stint of the race tomorrow.
Whether Nico planned to slot in third behind Vettel on the grid, is more difficult to argue. However, he now has the advantage of not having to play rear gunner for Hamilton.
Should Vettel and Hamilton go at it hammer and tongues from the off tomorrow, it could be the Nico and Kimi play a long game, to see if by reducing their tyre wear they can get the jump later in the race on their team mates.
So Nico has adopted the Mercedes go-slow policy they deployed in China, though it is likely this was for his own personal battle with Hamilton and not a team instruction.
Lauda was displeased with the german following the race.“We had the pressure from Vettel, and it’s a pity that Nico couldn’t get him, from a Mercedes a point of view.”