[F1 2017 NEWS] MERCEDES: PEACE RETURNS TO THE SILVER ARROWS

Mercedes finally has a challenge on its hands, for the first time since 2013 – the year before Formula 1’s turbo-hybrid era.

...the final season of the V8 engine, when Sebastian Vettel bowed before his RB9 in India – having won a fourth-straight World Championship.

It was also the first year of the Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg partnership, one that was destined from their youngest days behind the wheel.

SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
3-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“Could barely sleep last night. It is quite an exciting day for us. The launch of the new car, and to be new team mates with Nico. We were just saying how crazy it is, because we used to be team mates back in 2000 when we were go-karting. So it is a dream for me to be back here as his team mate.”

That excitement would soon descend into a bitter fight for the world title – 2016 the final straw – when Rosberg would no longer play second fiddle; the German giving his all to win the crown, and immediately retiring.

Fast forward to 2017, and Valtteri Bottas has cooled the fire at Mercedes – the Finn healing old wounds with his pragmatic attitude.

SOUNDBITE (English) VALTTERI BOTTAS,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
“I think it is a great opportunity for me to really –
see where I actually stand in terms of performance. Obviously he has been with the team for a long time and I have only been here one month so it is going to be a big learning curve for me.”

Bottas’ approach has also enabled a strong bond with the mercurial Hamilton, who was used to a bitter working relationship for so long.

“I think the working environment we've both experienced this year is on a complete other level, on a professional level, that's been above any other year that I have experienced,” Hamilton said.

Bottas is also allegedly not affected by Hamilton’s mind games, which he famously employed to destabilize Rosberg.

SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
F1 DRIVER, MERCEDES:
"I don't think I've ever missed a team-mate in my life, 'cause generally there's always another one that takes its place.”

But that doesn’t mean the intra-team competition is any less hard-fought.

SOUNDBITE (English) EMERSON FITTIPALDI,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“He's going to give more of himself to make sure he's always ahead of Bottas - and Bottas is going to go to extremes to be with Lewis.”

We’ve already seen Bottas pushed to those extremes, with wins in Russia and Austria under maximum pressure from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Both top-class victories that are sure to earn the Finn a contract extension.

And in Hungary, Bottas allowed Hamilton to pass for a chance to overtake the Ferraris - the Brit handing back third, after no progress was made – so the respect goes both ways, even with an ongoing title campaign.

Hamilton’s dominant lights to flag win in Belgium on Sunday, though, has seen the 3-time World Champion slash Vettel’s lead in the standings to just seven points – while the gap to Bottas has ballooned to 34 points.

That means the Finn must up his game if he’s to stay in the championship fight, or soon risk becoming Hamilton’s rear gun; especially with Ferrari already lining up behind Vettel for the crown.

Regardless, Hamilton and Bottas’ friendly partnership at the top of F1 is rare: the most recent example, Hamilton and Jenson Button at McLaren in 2012.

So, it’s likely we’ll only see the intra-team tension rise – should Ferrari fall away from the title chase, or the pair clashes on-track.

SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
3-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“When he sees me at my most intense moment and vice versa will be an interesting scenario for us and that's something we’ll discover about each other, and where the strengths and weaknesses are.”

This is one relationship to watch as the season and pressure intensifies.