Five-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton looks strong post-Bahrain, just one point adrift of his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who’s at the top of the standings…
But he’s far from comfortable, despite a 16-point gap to Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, 17 to Ferrari’s new young gun Charles Leclerc, and with good reason… the rival SF90 is the class of the field.
…a matte scarlet rocket that the young Monégasque used to devastating effect around the Sakhir desert track…building a 10-second lead - before mechanical failure cost him pace and places.
…with Leclerc’s race to the front and subsequent grip on the race – before his cataclysmic engine cylinder failure – a proper signal of his arrival, one the world saw coming after a standout rookie campaign.
SOUNDBITE (English) ANDREW WESTACOTT,
CEO, AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX CORPORATION:
“Well... the Monégasque really did prove himself in the back end of the 2018 [last] season. He got some great results for the Alfa Romeo Racing team, formerly Sauber.”
And while Mercedes’ W10 is reliable, its supreme advantage in Australia was gone in Bahrain....meaning there’s lots of work to do as the World Champion squad prepares for the 1000th F1 Grand Prix in China.
“It's hard to say how the next races are going to pan out,” Hamilton said. “But I anticipate it will be a tough fight and that it will be a back and forth between the two teams.”
Hamilton is also acutely aware of modern F1’s relentless pace and that a title campaign is built with a similar approach.
SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
5-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“There’s 21 Grands Prix, and each weekend - you can’t have an off weekend. You have to deliver every single weekend to win these championships. It’s now that competitive that it’s every weekend – you can’t have an ‘oh that was a difficult weekend for me’ – you need to deliver each weekend.”
And that is one of Hamilton’s key strengths…
Case in point, 2018 - against Sebastian Vettel, who won the first two races. Hamilton secured his first win for the year in Azerbaijan, followed by Spain - before his campaign took off from Germany, winning eight of the last 11.
And Mercedes has that same warrior mentality, not just as part of the race team, but also back at base and its Brixworth engine works.
SOUNDBITE (English) ANDY COWELL,
MANAGING DIRECTOR, MERCEDES HPP:
“This year, it’s going to be very, very tight. I’m sure it’ll be very tight at the first race, I’m sure it’ll be tight at the last race. And it’s a battle all the way through with our first update. Every single race we’ll try and improve the calibration, [and] every single power unit, we’ll try and improve the performance, the reliability.”
It’s a slick operation that may just be pushed to all-new limits in light of a now-storming Ferrari – the Scuderia motivated to be more creative and proactive, not reactive by team principal Mattia Binotto.
But, the Prancing Horse must walk a fine line between performance and reliability, with it alleged Ferrari ran too much cooling on the car at round one in Australia – destroying pace…
… dialing it back in Bahrain, where a cylinder failed on Leclerc’s engine – rather than the MGU-H breakdown originally suspected.
All of it in pursuit of the prize – Ferrari after its first constructors’ title since 2008, Mercedes going for six-straight, which would match the Scuderia’s record of consecutive crowns.
For now, the late nights continue – at both Brackley and Maranello – as the season heats up, and the sport flies out to the Far East.