x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mercedes-GP winning early car battle in Formula One

Securing pole position with Lewis Hamilton and then a comfortable victory at the Australian Grand Prix with Nico Rosenberg is a noteworthy start but their level of dominance will surely be tested, writes Graham Caygill.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes-GP set the pace for the new F1 season when he clocked the fastest Australian Grand Prix lap on his way to a win in Melbourne on Sunday. The next race is in Malaysia on March 30. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes-GP set the pace for the new F1 season when he clocked the fastest Australian Grand Prix lap on his way to a win in Melbourne on Sunday. The next race is in Malaysia on March 30. Clive Mason / Getty Images

“Fantastic boys. What a car you have given me, what a car.”

Those were the words that Nico Rosberg joyfully yelled over his radio to his Mercedes-GP mechanics as he slowed down at the end of the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, in which he dominated.

For the track guides, team profiles and the latest standings see our interactive F1 2014 graphic here

The winning margin was 24.5 seconds at the flag in Melbourne over Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull Racing, who was later disqualified for fuel flow irregularities, but that does not tell the full story of how quick Rosberg and Mercedes were.

Lap 19 saw the German set what would turn out to be the fastest lap of the race as he completed a circuit of the Albert Park track in 1 minute, 32.478 seconds.

Not surprising, you would be right to think, the winner setting the fastest lap. What is interesting is when he did it.

Since refuelling was banned from Formula One at the end of 2009, cars are at their slowest at the start of the race because of being fat with the fuel that must see them from the start to the finish of the event.

As the fuel is burnt off, the car becomes lighter and therefore quicker, as the race unfolds, so you normally get the fastest laps in the closing stages.

So, the fact that Rosberg did his time when he did, with a healthy amount of fuel still on board to complete the 57-lap race, screams out that Mercedes have a very quick car in the F1 W05 package.

Valtteri Bottas’s Williams and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso got within a couple of 10ths of a second of Rosberg’s time, but both did their times on Lap 56, when their cars were much lighter.

Both were pushing hard to make up time on cars around them along with other cars circulating at that time, yet no one could beat a time set by Rosberg when his car was heavier.

If Rosberg could go that quick on Lap 19, what kind of a time could he have done late on if he had been under pressure?

It is clear the German had a lot in hand and could have gone a lot faster, hence his excited comments to the team post-race.

He did not need to set a sensational late lap time as the closing laps for him were about ensuring he finished.

Reliability, given the challenging new V6 turbocharged engines, was on everyone’s mind in Melbourne, and Rosberg and Mercedes from half-distance were concerned with tyre wear and preserving the car, rather than rubbing their domination in the opposition’s faces.

You do not get bonus points in F1 for lapping everyone else, so why push fragile machinery and risk a mechanical failure, was the reasonable logic on the Mercedes pit wall.

Once Rosberg had a lead of about 20 seconds, enough for an extra pit stop if necessary, it was all about looking after the car and pacing it home.

So on the back of one race it looks as if F1 has swapped the domination of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel for that of Mercedes.

But fear not, we are not looking at a one-sided show as F1 endured with Vettel for most of last season.

Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg’s teammate, will see to that. The Briton out-qualified Rosberg as he took pole position and a scrap between the two was denied as the Briton was hampered from the start by an engine problem, which caused his retirement after completing only two laps.

Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, will look to hit back in Malaysia on March 30. There is little between him and Rosberg on raw pace, and they will push each other hard, with no team orders in place.

Red Bull had the quickest car last year but Vettel had an almost permanent edge over teammate Mark Webber, meaning the German was often unopposed in races.

That will not happen with Hamilton and Rosberg, so race fans should not have fears if Mercedes can maintain their speed advantage in the coming race, with race victories likely to be shared between the pair.

The beauty of F1 is it is a fast-moving sport in terms of off-track development and Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams and McLaren-Mercedes will be already working on ways to close the gap to Mercedes and hunt them down.

It is hard to look beyond further Mercedes success in Kuala Lumpur, but it should be the start of a fascinating story of whether it will be Rosberg or Hamilton who comes out on top within the team.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE