Not a terribly exciting race, and the Mercedes dominance of the early days of the 2014 Formula One season may not last. The team’s 1-2 finish on Sunday was the first as an F1 constructor since Juan Manuel Fangio and Piero Taruff dominated the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. Stay tuned.
There is a line on Lewis Hamilton’s fastidiously decorated helmet – taken from the American poet and author Maya Angelou – which reads “Still I Rise”.
But for Nico Rosberg and the other Formula One drivers who trail in his phosphorescent wake there should be another message: Mind The Gap. The letters should be very large, and placed on the back of the helmet.
Hamilton’s victory in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix was hardly surprising. After all, he is the quickest driver and he happens to be driving a Mercedes car which is vastly superior to the other 21 vehicles on the grid. Except Rosberg’s. And he beat his teammate by the staggering margin of 17.3 seconds.
The vanquished and the merely defeated wear different expressions, and Rosberg’s ashen countenance evoked thoughts of Bob Hoskins’ terrible epiphany at the end of the vibrant gangster film The Long Good Friday.
Even the quietly spoken Hamilton, who is not usually boastful of his gifts, said afterwards: “I learned a few things in practice but it is a different thing learning it from applying it, but today I applied it and that’s why I blew him away. It’s massive. I can’t remember the last time in my career I had a gap like that, particularly with a team-mate driving the same car. That’s definitely a good feeling.”
Rosberg, who won the first race in Australia two weeks ago and was second here, still leads the embryonic drivers’ championship by 18 points. But this was a reminder of the chasm that exists between the two Silver Arrow drivers when Hamilton is at his absolute best. Given the intimacy of the two men (and boys) as rivals, the bleak truth of the matter must be rumbling about somewhere at the back of Rosberg’s highly intelligent mind. But the demands of professionalism, as well as self-esteem, are such that these thoughts must be sublimated, even banished, wherever possible. Sunday’s drive by Hamilton, though, was a brutal reminder of the pecking order when all goes well for the British driver.
That is not to say that Hamilton, who was forced to retire early in Australia, is a shoo-in for the title. Many sagacious racing men put their money on Rosberg at the start of the campaign, for Hamilton can implode just as often as he explodes. But on his day he can reach a level that only the truly great drivers touch. And we don’t know yet whether Rosberg is capable of greatness.
Jenson Button, Hamilton’s previous team-mate, at McLaren, was asked about the pairing at Mercedes. He said: “They are close as friends but one [Hamilton] has won a world championship and the other hasn’t – so that might change things a bit between them. They are going to keep giving it their all but looking at what Lewis did is going to hurt a little bit. He was super-fast here – 17 seconds. That is a lot to put between you and your team-mate when you have both had a clear race. I am sure that is strike one.”
This was Hamilton’s 23rd win in Formula One, his first at the Sepang circuit in Kuala Lumpur and the first one-two result for Mercedes since their heyday 60 years ago.
Hamilton led from lights out to chequered flag, his first victory since Hungary last summer, and he has rarely looked as elated as this. He said: “I’m pushing myself more than my team-mate is pushing me. That’s where the push is coming from. Naturally, Nico is very quick, he’s won the first race, he’s always there. So naturally we’re pushing each other. But I feel like this year I’m pushing myself that extra. I’m eking out more than I’ve ever been able to eke out before.
“I’m giving it everything. There’s nothing else that’s on my mind, there’s nothing else that I’m thinking about. I’m only thinking about the championship. I’m thinking about winning. I’m living and breathing it, as I do every year. For some reason this year there’s more capacity.
“I’m more mature. I’m getting older, so all the experiences are adding up. I’m starting to see the benefits of the mistakes, and the things I’ve said, or the things I’ve done, and I even noticed it today.”
The race itself was largely uneventful but it did see the emergence of Red Bull as the likeliest challengers to Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel was third – albeit a huge 25 seconds behind the winner – and the wretchedly unlucky Daniel Ricciardo, who was disqualified in Melbourne for a fuel-flow violation after finishing in second place, put in another fine drive only to retire following a botched pitstop when his front left wheel was not properly secured, and a broken wing.
Fernando Alonso was fourth in his Ferrari, and at times showed some real pace. The signs are that both Ferrari and Red Bull will be competitive by the time the F1 circus comes to Europe in May.
Meanwhile, Williams and McLaren got both of their drivers into the top 10. Button was sixth, three places ahead of his team-mate, Kevin Magnussen, who was watched by his father and former McLaren and Stewart-Ford driver, Jan.
The most absorbing contest of the day was that between the Williams pair Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. Massa ignored team orders to give way to Bottas. “Valtteri is faster than you,” was the insensitive message he was given, which must have reminded of the time he was told “Fernando is faster than you” in his Ferrari days.
Massa, who was also pushed around by Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, and who just might consider himself top dog at Williams, remained precisely where he was.
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