The battle is hotting up at Mercedes. Red Bull’s reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, the dominant force of the last four years, summed up the mood in the paddock on Saturday when he said the silver cars are in a “different world”.
Indeed, with the dominant W05, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have traded wins so far in 2014, but in Bahrain it was the German-born championship leader who broke his British teammate’s grip on pole position.
After Rosberg was outclassed in Malaysia, many predicted Hamilton’s superior one-lap speed would finally power him to his first world title since 2008.
But Sir Jackie Stewart said Rosberg cannot be ruled out.
“Nico has proved he can drive a little bit the way I drove the car, or Alain Prost drove the car, or Jim Clark did,” the great Scot told the Mirror newspaper.
“We are only in the third of 19 races and Nico is a real threat,” Stewart added.
Mercedes’ Niki Lauda also said Bahrain proves that 2014 doesn’t yet belong to Hamilton.
“I have always said that we have two equal drivers,” the great Austrian, a triple world champion like Stewart, is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.
“In recent days it was claimed that Lewis is obviously stronger, so I’m pleased that now it is the other way around,” Lauda added.
Also ‘the other way around’ in Bahrain is the pecking order at Red Bull, as Vettel – who had an ultra-rare terminal spin in practice – was outqualified by his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the second time in 2014.
“That was an incredible lap by Ricciardo,” Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko is quoted by the Austrian press. “We never thought we would get that close to the Mercedes on this track.”
Ricciardo must now move ten places back due to his Malaysia pitstop error penalty, but did Saturday mark a turning point in the driver hierarchy at Red Bull?
“I don’t really want to rate them,” Rosberg said when asked.
“Sebastian is clearly a fantastic driver, one of the best out there and Daniel is doing a great job and definitely deserves the seat that he’s got at Red Bull. It will be an interesting battle between the two,” he added.
It may be an interesting battle, but Marko does not think Red Bull will be able to take the fight to Mercedes on Sunday.
“We are 15kph slower on the straights,” he lamented. “So how we can overtake, I don’t know.” (GMM)