No sooner had Mercedes cruised to the chequered flag at yesterday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, their rivals were all but conceding the 2015 Formula One championship was as good as over.
Dominant in 2014, Mercedes were again in a class of their own with double world champion Lewis Hamilton coasting to victory over teammate Nico Rosberg.
Despite taking it easy throughout the 58-lap race, concerned more about saving tyres and fuel than checking their mirrors for challengers, Mercedes finished more than half a minute clear of third-placed Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.
Only two other drivers finished on the same lap as the Silver Arrows.
“You have to be realistic,” said Vettel after his first race for Ferrari. “This weekend it was in their hands and they did a great job, not just as a team but individually.
“They are the favourites, they had a huge advantage last year and I think they did a good job increasing that advantage this year.”
Vettel won four titles in a row for Red Bull before Mercedes overtook them last year, and that team’s principal Christian Horner said 2015 was looking like another procession.
“On today’s evidence we’re set for a two-horse race at every Grand Prix this year,” he said.
“Take nothing away from Mercedes, they’ve done a super job, they’ve got a great car, they’ve got a fantastic engine, and they’ve got two very good drivers.
“But the problem is the gap is just so big you end up with three-tier racing and I don’t think that’s healthy for Formula One.”
Mercedes won 16 of 19 races last season and started 18 on pole. If yesterday was anything to go by, they may be even more dominant this year.
“I feel a bit for the fans,” said Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, who finished sixth for Red Bull. “It was a boring race. It was frustrating.”
Even the Mercedes drivers have said they fear their dominance could drive fans away. In the lead-up to the race, Hamilton admitted he would be bored as a fan while Rosberg said he hoped the others could catch up.
“I hope they can give us a challenge, because it’s important for the sport and the fans,” the German said.
“Half of me, or part of me, thinks about the show because I want to give people a great time at home watching on TV or at the track.”
Red Bull frustrated with engine problems
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has laid the blame for his team’s terrible start to the Formula One season with their Renault engine, describing it as “undriveable”.
Once the most powerful team in the sport, Red Bull won the constructors’ championship four years in a row before finishing second to Mercedes last year.
And while Mercedes continued their dominance with world champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finishing first and second in Sunday’s Australian opener, Red Bull fell even further behind.
Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in his home race while his new Russian team mate Daniil Kvyat withdrew before the start with a gearbox failure.
“It’s been a very tough weekend for Renault,” Horner told reporters.
“The engine is just quite undriveable. You can see and hear that from the comments the drivers are making...you’re not able to drive the car properly.”
Horner has become increasingly critical of the French engine maker after they experienced problems adapting to the new V6 turbo hybrid era last year.
He first raised his concerns with Renault in 2012 and is frustrated that things seem to be getting worse rather than better.
“It’s frustrating that we’re effectively even further back than we were in Abu Dhabi (last November) in both power and driveability,” he said.
“Ferrari have made a good step. Renault, at this stage, appear to have made a retrograde step.”
Horner estimated that Renault’s power unit was 100 horsepower down on Mercedes and he said it was paramount that the gap was closed.
“It’s important after this weekend that we re-group with Renault and try and offer our support where we can, because they’re obviously in a bit of a mess at the moment,” he said.
To compound Red Bull’s problems, Ricciardo used up one of his four power units during practice, leaving him with three for the rest of the season.
“The positives are that we finished,” Ricciardo said.
“The reliability was there for one car at least.
“I feel for Dani (Kyvat) but we’ll turn it around and try and learn from the laps I did today and move on.
“We know where a lot of (the problems) lie but there’s some more as well which was unexpected. Definitely behind but it is what it is and we’ve got to try and make the best of it.
“I’m sure we’ll get there but it could be a little while.”
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