Result: Lewis Hamilton leads a Mercedes 1-2.
Without getting into the technicalities of the rule changes and adjustments made between two seasons, the FIA seems to have achieved what it set out to do—break another German’s stranglehold and Red Bull’s world domination. Red Bull, what with its fuel valve worries and winter testing, looks the shadow of the car it was. You could see that from Vettel’s reaction on managing to come third at Sepang. He was ecstatic, whereas this result would have been considered a failure last season.
Believe it or not, Riccardio’s disqualification in Australia ensured that this was Red Bull’s first points of the season.
The FIA, in their obsession to reverse trends and hamper defending Champions, have in turn created another Monster. Mercedes, with technical advisor Niki Lauda, have begun on an eerily similar note to 2009 when they were known as Brawn GP. Their domination is so apparent that FIA must worry about a new kind of one-sidedness—the flawlessness of the engines has resulted in Hamilton and Rosberg having their own little battle way ahead of the ‘rest’ of the field.
2014 has far from an equal playing field again. Only this time, the runaway Champions will be German (again), and depending on Hamilton’s battle with his own temperament, we could have yet another young German World Champion. Rosberg seems to have reeled himself in and acquired the sort of consistency everyone thought he lacked. He has come to terms with his car, and his win in Melbourne was followed by a solid second at Sepang, way behind race leader and pole-to-finish winner Lewis Hamilton (who finally cut his frustrating winless streak).
The scary part about the first two races so far has been the clear lack of competence of the other teams. Mercedes is so quick that suddenly, ‘Rush’ seems like a very credible film—especially in the scenes where young Austrian upstart Niki Lauda literally puts together a winning car himself and blows away competition in the 70s. That same expertise is clearly of great importance to Mercedes—and Hamilton’s entry on Lauda’s insistence is already reaping dividends. In all likelihood, the team was already looking forward to 2014 after a transition season in 2013.
It is, of course, too early to make predictions or point out trends, but Vettel’s true mettle as Champion will be tested in an inferior car. Perversely, this is a position most of us wanted to see him in, just to see if he is still as good. So far, he has proved himself to be the best of the rest in a car that’s not half as good as even the Ferraris this year. Alonso is still struggling to make podiums, and his new partnership with Raikkonen hasn’t shown much spark yet.
Plenty of time left for the Bahrain GP in two weeks, but I suspect it isn’t enough time to give other teams a headstart. One of the Mercedes drivers will always be on the podium, thanks to their insanely quick qualifying times (especially Hamilton, who has become a sort of specialist on Saturdays).