Mercedes dominated the second race of the season, claiming their first one-two of the modern era, but what lessons did we learn from Sepang?
MERCEDES ARE SANDBAGGING
Don’t be fooled by the relatively close time difference between second-placed Nico Rosberg and third-placed Sebastian Vettel at the end of the race – Mercedes are not even close to demonstrating their true pace so far this season. And if the fuel figures are to be believed there is still some way to go before Red Bull will get on terms with Mercedes.
The ‘Silver Arrows’ were in control with Lewis Hamilton comfortably ahead of team-mate Rosberg but unlike in the past, when it was hard to tell just how much cushion a team had out in front, this year there is a pretty clear indicator of how hard they are pushing.
The clue was flashed up on TV screens in the middle of the race when fuel use statistics showed the two Mercedes had used around two percent less than their rivals in the first half of the race.
Teams have limited fuel to play with this season and conserving it is a big advantage. The fact that Mercedes were able to run so economically compared to their rivals means they should literally have plenty left in the tank for some races to come.
Renault, however, are closing fast – and if the rate of improvement continues Red Bull could soon genuinely by back in with a shout before too long.
NO MESSING WITH F1 PENALTY POINTS
The F1 stewards were busy last weekend as they handed out the first ever drivers’ penalty points to Valteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.
But the two points each stamped on the Williams and Red Bull drivers’ licences immediately raised concerns over the policing of the sport and there were suggestions that they risked making a mockery of the system.
The new solution, which supplements any live or post-race penalties, was introduced to ensure repeat offenders are penalised, with 12 points over 12 months resulting in a one-race ban.
Bottas was punished for blocking Ricciardo for two turns in qualifying, but claimed he did no such thing. Ricciardo was then punished for being released early from a pit stop in the race, even though he correctly stopped in the pitlane as soon as he knew there was a problem.
Both incidents could have interesting repercussions.
The first is that as blocking is not an uncommon occurrence, it means many others should be penalised too - and that could see far more penalty points being dished out through the season than first planned.
The second is that penalty points were awarded to a driver for a team mistake, and that seems quite unfair, especially given the torrid race Ricciardo had and the subsequent penalties he suffered.
The message is simple – don’t mess with the FIA, even if your offence could have been down to a simple mistake.
COST CONTROL WILL BE A CHALLENGE
Formula One now has three months to curb costs in time for the 2015 season – and there has been big debate in the opening pre-race press conferences over whether that is going to be possible.
FIA boss Jean Todt wants to formalise the Resource Restriction Agreement into a genuine cost cap but there is massive debate over what should and should not be included.
In Malaysia, it was the turn of the small teams to have their say.
“Theoretically, everything is possible. In practice, it's a different story,” said Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost; while Caterham boss Cyril Abiteboul suggested a completely different business model is needed to make it work.
More positively, Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We are working on papers and I think it's more than just an intention of the FIA to do this. The teams got together with the other stakeholders and there was an agreement amongst everyone that we have to do something here. We are making progress so I'm confident that sticking to that agreement amongst everyone, we will have some cost control next year.”
But it’s hard to see it Kaltenborn’s way.
The problem is the final decision is made by the F1 Strategy Group, which is made up of six top teams, the FIA and Formula One Management, not the smaller teams.
A majority is required to take it forward – and with all those teams focused on doing everything they can to succeed, not saving everything they can to survive, it’s hard to see any unity on the issue.
It seems, then, that unless miracles happen cost control will be off the agenda for 2015 at least.
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