Any idea that the Mercedes dominance could be quashed in the slow-speed streets of Monaco was shattered by another one-two last Sunday – but the race marked several key turning points in the story of 2014...
MERCEDES BATTLE INTENSIFIES
It emerged after the Spanish Grand Prix that Hamilton had used an unauthorised aggressive engine mode to stay ahead - although that was in response to Rosberg doing the same in a bid to overtake in Bahrain.
That has clearly damaged the long-standing trust between them and the suggestion the pair are ‘old buddies, so we’re going to get along no matter what’ has now been shattered.
Hamilton’s pre-Monaco comments that he was ‘more hungry’ than Rosberg, delivered with a pointed suggestion that the German had enjoyed a more privileged upbringing, was already an indicator that things had become more personal than just playing to an over-blown press story. And after Saturday afternoon, it turned into an all-out war.
Given Rosberg’s typically honest and professional character, it is hard to believe his yellow flag incident was deliberate. And quite honestly, if he wanted to start playing those kinds of tricks, Monaco was not the place to get clever, given past history that saw Michael Schumacher punished for a ‘professional foul’ there.
But whether it was deliberate or not, it has helped Rosberg no end. It not only got him pole position and in turn the race win, but it clearly got Hamilton worked up – and that is when he is at his most fragile.
The history of dominant teams with talent-balanced line-ups tells us this was always likely to happen, and that if it did the relationship breakdown would be early in the season. And like the first corner at San Marino between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the incident between Hamilton and Rosberg last Saturday has the potential to define the season.
Both drivers will now be looking for any indication that Mercedes is favouring the other – even though the team is promising to play it straight – and any hint of that could quickly hit a downward spiral.
It will be the driver who can control their imagination and avoid negative thoughts about the intra-team rivalry who will win the title – and of the two, Rosberg is perhaps the more level headed.
VETTEL KEEPS CONTROL
It must be frustrating for Sebastian Vettel as this is arguably the toughest season he’s had in Formula One. Not only does he hate seeing the Mercedes so far out in front, but while the car he is driving is fast enough to be ‘second best’, it is his team-mate who is claiming all the glory because his own car is letting him down time and again. Again, in Monaco, a podium was on until his car failed.
But this is where he can show he is a true champion. As the team rivalry at Mercedes has shown, the mental game of Formula One is as crucial as the talent on-track, and in the past Vettel has cracked under pressure.
But that was the pressure of fighting for the title. This is a very different pressure, one that is perhaps more important for his future career.
Back when Michael Schumacher helped build Ferrari, he went through these tough times but came out the other end stronger. And if this season enables Vettel to do that, then he could be an even more dangerous proposition once he gets a car that allows him to deliver.
BIANCHI GETS HARD WORK REWARDS
One of the happiest moments in Monaco came when the eighth car crossed the line to give Marussia their first ever championship points – even though a subsequent penalty dropped them to ninth.
Jules Bianchi, the Ferrari academy driver placed with the team to gain experience of F1, has regularly demonstrated exactly why they have shown faith in him, with composed performances despite a lack of pace. And it was this consistency that was rewarded in Monaco, as he got himself in the position to capitalise on others’ mistakes.
Ferrari is currently in a rebuilding stage, and with question marks over Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen for the future, there is no doubt Ferrari will be watching Bianchi closely. This performance will have done him plenty of favours.
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