Michael Bailey, Formula One correspondent
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
What does a world champion look like? Well, if you’d asked the question over the last four years in Formula One, the answer would’ve been easy – Sebastian Vettel.
"I would be happy (with fewer teams)… You should not be in this business if you cannot afford it"
When that run of form and confidence starts flowing through a driver – whether it’s short-term domination or something that at one point looks unending – the driver’s demeanour changes. They visibly look the part.
And you get the feeling we’re not far off that point with Nico Rosberg.
Yes, there is a long way to go and one DNF from the German, with Lewis Hamilton taking full advantage, and the game is well and truly back on. But aside from that scenario, there appears to be one driver growing into this season – and one where the edges keep fraying. It took Rosberg six years to win a grand prix, and even after that he still looked a man who would do well to break out from the also-ran crowd – and yes, the also-ran crowd in Formula One is still a pretty exclusive club. It’s only natural that things have changed at Mercedes this year. They are the dominating force – something entirely proven by the opening few laps of last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, despite Williams’ wonderful qualifying.
Mercedes have an issue in dealing with this too. Their beloved equality, sharing of information and strategy, isn’t working anymore – which shouldn’t really be a surprise, given there’s a title at stake. Bizarrely, the two drivers are handed ‘turns’ at strategy choices, rather than truly competing with each other.
• Pole position – Williams: Austria was a memorable grand prix for the Grove marque and what they hope is a sign of things to come, this season and beyond.
• Stalling – Renault: The French engine manufacturer’s performance so far in 2014 has been labelled “unacceptable” by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. Having reached this point, something is going to have to change.
“After FP3 we weren’t in good shape,” said team chief Toto Wolff. “The atmosphere wasn’t like in the races before; it’s getting very competitive, transparency is suffering a bit, and we need to make sure this is not detrimental to the team.
“We need the whole group working together from both sides of the garage. This is the spirit we want to maintain.”
It’s clear the drivers are getting real over what it will take to win the drivers’ title this season – maybe it’s time Mercedes followed suit.
• One thing became clearer this week – any team struggling for cash in Formula One isn’t going to find much sympathy.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, in expected high-roller fashion, blasted any team competing in F1 that hasn’t got enough money to do it.
And that’s pretty harsh on Marussia and Caterham – both having joined F1 on the promise of a tight new salary cap across all rivals.
Sauber and Lotus are low on cash too. Is F1 willing to let these teams simply fall by the wayside?
F1 needs strong competition – but it needs a playing field too – one that isn’t a cliff face for some involved.