MARCH 21, 2016
Game on says Mercedes as Ferrari looms
"Game on!" declared a smiling world champion Lewis Hamilton after the Australian grand prix, as he finished second behind teammate Nico Rosberg.
The Briton was notably - and oddly - upbeat in the face of defeat to his Mercedes teammate, but Hamilton insisted he has had much worse starts to title campaigns.
"The longer the season, the less important the first race is," Hamilton is quoted by Bild newspaper at the start of the unprecedentedly-long 21-race calendar.
But Hamilton and Rosberg may also have listened to their boss Toto Wolff, who warned late last year that if the severest of the heat did not go out of their off-track battle, Mercedes may need to consider a new lineup.
Rosberg even apologised for touching Hamilton in the first corner.
But Wolff also promised to ease the restrictions on the pair, telling Welt am Sonntag newspaper: "We will not intervene between them, or at least we will try not to.
"This may actually be helped by the reduced radio communications, which gives greater scope for the drivers to make autonomous decisions," he added.
Hamilton's post-Melbourne mood may also be explained by the fact that, following his late-2015 performance dip, he actually set the pace all weekend.
"Rosberg, although he won, will realise that he has to find another couple of tenths," agrees former F1 driver Robert Doornbos.
"I also expect a lot from Ferrari next weekend in Bahrain with the higher temperatures," he told Ziggo Sport Totaal.
Indeed, many believe Sebastian Vettel only failed to win on Sunday because of the red flag, and a strategy blunder by Ferrari regarding tyre compound choice.
"I was surprised and glad when I saw Sebastian was on the red (super soft) tyres," said Rosberg, "and I thought 'This is my chance'."
Italy's Corriere dello Sport surmised: "The wind has turned and Ferrari has made a significant step forward. But the gap to Mercedes is still far from overcome."