Mercedes may have dominated again at the Malaysian Grand Prix but Lewis Hamilton’s performance at Sepang was about much more than just a superior car.
No, what Hamilton did on Sunday was lay down a marker, not just to the rest of the F1 grid but also to his team-mate that he will be the man to beat in 2014.
Indeed his 17-second victory over Nico Rosberg highlighted the difference some see between the good German driver and the great driver of Hamilton.
Certainly this win is bolstered by the fact Hamilton had not completed the race in Australia, where he only achieved four laps. This is because much of the race was a new experience as he learnt the art of saving enough fuel and looking after the tyres with the new V6 cars, while dominating a race.
Rosberg may not have been at his Melbourne best, he had been the second best Mercedes all weekend, but what we leave Sepang thinking is; are Red Bull gaining on Mercedes? Or was Rosberg just off the pace.
Certainly the RB10 was much closer to Rosberg in the hands of Vettel in Malaysia than it had been with Daniel Ricciardo behind the wheel in Australia and there is no doubting that Red Bull are very quickly closing the gap as the Renault power unit improves, indeed the world champion team consolidated their place as the second best on the grid.
Vettel was back on form and drove a very consistent weekend to finish ‘best of the rest’ behind the two Mercedes and with a little more race pace will soon be challenging the Silver Arrow’s for victories.
The same could be said for Ferrari as the Scuderia also showed good gains at Sepang. Fernando Alonso does as he always does and got the best result he could in fourth and Raikkonen also showed better pace over the weekend despite his race being ruined by an early puncture.
In what is quickly becoming a grid with many layers, the third layer is the start of the midfield.
Force India certainly confirmed they have also improved as Nico Hulkenberg made a two-stop strategy work to claim fifth but for Sergio Perez his post-McLaren career continues to stall after he failed to start in Sepang.
The recoveries made by Bottas and Massa, after a difficult wet qualifying, confirm that, in the dry, they remain firmly in the hunt as they claimed a double points finish while at McLaren the issues appear a little worse.
The MP4-29 is a good car, however, I feel some cracks are being papered over by the superior Mercedes engine.
Jenson Button drove another solid race in sixth while Magnussen proved consistency needs to be found, if he is to vindicate the trust McLaren has shown in him.
My big worry for McLaren, however, is as other teams improve, particularly the likes of Lotus and Toro Rosso, will they be able to develop the car enough to maintain a strong presence near the front?
Certainly the two Renault-powered teams suggested the preseason woes are slowly being overcome. For Lotus, finishing in Sepang was a major step forward and as the car ran reliably it also proved there is potential in the E22.
Toro Rosso too have a very good base on which to build and the battle between Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat is also quickly growing into one of the closest on the grid.
Sauber seem to be lost in the void between the midfield and Marussia and Caterham at the back of the grid. the Swiss team suffered its first double retirement since Italy 2012 in Sepang and still the car looks quite some way behind their more established rivals but plenty of work still needs to be done.
The battle officially commenced at the back as Caterham enjoyed greater reliability getting both cars to the finish at one of their home races. In doing so they beat the sole Marussia of Max Chilton as Kamui Kobayashi matched the 13th place Chilton had achieved in Melbourne.
Though it’s a shame to see they still can’t challenge the midfield teams, the battle for 10th will certainly be one to watch in the early races, though as reliability improves the chances of points will quickly diminish.
Looking back the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2014 was quite a slow burner, with Hamilton unchallenged it took away the big battle for victory most hope for but then it is quite clear Mercedes are simply the quickest team right now.
The race does offer hope going forward that if Red Bull can continue to make rapid progress, Hamilton and Rosberg will have more than just themselves to worry about in the not too distant future.
Despite the lack of overtaking at times, the battle in the midfield strategically is very interesting. With so many teams bunching up and battling for points in many ways the need for fuel saving does give a greater number of teams a chance and that is only good for the sport.
I soon think the noise debate will also end. OK the volume may not be as high but I feel like I could appreciate the whine of the turbo and the rumble of the V6 more than I could the scream of the V8.
Frankly, it feels more raw, more mechanical which is what F1 should be about and my respect for these engines grow each time I hear them and understand them.
Malaysia offered a race with intrigue and strategy combined with action on track that wasn’t just about pressing the DRS button, I’m liking it and can’t wait to see what the next chapter in Bahrain has in store.
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