F1 needs Sebastian Vettel to end Mercedes dominance

Matt Majendie 09:42 17/03/2016
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Formula One’s two most dominant drivers in recent history: Hamilton and Vettel.

Will it be a procession or could it play out as a bitter duel between old friends who used to share rooms and pizzas in their karting days and are now Mercedes team-mates? Alternatively, what we all want to see is Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari turn it into a three-way battle for the world title.

The Formula One circus converges on Melbourne once more this weekend for the traditional season opener with expectations high.

The form book would suggest Lewis Hamilton is the clear favourite to make it four career world titles with Nico Rosberg snapping at his heels and Ferrari’s Vettel perhaps having parity more often than last season. But could it be that the biggest rival to Hamilton winning that hat-trick of world titles is the man himself?

“Now I am getting older it is harder to get into shape, it is harder to keep that mental edge,” he said in the build-up to race one of a marathon season.

“That is a massive challenge. When I was a kid I was all energy. Now you are doing 20 push-ups and by number 12 you start to think ‘oh my God’. It is getting harder and harder to fight your weaker self.”

Hamilton, old, wise and ready for retirement at 31? Far from it. He has had more of a propensity to speak his mind since switching from McLaren – where every comment was censured and critiqued by the team hierarchy – to Mercedes which has allowed Hamilton and Rosberg to race freely and freely speak their minds.

So one minute, the defending champion is talking about struggling to get the motivation to stay at the peak of the sport and the next the Hamilton that gets behind the wheel of a racing car at a grand prix weekend returns.

“I saw a photo the other day where Nigel (Mansell) and Ayrton (Senna) were wheel to wheel down the straight with sparks coming out,” he said. “I picture that, I can’t wait for that to be me and Sebastian (Vettel).”

And there perhaps lies the motivation for Hamilton having already achieved his main career goal of matching the three world titles of his aforementioned idol Senna.

It is a bizarre anomaly that Hamilton and Vettel have never really rivalled for a world title.

There was the season finale of 2010 in Abu Dhabi where Hamilton had the slightest mathematical chance of winning the title but the season was never a case of Hamilton v Vettel. But they are the dominant forces of recent F1, the duo sharing the last six world titles between them without ever really having the wheel-to-wheel battles of yesteryear for which Hamilton pines.

Unlike Vettel, who happily accepted the dominant nature of his time at Red Bull, Hamilton has made no secret of the fact that he gets bored easily if there is no proper racing to be done for him.

As for the German, his view on a possible rivalry is: “It would be fun and the fans would love it too.”

One suspects such a rivalry would help Hamilton snap out of his Jekyll and Hyde mode, going from a thirty something more keen on recording music – he recently showed a clip of him playing Rihanna’s Stay on the piano – and mixing with the stars of music and silver screen in the States to the born racer that makes him F1’s current biggest draw.

There is also the small matter of Rosberg. It was clear Hamilton had him beaten a long way out last season but the German ended the year with the perfect psychological payback of three victories from pole position.

Plenty have suggested such victories were the result of the fact that Hamilton had switched off with the title sealed and the celebrations having already begun in earnest.

That string of results, though, left Hamilton scratching his head, and was seemingly genuine when he said he needed to raise the bar to find an answer to Rosberg but, a few days out from Melbourne, did not know what the answer was.

There is plenty of time in which to find out this season as F1 sets out on the longest season in its history with 21 grands prix in total.

And it will be interesting to see how Hamilton and Rosberg both react should their battle to be more akin to 2014 than how things unfolded last season.

Will Rosberg crumble mentally as he did or will the fractiousness play out in a different manner? Some already in the Australian media have referred to him as “Nico Lossberg” and he will need to be prepared for such jibes all season long.

Away from the title battles, there have been the usual barbs, the infighting, and Bernie Ecclestone being outspoken. His latest mouthing off was to suggest that the sport was so dull he wouldn’t even pay his own money to watch it.

But it is surely a case of plus ça change in F1, Ecclestone clearly with another agenda of his own, some suggesting he might be looking to buy F1 back from current owners CVC. Despite the critics, it remains a valuable commodity and arguably as popular as ever – last year’s British Grand Prix boasted a record sell-out crowd. But how refreshing if it were to shed its skin of predictability and end up in a three-way fight for the title with Ferrari finally flexing their muscles again. We live in hope.

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