Cape Town - If the first five races are anything to go by, Grand Prix fans are in for a bumper Formula 1 season.
Many racing aficionados have been disappointed over the past four years as first Red Bull and then Mercedes dominated – in each case, the winning margin in the constructors championship was more than 200 points, the 297-point lead Mercedes had over Red Bull last year was the largest so far.
Had there not at least been the internal Mercedes battle for the driver’s championship, which Lewis Hamilton won twice before Nico Rosberg managed to turn the tables last year, it could well have been facing rapidly declining TV audiences.
This year’s five races have seen three winners, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel winning in Australia and Bahrain while finishing second in the other races. Lewis Hamilton won in China and last week in Spain, while his team-mate Valtteri Bottas – who took over from the retired Rosberg – became the fifth Finn to win a Grand Prix by taking the chequered flag in Russia.
Fans have waited for such a battle for six years, after Red Bull’s three year-dominance from 2011, followed by three years of Mercedes.
Ferrari’s return to the mix has been a breath of fresh air for the sport as they have made a huge advance after developing their engine to equal the Mercedes dominance of previous years.
The red cars seemed fast in Barcelona in pre-season testing – and they brought that optimism to the first race in Australia. Forza Ferrari!
Not content to sit back
It is not only the Reds who have brought a new approach, as Bottas has taken the fight to Hamilton.
That Bottas is not content to let Hamilton take the glory became apparent after the Spanish race where he retired; leaving the podium for Hamilton, Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
“I should have finished on the podium. For sure, it’s really disappointing – but we took a risk going to the old engine. We knew it was running out of mileage, but it was the only option that we could have chosen to qualify. That’s life.”
The Finn has turned his attention to the race in Monaco next weekend.
“I think we have every chance to finish strongly there. We expect again to be close with Ferrari and, eventually, the grid will be tighter. There are less straight lines, so maybe Red Bull will do well. We should have a good weekend.”
Bottas’ confidence – and his ability – could well be in Ferrari’s favour because, unlike Mercedes, they have a clear number one – Raikkonen is clearly behind the German in the pecking order.
In Spain, Bottas was a loyal team player after causing a collision in the first turn, forcing Raikkonen and Max Verstappen out of the race, leaving Ferrari with just one car against the two Mercedes.
Bottas again aimed to be a team player as he attempted to hold Vettel back before having to retire with an engine problem.
“I tried to help the team and I hope that it made at least a little difference,” he said.
Vettel was closing in on Hamilton, who just managed to finish first.
Hamilton said: “It was definitely tight, but this is how the racing should be. I really enjoyed it and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Barcelona proved Formula 1 is not boring any more. It seems Red Bull, who were second behind Mercedes in the constructors’ championship last year, might be lagging behind Mercedes and Ferrari.
Most fans won’t be disappointed – as long as they have a race to relish. Ferrari and Mercedes, plus Vettel, Hamilton and Bottas, seem well on course to deliver just that.