Formula One racing returns to Asia this week and it’s as if it never left – because nothing at all has changed.
When F-1 departed the Asia-Pacific region following the four races that began the season, Mercedes was dominating the competition, with its two drivers having won all four races and finishing 1-2 in three. Five months later, the circuit comes back for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix and found that it’ll be more of the same.
Mercedes is crushing all of its competitors in the constructors’ standings, with more points (454) than second-place Red Bull-Renault (272) and third-place Williams (177) combined. About the only suspense left on the season is which Mercedes team member will win the driver’s title.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg is leading teammate Lewis Hamilton of Britain, though the competition is far from over, with six races still remaining. Hamilton has more wins (six) than Rosberg (four), but Roseberg has been more consistent, finishing either first or second in 11 of the 13 races.
Feeding the drama is the fact that the two “teammates” have been racing as if they were mortal enemies and the relationship between the duo has been described as tense at best. There has been rampant speculation that if the partnership proves to be unsustainable, Hamilton, though the more accomplished of the two with a 2008 F-1 title, might be out at the end of the season.
But Mercedes does not have a monopoly on infighting drama in this F-1 season. In second place, Red Bull has its own dueling drivers.
Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, the reigning four-time champion, is struggling mightily this year with the offseason changes F-1 put in place – some say in an effort to curb his dominance and bring competition back to the circuit. He has yet to win a race this season and has retired three times, equaling the total from his previous three seasons combined.
Despite Vettel’s season-long slump, Red Bull has been buoyed by Daniel Ricciardo, a 25-year-old Australian in his first year with the team. Ricciardo has been a pleasant surprise after signing on to replace fellow Aussie Mark Webber to be Vettel’s sidekick.
Ricciardo has finished ahead of Vettel in all but two races this season and has been the only driver to break up the Mercedes monopoly with his three victories. He joined Hamilton as the only driver to win back-to-back races when he won at Hungary and Belgium over the summer.
With the title out of reach for the Red Bull drivers, team boss Christian Horner has told the tandem to fight it out down the stretch. This has not been received well by Ricciardo, who feels the team should do everything it can to help him to finish third, as he’s three places and 60 points ahead of Vettel.
Vettel, whose earnings of $31.7 million in 2014 are 30 times more than Ricciardo, bristles at comparisons with his teammate when it comes to performance this season.
“I won’t argue with the fact (Ricciardo) did a great job so far,” Vettel told AutoSport.com in late August. “(But) on my side, we’ve had plenty of qualifying sessions where we have had some sort of trouble … we lost out many times because of that, and in the races too, which was getting quite frustrating.
“That’s why I am not interested in comparing too much. Fortunately for Daniel, he had a smoother year in terms of reliability … way less issues than I had, so I think it’s not entirely fair to compare.”
After Singapore on Sunday, the circuit heads to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix in two weeks. The teams will then be globetrotting to Sochi (Russia), Austin (U.S.) and Sao Paulo (Brazil) for three more races before ending the season in Abu Dhabi. To generate more artificial excitement, double points will be awarded for the final race on Nov. 23.
Chances are, all that’s going to decide is which Mercedes driver races away with the crown and the margin of Mercedes’s victory in the constructors’ title. All the machinations F-1 put in to increase the on-course drama likely have done just the opposite, because the other teams simply couldn’t keep up with the well-funded and hyper-organized Mercedes.