F1: Mercedes are wary of rising Red Bulls as competition
Mercedes are on course to score their third straight win of the season as the Formula One circus heads to Bahrain, with the German team keen to make the most of their early-season advantage amid indications that rivals have begun to close in.
Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have taken two crushing wins in the first two races of the season thanks to a car that seems better suited to the sport's new rules — centered around the switch to smaller, hybrid power units — than those of their rivals.
This early-season dominance has put the Brackley-based squad's two drivers at the top of the standings with Rosberg on 43 points, leading teammate Hamilton by 18 points and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by 19 points.
Mercedes' advantage lies in the fact that they've built the strongest engine, giving them and other Mercedes-powered cars the advantage over rivals in a straight line.
But, looking at data from the Malaysian GP, Red Bull seemed to be a match for them through the corners where the emphasis is on aerodynamic grip, indicating that once they have their Renault engine performing at its peak, they should be able to take the fight to the Mercedes.
Indeed, Daniel Ricciardo's podium finish in Australia —which was taken away — followed by a podium for Sebastian Vettel in the scorching heat in Malaysia, highlight the massive strides the reigning world champions have made following a disastrous winter, and the two Mercedes drivers are wary of the threat posed by the Milton Keynes outfit.
"The last day of testing was four weeks ago or something and they were absolutely nowhere and now he (Vettel) was right in the back of me, pushing me," championship leader Nico Rosberg, who came home second in Malaysia to give Mercedes their first one-two finish in the modern era, said after the race.
But for now, with Bahrain once again a circuit where engine performance counts for a lot and with just a week's gap between the race here and the last race in Malaysia leaving little time for development, Mercedes should be able to hold on to their advantage.
"I think their advantage in Bahrain will possibly be bigger than it was here because you know that's obviously quite a power dominated circuit," Red Bull's Christian Horner said.
"We're obviously going to try and make as much progress as we can in the week. The dynos are busy running in Paris and hopefully we can nudge a bit closer to them again, if at all possible, next weekend," he added.