The first of 63 days of competitive on-track action this season was somewhat of a teaser. Limited running in Melbourne due to inclement conditions has meant that the pecking order remains a mystery for yet another day.
As such, it is still unclear whether Mercedes will have enough of an advantage over Ferrari in order for the 2016 title fight to be a third straight tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – a duel in which the latter has emerged as second best in both 2014 and 2015. In short, if the W07 is the pre-eminent force of the 2016 field, Rosberg must win his maiden title this year.
Unfortunately for Nico, his 2016 campaign has started with negative headlines. The German found the barrier in FP2 – losing control on the exit of turn seven when the track was damp – and destroyed the new Mercedes front wing, of which spares are in short supply.
Given the difficult nature of the session, Rosberg’s excursion has not put him at a mileage deficit to his rivals, with his four laps early on comparing with just five recorded by Hamilton, despite the Briton being ‘in-play’ for the duration. While it is not an ideal start, Rosberg’s error could have had much larger consequences.
Confidence should be an ally of Rosberg. The German beat his teammate in each of the last three rounds in 2015, winning in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. With this being the first time he has managed three consecutive race wins during his decade in the sport, it could be argued that Rosberg enters 2016 in the form of his life.
In which case, it is curious that he has seemingly played down his achievements at the end of last year, or at least, the influence that they will have on this season. In an interview earlier in the weekend for Sky Sports F1, Nico stated, “it was great to have such a successful end to the season, it gives you a little more positive boost for this year. But it’s a new season, a new car, new regulations. It’s starting from scratch.”
Evidence of Rosberg not cashing in on having the psychological high-ground.
In a battle as close as the Hamilton and Rosberg dice, every advantage, however small, can pay dividend. Perhaps this is why a seemingly insignificant spin on a wet Friday is analysed with a microscope, or why armchair pundits believe Rosberg’s run of form in late 2015 was down to Hamilton having sub-consciously lost his competitive edge, having already wrapped up the title.
The inter-team rivalry at Mercedes has been defined by the narrowest of margins in the past two years, despite the eventual points totals telling a different story. Even if Ferrari claim some of the spotlight and make it an intra-team battle for the titles in 2016, Rosberg will still have to beat Hamilton to achieve his goal and failing to do it for a third year in succession would be a hammer blow.