Game on in Malaysia as Vettel shocks the field

Rodney Gordon Columnist

By , Rodney Gordon is a Roar Expert

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    Sebastian Vettel is in a close battle with Lewis Hamilton coming into the Italian GP (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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    Two weeks ago at the Melbourne Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg taunted Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel by inviting him to sit in on Mercedes’ strategy meetings.

    The good-natured ribbing continued on social media ahead of the race this weekend, but come Sunday Vettel showed he was far from kidding around, with a convincing victory that announced Ferrari as a genuine title contender.

    Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson left the track and beached his car in the opening laps requiring a safety car. Mercedes took the opportunity to visit the pitlane and switch tyres, opening up strategic possibilities for later in the race.

    In contrast Ferrari stuck to their guns, confident that their 2015 package would nurse their tyres and give them the edge. Vettel inherited the lead, leaving Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg to battle midfield drivers without the assistance of blue flags and on slower tyres.

    Faced with the prospect of making up enough ground to recover from their early pitstop, Mercedes seemed confident that a win was still on the cards, even telling Hamilton that they expected to catch Vettel for the lead five laps before the chequered flag. On strategy and through their radio conversations it was clear that they grossly underestimated their advantage over Ferrari.

    Elsewhere, the turmoil between Renault and Red Bull continued to simmer, with the engine supplier confirming that they were considering their future, the manufacturer considering everything from taking over a team (with Toro Rosso singled out as a prospect) to quitting F1 altogether.

    Red Bull finished with both cars in the points but crucially behind their junior team, with a result that will clip the wings of senior management. It’s been a dramatic fall for the team, who are facing the very likely prospect of remaining grounded for quite some time.

    Fortunately Mclaren have improved on their dismal form in the opening race. Although they had the cake slapped from their mouth by having to retire both cars, there were some crumbs of encouragement to peck at. Jenson Button even told the team he was delighted to be catching cars, an unthinkable prospect just a few days ago.

    Ultimately this was a famous victory that ignited memories of the Michael Schumacher era, a point underlined by scores of Scuderia faithful singing along to the German and Italian national anthems. With a history of triumphs that any other driver would kill for, Sebastian said this win would go down as one of his most cherished.

    Hamilton clearly had the pace to control this race, having proved throughout the weekend that the car was blisteringly quick. Despite his troubles he finished only 10 seconds behind the leader, but this morning he will be rueing the team’s strategy and wondering what could have been. So too are fans left wondering what Daniel Ricciardo could have done if he were in the Ferrari, having dominated Vettel last season.

    Standing on the third step of the podium, and probably feeling obliged to acknowledge his own hubris, Rosberg assured Mercedes fans that the team would redouble their efforts with a simple rejoinder: “Game on.”