Australian Grand Prix 2015: Gloves are off as Nico Rosberg says hard yards will see him overtake Lewis Hamilton this year

Mercedes will again let their drivers indulge in open warfare this season

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The Independent Online

If you find yourself inclined to the widely held view here in the Albert Park paddock that Mercedes are going to race away with another world championship, here is the good news: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will again be allowed to indulge in open warfare.

“Absolutely right,” the Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, declared as the season finally kicked off ahead of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix. “The gloves are off,” Rosberg grinned, as Hamilton continued a quiet, straight-bat approach to his second title defence and offered little, bar the fact his contractual dealings are not yet complete.

While Hamilton preferred not to say where he might improve – and suggested he would start working on that once he got into the car – Rosberg was more forthcoming.

 

“The fact is that Lewis was stronger in 2014, but I’ve been working hard and I need to find more. Surely, at 29, I’m not at the peak of my F1 performance, there is room for me to become even stronger and I’m looking for that.

“I aim to keep my qualifying the same [last year he became Hamilton’s only F1 team-mate to out-qualify him over a season]. And I hope also to improve my racing a little bit.

“It’s going to be a great battle, especially because it’s internal. When it’s your team-mate, there’s always a compromise. You have to think of the team first and then your team-mate.

“Fortunately, success in sport in the case of disappointment and unfortunately in the case of winning, is short-lived, so after my failure to win the title last year, it didn’t take long to get back to normal life and it didn’t affect that. I want to make it happen now. I saw glimpses of it last year and my dream is that I want to be world champion.”

The odds clearly favour the Mercedes drivers, but Williams will be strong again with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, while Sebastian Vettel, in his new berth at Ferrari, and Daniel Ricciardo, as team leader at Red Bull, also hope to be contenders.

Ferrari’s new team principal Maurizio Arrivabene speaks of being satisfied with two victories this year. “That depends on the form of the others,” Vettel acknowledged. “But we’ve made a step and are yet to find out how big.”

Fernando Alonso remains the missing man after his crash in testing last month. As Kevin Magnussen took his seat alongside Jenson Button at McLaren, the latest rumour is that he may have fainted at the wheel prior to his crash.

McLaren deny this strongly, and team principal Éric Boullier said the Spaniard is well and training hard for a return to the cockpit for Malaysia in a fortnight’s time. If he is not back then, however, Alonso’s situation may begin to look more serious.

At Sauber, they lost today’s appeal in the Supreme Court of Victoria against a judgement that they must honour a contract with Giedo van der Garde and let him drive for them this season.

However, it is unlikely that Van der Garde will be able to race this weekend as he still needs to go through the process of getting a superlicence. But eventually the team will have to decide if he replaces one of their contracted Sauber drivers, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, or whether they try to pay him off or face a charge of contempt of court.

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