Re­vamped F1 re­turns with three win­ners in first four races

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TALES AZZONI

MADRID — It’s been a while since there’s been this kind of ex­cite­ment early on in a For­mula One sea­son.

There hadn’t been three dif­fer­ent win­ners in the first four races since 2013, the year be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of new en­gine rules that led to Mercedes’ re­cent dom­i­nance.

Mercedes won this year with Lewis Hamil­ton and Valt­teri Bot­tas, but saw Fer­rari join the fight up front with a pair of vic­to­ries by Se­bas­tian Vet­tel.

The fight for the cham­pi­onship could get even tighter as F1 re­turns to Europe this weekend for the Span­ish Grand Prix in Barcelona, where Red Bull is ex­pected to get a big jump with new up­grades.

“There are two top teams fight­ing for both cham­pi­onships and I ex­pect Red Bull will also even­tu­ally join the club,” Mercedes ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Toto Wolff said. “The small mar­gins we are see­ing this sea­son are demon­strated by the close­ness at the top of the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship and even more so by the one­point ad­van­tage we have in the con­struc­tors’.

“This fight will con­tinue on to the end of the sea­son and we will be pre­pared for that bat­tle.”

Vet­tel has a nine-point lead over Hamil­ton in the driv­ers’ stand­ings, and he is 23 points in front of Bot­tas. Fer­rari team­mate Kimi Raikko­nen is fourth, ahead of Red Bull driver Max Ver­stap­pen, who last year won in Barcelona to be­come F1’s youngest race win­ner at age 18.

“We have to wait and see what the up­dates will bring,” Ver­stap­pen said.

“I hope we can be a bit closer to the top teams or that we can at least fol­low them. That would al­ready be a good step for­ward.”

Ver­stap­pen team­mate Daniel Ric­cia­rdo said he was look­ing for­ward to “a quicker im­prove­ment” with the new ad­di­tions to Red Bull this week.

“I hope the up­grade will give us a chance to re­ally fight with Mercedes and Fer­rari or at least get us closer,” said Ric­cia­rdo, who fin­ished only two races this sea­son. “It’s a good feel­ing for ev­ery­one when these up­grades work.”

Wolff said Mercedes has to get used to this new scenario af­ter dom­i­nat­ing the se­ries for the last three sea­sons.

“This in­ter-team bat­tle is a to­tally dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion that what we have seen over the last three years,” Wolff said. “You sim­ply need to adapt to the chal­lenge and that’s what we are do­ing, play­ing the hunter as well as be­ing the hunted.”

Nico Ros­berg, the win­ner of the first four races in 2016, won the ti­tle with Mercedes last sea­son, while Hamil­ton won the pre­vi­ous two cham­pi­onships.

Bot­tas re­placed the re­tir­ing Ros­berg and won his first career race at the Rus­sian GP two weeks ago.

“We ex­pected Valt­teri to de­velop through ev­ery sin­gle race and step up his per­for­mance and he’s shown that,” Wolff said.

SERGEI GRITS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fer­rari driver Se­bas­tian Vet­tel of Ger­many has won two races this year as the F1 cir­cuit heads back to Europe.

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