Nico Rosberg's bid to extend his winning streak to six races this weekend has got an early boost. Mercedes confirmed early on Thursday that reigning champion Lewis Hamilton's silver car has undergone a gearbox change after Bahrain, where he was punted into a half-spin by Valtteri Bottas at the first corner.
"The gearbox sustained damage in Bahrain which required a physical inspection for full assessment," the team revealed. "Having done so, the decision has been taken to change the gearbox rather than carry any risk moving forwards. To clarify, it will be a five-place grid penalty for Lewis Hamilton. If there's anyone who can fight back, though, it's him," Mercedes added on Twitter.
It is a major blow for Hamilton, who had hoped Shanghai would be the place for his first win of the season. But despite the two defeats to Rosberg so far in 2016, the Briton is notably upbeat. "People keep asking me if I'm worried," said Hamilton after Bahrain, "if there's a downward trend emerging. But I'm feeling the complete opposite."
According to the German news agency DPA, Rosberg agrees. "Lewis is smart," he said. "It will not be a big problem for him to adjust to the situation." As for whether the silver-clad pair will be troubled by Ferrari in China, however, is less clear. Mercedes insists it is looking over its shoulder, but Ferrari insider Leo Turrini suggested Shanghai will not suit the red car.
"Looking at Kimi Raikkonen's performance in Bahrain, Ferrari has shown to be very good but still a little below Mercedes," former F1 driver Johnny Herbert told the Spanish sports daily Marca. "To evaluate where Lewis is is difficult because he has had problems, like with Bottas in which he had no fault."
"At the moment the leader is Rosberg, but it's true that we've only had two races. I was surprised when Lewis looked happy after Nico won again in Bahrain, so we'll see if that continues," Herbert added. (GMM)
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing