And so the greatest show on Earth returns to the homefront, and a lot of teams brought upgrade packages (where are the 90s, when they brought whole new cars...) to close the gap to Mercedes, but what has Mercedes done by itself in those three weeks?
Well, the short answer: they got even better.
In qualifiers Hamilton put down a 5 out of 5 streak of pole positions this season, right in front of his team mate Rosberg. But the gap has become bigger, as the man in third, Ricciardo, was over a second slower. Other notable positions on the grid was a 15th spot for Vettel after being 10th in Q1 and getting a 5 grid drop penalty for changing gearboxes, but also for Grosjean, who put his renault on the 5th place.
On the other end, it seems Force India is losing some pace, while Marussia seems to be breaking away from Caterham...
A good start by Gutteriez, but he quickly drops back as the Sauber is really still lacking, and it`ll be a small miracle at this pace if they will score any points this season. Maldonado does what he does best, and drives literally over Ericsson`s front wheel, while Button launches badly and looses 5 spots.
Lap 4: Hamilton already managed to get out of Rosberg`s DRS range, while the gap to number three, Bottas, is already up to 5 seconds.
Lap 10: A 5 second stop and go penalty for Maldonado for his incident at the start, I really think we`re going to see Pic fall in in the second Renault this season for this Venezolan nut cake, as Hamilton puts in the fastest lap.
Lap 12: While Ricciardo and Bottas duel for thrid place, hamilton has already smashed a 17 second lead on them.
Lap 15: The first round of pitstops has started.
Lap 24: Grosjean and Raikonnen battle for 5th, the Renault really shows pace now.
Lap 25: Vergne has to retire with an exhaust issue
Lap 26: Alonso steams past Grosjean
Lap 30+: The second round of pitstops have started for the drivers on a three stop strategy, resulting in Vettel at the moment being in 14th position, 77 seconds of the lead and more importantly, 43 of Ricciardo, but being able to put in fastest lap.
Lap 37: Kobayashi has to retire with brake jandling problems, only the second car so far to retire.
Lap 43+: Starting with Hamilton, the final round of pit stops has begun.
Lap 45: Vettel is fighting back hard, and finds himself now in 5th and starting to hunt for Bottas. Ricciardo is now long gone, and if the Red Bull holds out, he will be on his first podium for his new team and his career.
Lap 51: Rosberg is not giving in, and puts down the fastest lap.
Lap 57: Vettel, having started from 15th, manages to close in on the 4th place now
Lap 59: With 7 laps to go, Rosberg starts unleashing his devils and closes the gap to Hamilton to 1.4 secs.
Lap 62: Vettel is in the stream of Bottas as Rosberg comes within a second of Hamilton. Can Lewis hold him off in the final laps?
Lap 64: As Alonso passes Raikonnen, Vettel manages to DRS past Bottas, and making the best of the rest places a Red Bull party.
Lap 66: Hamilton manages to barely hold Rosberg off, putting down his 4th win in a row, after 5 poles in a row and now taking the lead in the championship. What if his Mercedes wouldn`t have failed in Melbourne...
The conclusion is pretty simple: Mercedes have become even stronger, but Red Bull is clearly pulling away from the rest of the pack to become the best of the rest. Lotus renault (well, bar said nut case) is getting it`s act together, while Marussia is offing of Caterham. The rest of the field, well, I get the impression Force India and Torro Rosso have made not that many advancements, while Sauber at least can now hold on to the midfield due to their 15 kilo`s trimmed down car. But what is wrong with McLaren, after a strong opener, they keep dropping, once more not getting into the points today...
1. Hamilton - Mercedes
2. Rosberg - Mercedes
3. Ricciardo - Red Bull Renault
4. Vettel - Red Bull Renault
5. Bottas - Williams Mercedes
6. Alonso - Ferrari
7. Raikonnen - Ferrari
8. Grosjean - Lotus Renault
9. Perez - Force India Mercedes
10. Hulkenberg - Force India Mercedes
11. Button - McLaren Mercedes
12. Magnussen - McLaren Mercedes
13. Massa - Williams Mercedes
14. Kvyat - Toro Rosso Renault
15. Maldonado - Lotus Renault
16. Gutteriez - Sauber Ferrari
17. Sutil - Sauber Ferrari
18. Bianchi - Marussia Ferrari
19. Chilton - Marussia Ferrari
20. Ericsson - Caterham Renault
Letting Mercedes itself out of the equation, it is clear that Renault powered teams are on the comeback, but Ferrari and McLaren really seem to be in the corner where punches fall.
Man of the Race:
Vettel, without a doubt. Starting from a hopeless 15th place, he steamed through the whole field to end up only behind his teammate in 4th. A drive worthy of a 4 time champion
Team of the Race:
Mercedes without any doubt. While their competitors brought packages to close their gap on the silver arrows, their own development only made them stronger.
I think we are going to look at an utter domination season now for sure like that fabled duel from 1988... Pick your favorite of the team for the title (my money is on Lewis) as the others will not be taking part in the debates this year.
The Cult of Chilton
Guess who crossed the finish line once again, like in each and every of his GP`s so far from his career...
But all in all, this wasn`t an exciting race, as most action and passes for position happened almost solely in the last 3 laps of the grand prix. There very briefly was a Ricciardo vs Bottas duel at the opening phase, but after that it all dwindled down.
Let`s hope that unique race in two weeks, the GP of Monaco in it`s narrow streets, brings more entertainment!