Mercedes motorsport director Toto Wolff insists that seeing a Red Bull driver on the podium at each of the opening grands prix of 2014 is a reminder that the world champions should not be written off just yet.
Although Daniel Ricciardo was subsequently disqualified from his hard-earned second place on home soil, Sebastian Vettel returned Red Bull to the top three in Malaysia on Sunday and, while the German was 24secs adrift of racewinner Lewis Hamilton, Wolff believes that everyone should take note of just how far the team has come since pre-season testing.
“I think, in these digital times, this modern world, we tend to forget what happened yesterday and we are still speaking about a four-time world champion,” he said of Mercedes' most obvious rival in 2014, “Here's us winning two races with a package that seems to be very good this season, but it's not consolidated – yet; it's not sustainable - yet.
“I don't want to diminish the work that has been done in Brackley and Brixworth - and Kuala Lumpur don't forget – but, nevertheless, [Red Bull] has bounced back from some horrific testing.
“It's great to get the first Mercedes 1-2 since 1955, and I think it still has to sink in. Everyone is very proud at Mercedes, but you can never be complacent because we have seen a Red Bull arrive up our a*se here today and, seeing as how they missed out on two-thirds of testing, it's a good wake-up call for us - a necessary wake-up call.”
Indeed, it is not only Red Bull that appears to have made giant strides since testing in Spain and Bahrain. Although the 15-car list of finishers at Sepang was the lowest for some time, Wolff is quick to point to the way in which the field was decimated in pre-season.
“If I had told you, after seeing these cars in Jerez, that, at the second race of the season, in 55-60 degrees heat, 80 per cent of the field would finish, people would have said it was impossible,” he suggested, “It just shows you that we have the smartest engineers in the world turning a situation around from being very severe into, not business as usual, but [one with] reliable cars.”
While others had questioned the excitement of the race, Wolff insisted that he had found it quite exciting, albeit tempering his enthusiasm by recognising that that feeling may have been engendered by the relevant performance of his two drivers.
“For me, it was one of the more intense races,” he said, playing down claims that the event had been marred by what appeared to be fuel saving, “I need to watch it again tonight, but fuel management wasn't an issue today. I don't know how it was with other teams, but Malaysia generally isn't very difficult for fuel consumption and, at one stage, we had Nico out there, pushing flat out.
“He said he was pushing flat out and some of the other battles I have seen - such as between the [two] Williams - they were pushing flat out too, so I am not sure why the perception is that it was boring. Somebody else told me that, but is it 'boring' because you have a 1-2 with Mercedes, Vettel running third and then lots of action [behind]? I don't know…”
Whatever the general perception, Wolff reported that he had been pleased with the performance of the other Mercedes-powered cars, with Force India, McLaren and Williams filling places five through nine.
“From what I have seen on TV - and I haven't seen any data yet – [Nico] Hulkenberg seemed to be having an intense battle with [Fernando] Alonso, and with a two-stop strategy, which was brave. Nevertheless, he was able to perform well on the straights considering he probably didn't have a lot of grip left on the rear. The Williams came on very well considering where they started, and McLaren were very good when the track was green and temperatures were low, but seemed to struggle a bit more when the grip kicks in and the temperatures go up.”
Such has been Mercedes' dominance in the first two races of 2014, the opposition has not featured in the backdrop as Rosberg and Hamilton took the chequered flag. In Malaysia, however, Vettel got as close as anyone wanted as he attempted to defend second place from Rosberg at the very start.
“If you look at the camera from [a] forward [angle], you wouldn't have judged it [to be that close],” Wolff said, reflecting on Rosberg heading for a narrowing gap between the Red Bull and the pitwall, “However, when you go on board, you're like 'oooooo!'. If [Rosberg] says that, he has the feeling - and it seemed to be a bit tight!”