VICTORY IN MELBOURNE: Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (left) speaks with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the podium after winning the season-opening 2015 Australian F1 GP. Image: AP / Rob Griffith
LONDON, England - The only thing that could keep Mercedes from running away with the Formula 1 title in 2015 lies off the track, not on it.
The season-opening 2015 Australian GP on March 15 revealed what fans had suspected: Mercedes' dominance in 2014 has not been eroded and may even have increased.
Even before Lewis Hamilton led Nico Rosberg past the chequered flag in yet another 1-2 the critics were out, denouncing the race as boring, the season ahead fait accompli.
RED BULL EXIT THREAT
The complaints were loudest from Red Bull, which had a disappointing weekend. Its Renault engines suffered a slew of problems and local favourite Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth, unable to catch even the modest Sauber ahead of him.
With no chance of catching Mercedes, even allowing for engine upgrades re-introduced to the sport, Red Bull sought to attack its rival politically, calling for immediate changes to the rules to inhibit Mercedes.
Red Bull even invoked the option of withdrawing from the sport altogether.
Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko said: "If we are totally dissatisfied we could contemplate an F1 exit. The danger is there that Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz loses his passion for F1."
It was a self-serving argument, promoting precisely the kind of ad hoc regulatory change that Red Bull decried when it was the clear F1 leader during the time Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive Drivers' championships.
CALLS FOR RULE CHANGES
It is also an argument that must be taken seriously, given F1's intensely political nature. Red Bull was even given the backing of the sport's top executive, Bernie Ecclestone, who publicly sympathised with the complaints.
Ecclestone does not control the rules of the sport - that role is controlled by governing International Automobile Federation - and that is arguably a good thing considering some of his past advocacy for ideas such as artificial rain and short-cut lanes.
Ecclestone still has a lot of pull to get things going his way, so Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is aware he might have a fight on his hands for months to come to prevent rules being changed in the middle of the 2015 season.
'OUR JOB IS TO ATTACK MERCEDES'
What looms is a battle with the power and influence of Horner and Mateschitz on one side and Mercedes on the other. Mercedes may have the edge given that Ferrari - the tie-breaker in all F1 disputes - has little appetite for a political fight at this stage.
With Vettel finishing third in his team debut and showing more promise in 2015, rocking the boat seems to make little sense. New Ferrari team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, said: "Our job is to attack Mercedes on the track not to change the rules."
While few regarded Red Bull's post-race complaints as anything other than trying to advance its own cause there is validity in the need to take steps to prevent the pattern of one team utterly dominating a season.
REMOVING THE ‘SUSPENSE’
From Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher era to the Hamilton era of Mercedes, the template is of a single team cruising to the championship and sucking all the suspense out of the racing.
Meanwhile, there may not be a 2015 German GP due to plummeting attendances making it difficult for the owners of both the Hockenheim and Nurburgring circuits. These are serious problems that need addressing when the country that produced Schumacher, Vettel and Mercedes - with Red Bull over the border in Austria - cannot generate enough fan interest to put on a race.
While the hierarchy of F1 considers that predicament the next round of the championship will be the 2015 Malaysian GP on March 29 and few will be expecting anything other than another Mercedes win.
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2015 F1 season – fresh reports every day.