The title could be the next target for F1's newest race winner.
Impressive Red Bull newcomer Daniel Ricciardo drove past Mercedes' technical trouble in Canada last weekend to record his first grand prix victory.
The feat earned the ringing endorsement of his predecessor and countryman, Mark Webber, who is currently preparing for the weekend's Le Mans 24 hour race.
"He hasn't put a wheel wrong all year so far," Webber told NBC.
"There's been testing regulations, wet qualifyings, all sorts of stuff thrown at him. But for him to notch up his first win is a big step for him."
Ricciardo, 24, is currently riding a wave of form that even his teammate, the reigning quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, is struggling to match.
But he might not stop at beating Vettel. Since Bahrain in April, Ricciardo has notched up three podiums and never finished lower than fourth.
He even stood on the podium on Red Bull debut in Australia, but was disqualified amid the fuel flow saga. He then struck more technical trouble in Malaysia.
Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko told Auto Bild: "Just imagine, if Daniel had not had two zero points results, he'd be even closer to (Lewis) Hamilton."
Indeed, even amid Mercedes' total domination in 2014, Ricciardo - the highest-placed non-Mercedes - is just 39 points behind Briton Hamilton after seven races.
Double world champion Mika Hakkinen is impressed.
"I've noticed that Ricciardo has been able to exploit his maximum potential almost constantly," the Finn said in his latest interview for Hermes, "whether it's qualifying, racing, overtaking.
"We can't forget that his teammate is the four-time world champion, but it has been Ricciardo who has been passing the chequered flag in front," Hakkinen said.
And Hakkinen said Canada will now put a lot more wind behind Ricciardo's sails.
"I experienced it myself when I got my first victory at Jerez in 1997," he said. "The self confidence you get is reflected also in your performance."
However, the blunt Marko is keen to keep Ricciardo's feet on the ground. He said a cursory look at the results reveals a "distorted comparison" between the always-grinning Australian and the highly successful Vettel.
"Sebastian has had bad luck with the technology," said Marko. "But in Malaysia he had a trouble-free race and he was coming to the finish ahead of Daniel."
Marko said even Ricciardo's win in Canada needs a closer look, with only "bad luck" holding back the eventually third-placed and frustrated Vettel.
"Daniel was fast the whole race," he said, "but Vettel was not slower."
Marko said a failed GPS system on the pitwall, and a further "miscalculation" by Red Bull regarding Vettel's race strategy, thwarted the German's progress.
"It definitely was not Vettel's fault," he said, "that Ricciardo did not stay behind him."
Mercedes in 2014 re-think after 'wake-up call'
Canada was a spanner in the works in Mercedes' otherwise flawless 2014 campaign.
Until both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton struck technical trouble aboard their silver W05s in Montreal, they had almost shared a total clean-sweep of one-two victories this year.
"You quickly get used to winning," team boss Toto Wolff told Spanish reporters at the team's Brackley headquarters this week.
"I never thought, unless there was a collision, that we could not finish a race even with one driver. But in Montreal it was about to happen," he is quoted by EFE news agency.
"It was a good wake-up call."
The most immediate problem for Mercedes is getting to the bottom of the technical glitch.
Germany's Bild newspaper reports that the issue can basically be traced to the energy recovery systems, which overheated.
Wolff said: "In Montreal, we were trying a new cooling system for the first time. The new software went crazy."
Team chairman Niki Lauda added: "It is a wake-up call. We need to check every detail on the car."
Wolff continued: "We have started new processes of quality control to make the car more reliable."
But another issue to consider is the intense driver rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, who until now have appeared to have no external competitors for the 2014 crown.
Wolff was asked this week if, given his Canada DNF, the new 'double points' innovation for the 2014 season finale might be Hamilton's saving grace.
"It might," the Austrian is quoted by Italy's Tuttosport, "but I have no doubt that, first of all, we must be careful to keep our gap to our rivals.
"Red Bull scored a lot of points in Canada," Wolff added.
As their personal battle waged in the most recent weeks, Mercedes' drivers have been told repeatedly that the Brackley team's main goal is actually the constructors' title.
But until now, Mercedes has let Rosberg and Hamilton wage their war almost unfettered, despite the risk of a crash.
"The team management is handling the situation very well," Hamilton told Germany's Sport Bild this week. "You have to realise that their ultimate goal is the constructors' title. That's what brings in the money.
"The team is number one," the Briton insisted. "Only after that do Nico and I have our personal battle."
At Monaco, however, that appeared not to be the case, as Hamilton had what many described as a 'tantrum', siding with those who believed Rosberg had committed a deliberate act of sabotage in qualifying.
Hamilton says now: "I called Nico, we talked about Monaco and the situation is resolved.
"It was really important for both of us to show the team that we can continue to work well together."
For Hamilton in particular, given his now 22-point deficit to Rosberg, the obvious fear is that Mercedes will end the 'free fight' between the drivers in the wake of the escalating driver battle and, now, reliability fears.
Recalling his situation in 1998, David Coulthard this week recalled that McLaren managed its position of early-season dominance by slowing down the drivers with strict team orders.
Wolff, however, rejected the theory that the reliability problems last week in Canada were caused by Hamilton and Rosberg pushing their cars too hard in battle.
"The damage would have occurred even if they had slowed down," he insists.
Wolff told Sport Bild: "We told the drivers how to manage it by changing the brake balance and braking more carefully. Both of them did it exactly to our specifications.
"That what happened to Lewis did not also happen to Nico was just pure luck."
Nonetheless, Wolff admitted that Mercedes' situation in mid-June is giving the team pause to "question whether we can let them continue to race so freely".
He is quoted by the Spanish daily AS: "We will continue to let them compete and fight as long as it does not undermine Mercedes.
"We are a F1 team, not a team of two F1 drivers," Wolff insisted. "We are all rowing in the same direction and share the same goal, which is simply to win the title.
"At the moment they continue to race freely, although the situation may change at any time. This is an ongoing, dynamic process," he added.
Ferrari looking beyond 2014 title 'miracle' - Montezemolo
Jun.12 (GMM) Ferrari is turning its attention towards 2015, president Luca di Montezemolo has hinted.
Having faltered at the very start of the new era of turbo V6 engines, the fabled Italian team is now a distant third in the championship, between dominant Mercedes and chasing champions Red Bull.
Maranello unveiled a car so modified for Canada last weekend that many dubbed it a 'B' version, but the F14-T still struggled at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Montreal, then, might be seen as having been Ferrari's last roll of the dice for the 2014 title, with more attention now to be shifted towards the 2015 project.
President Montezemolo does not deny it.
"I don't think we can work miracles in the short term," he is quoted as saying by Italy's Tuttosport, "but we are working hard for the future knowing that what was done this year was not done well enough.
"We are in a difficult moment," Montezemolo admitted, "but there is little to talk about and much to do."
However, on a visit to Florence on Wednesday, Ferrari's flamboyant 66-year-old president said Maranello is not about to stop working hard on the 2014 car.
"We must absolutely improve a lot this year," he is quoted by La Repubblica, "pursuing this plan with determination."
At the same time, Montezemolo said new team boss Marco Mattiacci is also looking ahead at "a very big challenge for next year, in so many areas, because there really is a lot to do".
"In particular," he added, "we must work on having a much more integrated car and engine next year."
No Mercedes seat for Alonso 'in short term' - Wolff
Jun.12 (GMM) Toto Wolff has dismissed reports Mercedes could be eyeing a future with Fernando Alonso.
When rumours of the German marque's flirtation with the obviously frustrated Ferrari driver Alonso first arose recently, team sources immediately reacted by hinting that Nico Rosberg's contract is in fact on the verge of being extended.
But while Alonso's arrival would have reunited McLaren's exciting 2007 pairing of the Spaniard alongside Lewis Hamilton, team boss Wolff sounds less keen.
Indeed, when speaking to Spanish reporters at Mercedes' Brackley factory on Wednesday, he said Hamilton's rivalry with Rosberg this year cannot be compared with the "dirty" situation that existed at McLaren seven years ago.
"We'll let them keep fighting," Wolff is quoted by the Spanish news agency EFE, "so long as the war is not dirty.
"A conflict like the one between Alonso and Hamilton will not happen here," he insisted. "If something like that did happen, it would have serious consequences."
Pondering the Alonso rumours in even more detail, Wolff explained that the Spaniard will not be wearing silver overalls "at least in the short term".
That, Wolff said, is because both Rosberg and Hamilton "have long term contracts".
"Fernando is one of the best drivers on the grid," he added, "but it is not in our plan to change the formation of the team."
- Interested in buying ? Visit our showroom for more information.