New rules, dif­fer­ent game

Anthony Rowl­in­son / 06.14

F1 Racing - - FRONT PAGE -

Have Mercedes changed the F1 game? This is the ques­tion raised by the team’s fifth straight win of 2014 and fourth con­sec­u­tive one-two. So great are the re­sources be­ing de­voted to Mercedes AMG Petronas F1, and so per­va­sive the in­side-out, top-down ex­cel­lence they are achiev­ing, it feels as if a whole new tem­plate for suc­cess has been cre­ated.

For the past five sea­sons, start­ing with Brawn’s fairy tale 2009 cham­pi­onship year, the team-plus­sup­plier model has been the recog­nised stan­dard: a lean, nim­ble, well-led and re­sourced race shop, in charge of chas­sis and ops, and backed by a punchy en­gine sup­plier, has cov­ered ev­ery need. Four ti­tle dou­bles for Vet­tel-Red Bull-Re­nault, pre­ceded by a one­off dou­ble tri­umph for But­ton-Brawn-Mercedes were proof pos­i­tive of that par­tic­u­lar con­cept.

Yet as Mercedes have grown ever stronger since 2012, knit­ting the Brack­ley and Brix­worth race and en­gine de­part­ments tighter de­spite 25 miles of sep­a­ra­tion, the e-gen­er­a­tion Sil­ver Ar­rows have made the old-school ap­proach look, well, rather old-school.

The fig­ures alone are im­pres­sive enough: 800 staff are based at Merc’s Brack­ley race HQ; a fur­ther 400 at Brix­worth. Then there’s the tech­ni­cal gold­mine of the Merc par­ent com­pany’s R&D mus­cle be­ing aligned with the F1 team’s own tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes. Ad­vice on knotty prob­lems dur­ing F1 hy­brid de­vel­op­ment has been, we gather, no more than a phone call away over the past cou­ple of years.

Even more re­mark­able is the de­gree of dove-tail­ing achieved through­out Mercedes’ F1 ef­fort. One hand has washed the other dur­ing de­vel­op­ment to pro­duce a holis­ti­cally in­te­grated rac­ing car, with no one area of per­for­mance al­lowed to take prece­dence over an­other.

The ground­work of their suc­cess was laid, of course, by the now-de­parted Ross Brawn who spoke of­ten in a for­mer F1 life of his (hugely suc­cess­ful) ef­forts as Fer­rari tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor to in­te­grate chas­sis and en­gine de­part­ments. And, my, how Mercedes have run with that ball.

As for the rest… Fer­rari, the last team to score four con­sec­u­tive one-twos, in 2002, were al­most two sec­onds from the Mercedes qual­i­fy­ing pace in Spain and not far off be­ing lapped by their sil­ver ri­vals. They seem in dis­ar­ray, for all that they should be equally equipped to adopt a holis­tic ap­proach to car de­sign. And else­where we have no more than a scrap to be best of the rest: de­fi­ant Red Bull, still power-shy; plucky Wil­liams, at last on the up; McLaren in flux… With no dis­re­spect to any of these great teams – each of which has en­joyed past pe­ri­ods of pro­longed F1 dom­i­na­tion – they seem to be play­ing a dif­fer­ent game, as if some­one re-wrote the rule­book while they weren’t look­ing.

So let’s be grate­ful Mercedes are let­ting Lewis and Nico fight. Five races in, they’re just three points apart and while Hamil­ton has won four of five, their on-track tus­sles are in­tense and likely to last till sea­son’s end.

Quite how any­one can mount a chal­lenge to their dom­i­nance in this, or com­ing years, re­mains to be seen.

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