New rules, different game
Anthony Rowlinson / 06.14
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.