Merc’s Dominance Leading to Predictable Season
Europe was to be the first race that would test Mercedes’ dominance in the V6 engine era, but the marque was quick to dismiss the notion in Barcelona. Their dominance could make the season far too predictable.
The Spanish Grand Prix is the first time in the season when teams introduce major upgrades to the cars. This season, it was supposed to be the race in which rivals would reduce the deficit to Mercedes.
The layout of the 4.6-kilometre Circuit de Catalunya—featuring fast, sweeping corners with an emphasis on aerodynamic grip rather than horsepower—was also expected to negate at least some of Mercedes’ speed advantage and work for teams like Red Bull.
But, if anything, Mercedes has stretched the lead even further at the front of the field with the closest non-Mercedes car, Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, a mammoth 49 seconds adrift at the finish line. While no one was expecting the opposition to topple them at the head of the order, any hopes that rivals had made tangible gains were dashed as soon as the cars took to the track for the first day of running on Friday. Ricciardo ended Friday running just under a second down on Hamilton’s benchmark time. The deficit widened slightly to just over a second in Saturday’s qualifying. What was truly staggering though was Hamilton’s 49-second margin over Ricciardo in the race, the biggest so far this season. In Australia, Nico Rosberg won the race 24.5 seconds ahead of Ricciardo. In Malaysia the gap between Hamilton’s winning Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel’s third-placed Red Bull was again 24.5 seconds. In Bahrain, the closest Red Bull was 24.4 seconds behind Hamilton, while in China the gap between the leading Mercedes and the first of the Red Bulls was 27.1 seconds. However, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner insisted that the margin did not represent the car’s actual pace, with Ricciardo losing time behind the slower Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
“It’s actually less if you look at the detail,” Horner said. “The 49-second gap is slightly artificial because we lost a lot of time behind the Williams in the first stint. I’d say it’s (the gap) currently about six tenths of a second (per lap).”
That’s still a significant gap to bridge and even at six-tenths of a second per lap, Ricciardo would still have finished 39.6 seconds behind. While the Spanish Grand Prix may not have seen rivals make a significant dent in Mercedes’ advantage, the upgrades certainly shuffled the pack up. Red Bull have now settled in third place, and the improvements seem to be suiting Vettel, whose championship qualities were on display on Sunday as he fought his way up from 15th on the grid to fourth.
Bottas’ fifth-place finish indicates that Williams have also made progress while Force India have dropped back a bit. Ferrari seem to have taken a step back after Fernando Alonso scored the team’s maiden podium in China. The Spaniard finished sixth ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
To make matters worse, the Alonso-Raikkonen relationship is showing cracks, with the Finn unhappy about being given second preference when it came to the pitstop strategy in Sunday’s race.
Heading to Monaco, Mercedes are still favourites. But the tight, twisty streets of the Principality might negate their engine advantage more than any other track. It could be their rivals’ best chance—possibly in the entire year—to break Mercedes’ stranglehold.
“We have a choice; we either pack up and all go home or we fight to close the gap. We made small inroads this weekend and we are determined to keep pushing,” Horner said after the race.
This season, the smallest gap between a Merc and the nearest rival has been 24.5 secs