Merc’s Dom­i­nance Leading to Pre­dictable Sea­son

The Economic Times - - Sports - Ab­hishek Takle

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

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