“The King is dead. Long live the King.” Sebastian Vettel’s reign at the top of the Formula 1 world has come to an end in 2014, and we’re not even halfway through the season.
Instead, Mercedes is the new king pin, having won all but one of the races so far. So just why has the German marque surged ahead and left the rest of the field trailing in its wake?
One of the biggest advantages to the Mercedes team was the seismic change in the technical regulations that took place for this season. Essentially, each time there is a big change such as this, the reset button is pressed. The team that found the perfect formula for the last set of regs – in this case, Red Bull – may not get it right with the new set.
In fact, Red Bull was, in a way, the Mercedes of the post-2009 regulation change. In the final two years under the previous regulations, the sport was dominated by Ferrari and McLaren. For 2009, a number of changes were made, and both teams fell down the pecking order, winning just three races between them in 2009. The dominant team that year was Brawn GP – previously Honda, then to become Mercedes – with Jenson Button winning his solitary world title. However, Red Bull ran the team close, and has remained top dog ever since. In a way, the changes made in 2009 set the tone for the next four years of racing.
So will the same be true of this new era? Will Mercedes dominate F1 for the foreseeable future? Of course, things do change. When the German marque took over Brawn, it did not dominate as the phoenix of Honda had in 2009. Instead, it battled for podium finishes at best, with wins coming in 2012 and 2013. All the while, Red Bull was still the team to beat simply because it got everything so right with the regulations.
And that is why Mercedes is dominating F1 as it currently is. 2014 wasn’t a hastily planned season; it has been years in the making. The new regulations have been exposed perfectly by the engineers at Brackley, making the W05 Hybrid car – for want of a better word – beastly. Lewis Hamilton led McLaren’s charge during 2007 and 2008 with arguably the quickest car on the grid, yet he still says that his 2014 challenger is the best car he has ever driven. That is quite the compliment from one of the sport’s finest talents.
Lewis is not only in the form of his life, but he is also in a good place mentally. Speaking to the media in Austria, he said: “I’m great, excited. Couldn’t be in a better place really.” He is clearly reveling in the prospect of a second world title.
The big advantage that Mercedes has over the other teams in F1 lies with its engine (or, to be more precise, the ‘power unit’). Only two teams on the grid make both their own car and their own engine: Mercedes and Ferrari. Given that 2014 was meant to be the year where this was the key battleground, many expected the two works teams to be forging ahead. Mercedes has done exactly that, but Ferrari is still struggling to find its feet in 2014.
The cohesion between Mercedes’ team base in Brackley and its power plant in Brixworth is stunning. The power unit has been put together in an inventive way, designed to reduce turbo lag, and has been simply devastating this year. That doesn’t just go for the Mercedes works team: Williams and Force India are also customers, and have both flourished.
McLaren, on the other hand, is having a tougher time of it despite using the Mercedes power unit. Before the German marque had a works team, McLaren was its primary focus for development. The engines were designed to work with the British team’s fuel supplier, Mobil 1. Now though, they work best with Petronas fuel – Mercedes’ title sponsor. Force India and Williams also use Petronas, and are therefore at an advantage. The British team will obviously be ensuring that Honda’s engines in 2015 are made with Mobil 1 in mind.
2014 is the year where fuel and engines are the two main battlegrounds, unlike the focus on aerodynamics that we have seen in recent years. For this reason, Mercedes is ruling the roost.
Just as Mercedes has got the best engine, its advantage has been increased because Red Bull has the worst: Renault. The French marque admitted that it had problems during the off-season, and its power units have been lagging behind the rest of the field ever since. Regular promises to bring the engines back to up to speed have been made, but as of yet there is a definite pace disadvantage. If you were to run equal cars in a straight line, one with a Mercedes engine, one with a Ferrari, one with a Renault, it would most probably end in that order.
The move away from aerodynamic battle has harmed Red Bull. Technical guru Adrian Newey masterminded the team’s domination of the sport, but no matter how good the car is in terms of setup, without the right engine, it will always lag behind. Many in the paddock believe that the RB10 car is better than Mercedes’ W05 aerodynamically, but simply cannot compete with a dud engine.
We must not take anything away from the Mercedes drivers, though. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are among the top four or five drivers on the grid, and both have proven themselves to be championship contenders. As we have seen in the past, having the best car on the grid does not guarantee you a shot at the title: you have to deliver. Both drivers have done that in abundance so far this year.
It can be said with some certainty that Mercedes will win the constructors’ championship, and you can be sure that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg will win the biggest prize in motorsport: the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.
However, the same cannot be said of 2015, or 2016, and so on. Once Renault is back up to speed and has resolved its issues, Red Bull will unquestionably be able to fight back. The team has not forgotten how to win, even with some 48 grands prix and four world championships under its belt in just eight seasons.
Unlike Vettel’s dominance in 2011 and 2013, though, we have two drivers who are capable winning the championship in the quickest car. Be it Lewis or Nico, the world champion will most probably be crowned at the final race of the year – double points and all.