BusyFormula #011: The one that got away from Red Bull

Lewis overtakes Max

If you’ve been following the 2021 Formula One season, it might look like Mercedes is taking a thorough beating. There are people already predicting that Mercedes will not win the drivers or constructors championship this year.

This is why I’m coming out, not as a contrarian or a Lewis Hamilton fan to say that this championship is going to be the one that got away from Red Bull.

Yes! Mercedes is going to do another double world championship, and it’s going to be the one that’ll have many people salty and cursing with a whole lot of suck-teeth. Why? Well let me break it down for you.

Red Bull is all in, but not in the right way

Red Bull has decided to throw everything at Mercedes, from their best Honda power unit since the start of the partnership in 2019, to threats of retaliation regarding the legality of Mercedes’ front wing. Put simply, Red Bull isn’t playing a very different game from Mercedes.

I mean, the bulge in the W12’s body work is evidence of the attention they paid to their engine’s performance, particularly the cooling. Mercedes has also complained about Red Bull’s rear wing flexibility and subsequently controlled the conversation around in-season regulations.

Why do I bring all this up? It’s to show you that Mercedes has baited Red Bull into playing their game, which is necessary if you’re to beat an opponent that just made a great leap forward.

Even when it comes to race strategy, we are seeing Red Bull getting closer to Mercedes philosophy. I mean, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner more or less called the victory in France payback for Barcelona, and by extension, Hungary 2019.

Red Bull is going to get caught up in ensuring that they don’t get beaten in the same way they’ve been beaten before. And this is where Mercedes will catch them off-guard.

The number two driver’s impact

Both Sergio Perez and Valterri Bottas have a lot to prove this season. However, their situations are quite different. Bottas has already enjoyed considerable success with Mercedes, be it in qualifying or race wins.

If you’re looking at it from just this season alone, I can understand why you might think that he has more to prove.

However, the truth is that he really doesn’t. He has already done his best to contribute to Mercedes’ constructors’ championships since 2017.

This is why I believe that he will be a little more comfortable and enjoy more support from the team when coming from a bad weekend.

Don’t let the George Russell rumors, the Barcelona confusion or the France strategy angst fool you. The Styrian Grand Prix should be a clear indication of how well the team in general can bounce back from hardships.

Even with a 3-place grid drop for Valterri after the pit-lane spin in FP2, he still ended up 2nd in qualifying, with Lewis in 3rd. Altogether, Mercedes deterred what could have easily been a Red Bull one-two.

On the other hand, Sergio has enjoyed some success with Red Bull, but it’s still his first season with them. It’s no secret that Red Bull isn’t the team to pamper a driver when they are having a hard time, and Sergio’s hard times are far from over.

We still have plenty of races to go and a lot can happen for someone still adjusting to a new car. Bottas doesn’t have that issue, especially when it comes to qualifying.

The longer Sergio takes to learn how to extract the most from the RB16B over one lap, the better the chances of Mercedes closing the constructors’ championship gap and eventually getting ahead.

Sergio seems to still be in that “excellent result this weekend, lukewarm result next weekend” phase. He can be quite consistent, but he’s not yet at the level of consistency needed to win the constructors’ championship.  

Reliability and damage control

It’s no doubt that Max Verstappen is in good form this season. He’s ready to capitalize on Mercedes’ mistakes and also comeback from hard luck (like he did in France).

However, we are yet to see his version of Lewis’ Imola 2021 comeback, and believe me, he’s going to need one.

This season is long, and a lot is going to happen along the way. While Max appears to have developed the psychological fortitude needed to win consistently, we are yet to fully confirm that.

It’s a different feeling when you’ve built a points gap and you have to watch it steadily decline.

Once that starts to happen, and you throw in a few more mishaps like a poor qualifying (driver error or flags), an in-race incident, the pressure intensifies.

It doesn’t seem like Max is going to be making a lot more mistakes down the road, but tough luck will catch up with him too. Maybe the RB16B will help in mitigating the impact, but we are yet to see that.

And as for reliability, Mercedes has undoubtedly been better than Red Bull in recent years. Honda seems to have worked out their issues, but like I already said, it’s a long season, and someone will eventually blink.

If I had to bet on who’ll have those pivotal DNFs, I’d put my money on Red Bull. I will admit though, things aren’t looking good for now, and I’m hoping Mercedes has a soul-crashing trick up their sleeve, I don’t want this to age like Avocado.

Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.

Duncan Ngabirano Aijuka