If your opponent always wins when the odds are in their favor, and is still close to the top spot when the odds are against them, you can’t afford to slip up at all. And when they make the slightest mistake, you must be ready to pounce for number one.
This is the one lesson that Redbull seems to still be having a hard time grasping. If you’re in doubt, let’s have a recap of this first half’s standout moments in their battle with Mercedes:
Mercedes arrived for the season opener with some improvements from pre-season testing, but still clearly behind Redbull. With Verstappen on pole, it seemed like a sure win for a second. However, Mercedes was already scraping the pan for any extras, trying to claw an advantage from wherever they could get it.
And get it they did. They capitalized on the rules and race director’s notes on track limits even as they changed. Hamilton was able to gain whatever time there was to gain by going off at turn 4 and knowing when to back off for the rules and tires’ sake.
He even took it a step further by using these same track limits as part of his defense in the closing laps, brilliantly pushing Verstappen to complete his overtake off track and subsequently have to relinquish the position. Hamilton would go on to win the race, even though Verstappen could have pulled off this overtake for 1st place had he exercised a little more patience and tact.
And even with a botched pitstop for Bottas, he still ended up in 3rd, with Perez climbing up to 5th at the checkered flag after starting from the pitlane due to a stall on the formation lap. The underdogs left 13 points ahead of the favorites.
With the Redbull’s in 2nd and 3rd on the grid, they stood a good chance of playing strategy on Hamilton and finishing 1-2, especially since Bottas had qualified all the way down in 8th. Once again, Bottas had tough luck, sliding down the order and ending up in a race-ending crash with George Russell.
However, Perez who had qualified 2nd went off the track and got a 10-second stop-go penalty for illegally gaining a position, going on to finish in 11th with no points. Hamilton’s error in trying to lap Russell in a semi wet corner while overzealously pursuing Verstappen left him the gravel, but he propelled himself off a red flag advantage to climb from 9th to 2nd at the checkered flag, with the fastest lap point too.
Redbull got more points from the race, but still way less than they could have left with.
Now you might be thinking, “come on, Redbull still went on to bag a lot of points from subsequent races, and they aren’t that behind in standings.” True, but you also have to admit that Mercedes has made way more mistakes than they usually make in half a season.
We’ve had the Monaco pitsop mishap that was coupled with a poor strategy call for Hamilton’s race. Redbull still didn’t get a 1-2 here as Sainz and Norris took 2nd and 3rd. To be fair, there are some races where Redbull isn’t really to blame for not extracting maximum points amidst Mercedes mistakes such as the Hungaroring race.
So what happens if Mercedes returns stronger? I mean, it’s not unusual. You only have to look back to 2018 for a good example of both Hamilton and Mercedes serving comeback magic. And to make matters worse, Redbull will most likely have to incur some grid penalties for engine swaps later in the season.
How the teams are stepping into the 2nd half of the season
Earlier on, I hinted at the fact that Mercedes was more likely to create a better environment for Bottas as a number 2 than Redbull would for Perez. I also said that Perez was still far from being on his A game irrespective of his win in Baku by the time I said this. His Silverstone sprint qualifying error only confirms this.
Perez is in a unique position where he’s not necessarily doing the best job, but is doing enough to keep his seat. Bottas on the other hand has been fighting for his seat season after season, and will want to at least do well enough for Wolff to fight for his stay in F1 at another team if his contract is not renewed.
He’s having arguably his worst season with Mercedes yet, so he’ll want to go out with a bang if there’s no more room for him at Mercedes. Hamilton has also dropped the ball in a colossal manner such as in Baku with the brake magic. His engineers and strategists also have some mild to massive errors from the 1st half of this season.
On the other hand, Redbull probably feel like it’s just been a string of bad luck for them. This means that we are going into the 2nd half of the season with way more people at Mercedes feeling like they need to redeem themselves.
“Could have been an easy win… let’s go and take a good break now, and come back… can’t be giving up points like today again, let’s keep pushing” These were Hamilton’s words over the radio at the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The tone in Wolff, Vowles and Bonnington’s messages echoed that sentiment too. This is where Mercedes will be picking up from at Spa-Francorchamps so, Redbull had better watch out because the Silver Arrows won’t be making it any easier than they already have.
Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.