With five races left, it’s now clear that either car and driver can secure the race win. It is also clear that what may have been a good track for one team can quickly become a better track for another team. The two drivers’ championship contenders are also in great form, and capable of bringing the trophy home.
So the question is, in what other areas can the teams extract more performance to edge the competition? It seems the last card that there is to play is reliability. Both Mercedes and Red Bull have strategically executed their engine changes, trying to minimize the losses from grid penalties.
Did Red Bull show their hand?
Max Verstappen has been using an upgraded energy store since the Belgian Grand Prix, with Perez getting one too at the next race in Zandvoort. Mercedes brought a new engine for Bottas at Monza, changed it again in Russia, and once more in the U.S., while Hamilton took a new I.C.E. in Turkey.
While there isn’t always enough time and other resources to respond, it never hurts to know how good your opponent’s engine and power unit upgrades are before you bring yours. At the very least, you’ll know whether you’ll have to rely on strategy more, and which tracks could become more of a headache.
So in that sense, Mercedes may have benefitted from seeing Red Bull’s later upgrades at work. These engines lose horsepower as they do more races. Therefore, it could be that Mercedes now knows how close to come to the limit of their remaining power unit capabilities. However, Hamilton might have to take another I.C.E. before the end of the season, we just have to wait and see how good the comeback will be.
How good is Mercedes’ engine performance now?
The Mercedes has looked stronger in Monza, Sochi and Istanbul, a combination of venues with a considerable length of power-hungry sections. There’s no doubt that the new engines are helping. In addition, Mercedes recent developments around the ride height and diffuser are helping in straight line speed.
All these extra advancements are key in ensuring that you’re not leaning too hard on any one aspect of the car for most of the performance. It’s evident that Mercedes now has a clearer picture of how much sacrifice to make, especially in regard to grid penalties, in order to keep extracting the most they can out of their engines without breaching the reliability limit.
But even with a sturdy strategy for the remaining races, there are still many factors that could interfere with Mercedes’ recovery charge.
Sergio Perez’s presence
In both of the last two Grands Prix, Perez has stepped up to do more of what was being asked of him in the earlier part of the season. He’s been right up there in the top four mix, ready to counter Mercedes strategy.
He has even engaged in one of the most exciting battles of the season, with Hamilton being on the other side and having to yield at the Turkish Grand Prix. The Mexican Grand Prix is his home race and while we are nearly 100% sure that he’ll relinquish the lead to Verstappen if need be, he will definitely be looking to shine.
Old and new track unknowns
Just like we saw with higher temperatures and more abrasiveness at COTA than there’d been in the last appearance, we could be in for some more track surprises. Remember that weather conditions at Interlagos have always served a treat. And there’s to new tracks; Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
We’ve heard drivers complain about the grip on newly surfaced tracks such as in Portimao and Istanbul. There could be similar concerns at one or more of these circuits. Let’s not forget that the Yas Marina Circuit modifications for better overtaking.
There’s also the usual altitude-induced strain on the engines when in Mexico and Mercedes has to navigate both the already known and the unknown with utmost precision and ingenuity.
While the sprint races have not been as exciting as many had hoped, with some even saying that they should be longer, they have been consistent in one area. Their result has always shaken up the grid for Sunday’s race.
Sprint weekends have become a magnet for incidents, both minor and major. From position-dropping spins to race-ending crashes, a lot can happen, and engines can fall victim to the chaos too. So while there’s no doubt that Mercedes is a team that can quickly respond to an opponent’s blow, they are going to have respond, and land many more of their own while in an intricate web of challenges.
My money is still on Mercedes doing the double once more, and whatever the odds are, they are still just odds, not outcomes.
Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.