While this season has served up a treat for many fans, Mercedes F1 team fans have been nervous because the team did not appear to have an answer for Red Bull’s blistering pace and Verstappen’s determination to become a world champion this year.
Fans of the German outfit have had to lick their wounds more often than not as tracks that were previously good hunting grounds for the Mercedes were now favoring the Red Bulls. This trend started in the final race of the last season in Abu Dhabi, where the Red Bull took off into the distance, and the Mercedes simply couldn’t live with its pace.
Fast forward to this season, and the trend has mainly been the same. Tracks like Paul Ricard in France, Spa in Belgium and even Monaco that used to bow to the power of the Mercedes have all not gone their way this season. Instead, the Red Bull was faster and handled better in the hands of Max Verstappen than anything the Mercedes outfit was doing.
The media spin on the season
It wouldn’t be out of line to say that the reason a lot of F1 fans have been very pleased with this season is the imminent dethroning of Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team as reigning world champions.
The suggestion that the cars have been evenly matched all season has been propagated by the media and the F1 bosses who have used it to sell seats and subscriptions to F1 content. It has also been used to market F1 to new demographics and new-age groups that wouldn’t be interested in another sure win for Lewis Hamilton.
That is not to say that the season has not been exciting to watch. It really has. But the races where Mercedes has had the edge over Red Bull have been few, and Mercedes has benefited from some good luck along the way and a good drive from both Hamilton and Bottas to stay in the hunt. And if you don’t believe me, then look at the numbers.
Max has won eight races this season, but that number could easily have been as high as ten race wins. If the opening race of the season in Bahrain had gone to form and if Max hadn’t suffered a tyre blowout in Azerbaijan, the championship battle would look very different from how it looks now.
Even if the incident at Silverstone had simply been a clean pass from Lewis for the lead, leaving Verstappen in second, Max would be well over 30 points ahead of Lewis in the championship by now. Unfortunately, this has not been as evenly matched a season as the media and Red Bull want us to believe.
The close season narrative
For most of this season, we have been sold a narrative of an evenly matched championship with two closely matched teams, and no one dared to bet on who was going to win it all. However, Mercedes fans and the neutrals have all known that this was Verstappen’s season to lose. The Red Bull has been mighty fast and wickedly reliable all season. The team has looked so solid that cracks have started to show in Mercedes.
Hamilton has made a couple of mistakes that weren’t there in previous championship battles against Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel. Mistakes like leaving the brake magic on in Azerbaijan and going off the road in a hasty move to lap George Russell at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix early in the season.
Furthermore, the Mercedes team has made its own strategic errors this season that it would not have made had it not been for the pressure being mounted by their rivals at Red Bull. However, despite appearing second best for most of the season save for some standout performances early in the season in Portugal and Spain, Mercedes is leading the constructors’ championship, and the tide finally appears to be turning in their favor.
Is the tide turning towards Mercedes?
Despite the Red Bull being the faster car for most of the season, it appears the tide has turned in the recent races. The Mercedes car was outright faster than the Red Bull in Russia and Turkey, where Hamilton and Bottas both took wins respectively, with the most dominant of those coming last time out in Turkey where Bottas comfortably led Max from start to finish.
It has been suggested by Red Bull and other pundits in the paddock that there seems to be some trickery with the Mercedes engine and the car’s rear suspension that allows the drivers to get tremendous speeds on the straight without compromising downforce in the corners.
Whatever the reason is for Mercedes’ newfound pace, it couldn’t have come sooner for the team and its fans, who had all but thrown in the towel for this season. It would be the team’s greatest championship yet if they can win a season that all the bookies called for Red Bull soon after it began. Can Red Bull rise to the challenge in the final five races?