We are now halfway into the season, and Mercedes sits third in the constructors’ championship log, trailing Ferrari by 66 points. And while it may seem like a long shot for Mercedes to finish ahead of Ferrari, it just might happen, and here are the reasons why:
Two-way reliability issues
Yes, Ferrari’s reliability is quite poor this season, but Red Bull is also struggling in this area. So as the title race heats up in the second half of the season, expect teams to run their engines higher and wear them faster, especially with all the upcoming power-hungry circuits.
If we keep seeing a Red Bull and Ferrari driver out of the strategy battle, finishing third and fourth will be easier for the Mercedes drivers. And considering the grid penalties for exceeding parts swaps, Mercedes could benefit from better starting grid positions compared to the lot.
As we saw at Silverstone, Ferrari is mismanaging in-race battles between their drivers. Sainz has repeatedly shown that he has no trouble disobeying team orders sternly when they don’t suit him. Seeing how this benefitted him in Monaco and Silverstone, it is only a matter of time before Leclerc does the same and sparks fly. On days when a win is highly likely, Ferrari fails at optimizing their race to get the maximum number of points from both their race drivers.
They seem to have an easier time helping one driver to an excellent result, with the other doing poorly. You may say that they’ve learnt their lesson, but each race comes with uniquely challenging scenarios. The pitwall won’t be able to use a template or do the opposite of what failed earlier. They’ll have to think on their feet, which is harder when the title race heats up.
Red Bull is doing much better in this area, but we’ve heard Sergio Perez hinting at how car development has gone away from him, and he’s less comfortable. While, Verstappen says the car is now more effective. Though this doesn’t mean that the team is trying to hamper Perez, whatever they arrive at as the ideal approach could mean worse results for him.
Red Bull and Ferrari are dealing with intra-team competition in a manner that puts one driver at a significant disadvantage rather than getting the most out of the two. The only difference is that Red Bull is always sure about who the disadvantaged driver will be. While Mercedes, we’ve seen a more harmonized approach to strategies. The team seems to have a clearer idea of how they’ll dig themselves out of a hole and each team member’s role in executing.
As the car gets better, there won’t be a big gap between the two Mercedes drivers’ performances, but after 2016, I highly doubt the team will fumble due to battles between their drivers (remember that they still lifted both trophies even with those issues).
Drivers raised safety concerns regarding porpoising and bouncing, and the FIA has stepped in to ensure that they don’t recur at circuits. This dialogue and its resultant suggestions have brought performance into the spotlight. Red Bull was against the safety recommendations, reasoning that every team should tackle porpoising individually rather than pushing for regulation changes they see as unfair to those who did a better job at limiting this problem.
The FIA pointed out the massively flexible floor plank designs that won’t be allowed from the French Grand Prix onwards. Since Red Bull and Ferrari have been exploiting regulation loopholes in this area, they could lose some performance once enforcement commences.
This could bring Mercedes closer, making three-way battles more common and not just sporadic episodes triggered by safety cars and the resultant strategy-induced tire favor.
In-season development and caps
It’s also worth mentioning that at some point, teams will have to stop developing their 2022 cars and focus on 2023. If Red Bull remains significantly ahead in the standings, Ferrari might stop development first, since they also need to sort out their severe power unit issues.
Keep in mind that the institution of the engine freeze will be complete when the cap on upgrading the MGU-K, energy store, and control electronics kicks in on 1st September.
And when you consider the recent change in wind tunnel time and CFD items allowance in Mercedes’ favor, the Silver Arrows’ momentum will increase. Bottom-line, there are plenty of indicators that the top three cars will be much closer to each other in performance.
I will leave out any speculation on future driver errors since I am hoping they will all be on their A-game as frequently as possible because that’s when we get the best action.
Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.