It has been a similar picture since the move into the hybrid era, Mercedes topping the time sheets while rivals struggle to make the difference. F1 has never been and will never be a level playing field but there always seemed to be a leveller somewhere. Any domination of the sport was quickly swallowed up and there were always competitive races, if for no other reason than reliability woes. Alas in today’s largely bulletproof cars that reliability factor is virtually a non-issue and the financial input has reached astronomical levels of inequality.
When I look at the fan comments over the hybrid era, you would be forgiven for thinking that it has been a largely competitive few years. You might think Ferrari had a better car some years or Redbull traditionally came good at the latter end of a season. But in reality, it is all highly controlled, Max Verstappen has never competed against Lewis Hamilton for a title and won’t with the current rules. In fact, there are only two drivers with a chance of winning an F1 World Championship and they drive for the silver/black arrows.
Every year I watch pre-season testing with a forlorn hope that the next season may be better. I hope that another engine manufacturer may make the breakthrough required. But there is no hope, there is no racing. The branding exercise at Mercedes is to win, indeed the engines were changed to bring Mercedes back into the sport, effectively guaranteeing success. With Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn laying the foundation for the structure of the team combined with their well-developed PU, 2014 was always going to lead to domination.
The hope was that as engines neared their peak, the gap between the teams would close. It hasn’t, it won’t. The gap may even be bigger than ever. Indeed, the pace of the Mercedes at Austria could have lapped everyone in the entire field had it not been for the safety cars. Hungary gave an even better insight into the domination of the Mercedes team. Don’t be fooled by the comparatively poor performance from Bottas, that car is light years ahead, and if Bottas isn’t lapping with Hamilton it is probably because the team don’t want him to. There is a number 1 and number 2 driver and Bottas is firmly number 2. Will Mercedes let them race? Highly unlikely, their branding exercise probably wouldn’t appreciate the unpredictability, though they may allow a couple of battles to blur that factor. Predictability is always handy for the marketing department, and with Lewis equalling Michael Schumacher being almost a given, they’ll certainly be well prepared. That doesn’t mean Bottas should give up, indeed I would love to be surprised, but Hamilton simply doesn’t see him as a threat and unless you can upset the rhythm of Hamilton in qualifying, he’ll have all the confidence he needs.
Despite all of my moans and groans, I love Formula 1. The vibe feels different and to explain that would require a whole separate article. F1 needs change and the 2022 regs can’t come soon enough. But first we focus on this season and I felt it high time to come back to F1 content after a few years out, kicking off with the Team VVV F1 Podcast. We’ve run two so far and will hopefully develop this over time. Kicking off with our first chat about the Styrian GP.
A weekend dominated by Hamilton, Bottas not pleased about brake issues or tyre warm-up in qualifying made it straightforward run for Hamilton in qualifying. Because as good as the lap may have been, without a barometer to compare against we really have no idea. The media are always gushing with praise, but I’ve always looked at the competition, and if that’s a number 2 driver with mechanical issues, then it’s no competition at all. However, the field spread was more evenly matched, though Racing Point gave a glimpse as to their potential it was Lando Norris who provided the last lap action yet again, all rounding off a rather standard race, roll on Hungary and our podcast below.
Hungary was the race many of us feared, the Mercedes showing it’s true performance and Racing Point showing theirs, at least in qualifying. Both of these occurrences do not bode well for the season, with a Mercedes customer team effectively acting a rear guard. Ferrari in disarray and Redbull with work to do. Bottas with a technical issue at the start, initially appearing to cause a jump start, the result being the red lights mysteriously going out on his dash. Meanwhile a great result from Max following his mistake on the way to the grid, besides shoutouts to Kevin Magnusson and Daniel Ricciardo for great drives. Not a great day for McLaren, back to earth with a bump, but roll on Silverstone. The year may be another walk over for Mercedes and Hamilton but at least I can enjoy the midfield battle.