In the summer break we look back on the first half of the season in Formula 1 and analyze team by team. This time we look at the most dominant team: Mercedes.
Everything pointed to an extremely exciting season during the test drives in winter. Ferrari convinced in Barcelona, and you saw a big smile on Sebastian Vettel’s face. The changing of the guard seemed possible. Mercedes drove fast laps only on the last day of the second week of testing, but it was the Scuderia that drove as the clear favorite to Melbourne.
But in Australia came the great awakening. Mercedes was as always clearly superior to Ferrari. Ferrari’s apparent superiority during testing was blown away. What happened?
“Not much,” commented Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
“We did not fully understand our car until the last day of the winter tests.”
It remains to be seen if this really was the case. Maybe Mercedes just didn’t want to reveal its cards before the first race of the season. Probably, they knew exactly which aces they had up their sleeves.
The silver arrows of the 2019 generation are designed for extreme downforce. The designers in Brackley went with that a different way than their main competitors Ferrari and Red Bull. And with that they hit the mark.
Reason: The newly designed 2019 Pirelli tires have a smaller and above all higher working window. In order to do this, extreme adhesion is required – this is the only way to keep the tires working.
For that, Mercedes had to compromise in other areas of this year’s vehicle. One was Topspeed.
However, the loss on the straights is more than compensated for by greater speeds in corners. Only in extreme heat (32 degrees and higher outside temperatures) experienced the Silver Arrow weaknesses so far. Due to cooling problems, Mercedes hasn’t been able to bring out everything out of their engines. Therefore, Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas had no chance at the heat race in Austria.
For the second half of this season, the aerodynamics of their rear has been changed to reduce the overheating problem. The mid-term review shows that the concept of the engineers came to fruition: Mercedes won ten of the twelve races and won double victories seven times. Superstar Lewis Hamilton has been on top of the podium eight times, team-mate Valtteri Bottas twice.
In the constructors’ championship, Mercedes is already 150 points ahead of Ferrari with 438 points. In the driver’s championship, Hamilton leads with 250 points. Second is Bottas with 62 points behind.
The Finn started promisingly. He immediately won the season’s opening race in Melbourne and the fourth race in Baku. But the longer the season lasted, the stronger Lewis has become. As a result, Bottas hasn’t been a real challenge for the five-time champion Hamilton.
In the end, Bottas seemed to have given up in front of such an insurmountable wall. As the season progressed, more and more mistakes sneaked in. In Hockenheim, he flew off the tracks in second place. In Hungary, he collided already at the start with Hamilton and Ferrari driver Leclerc forcing him to pit early. As a result, he wasn’t really able to fight for top places anymore.
Bottas’ performance decline couldn’t come at a very inconvenient time. During the summer break, Toto Wolff wants to decide who will drive alongside Hamilton in 2020. The question he has to answer is to extend Bottas’s contract or give Junior Esteban Ocon a chance.
Bottas, who has improved a lot, especially in qualifying, almost on par with Hamilton, is himself no longer sure:
“I may need a plan B,” he openly admitted in a recent interview.
What gives him courage is the fact, that his biggest advocate is Hamilton, who wants to keep the Finn as a teammate.
Hamilton is the undisputed number 1 and with his 34 years, he still seems to challenge for an even higher level of driving.
“I’m still learning,” he commented, “you’re never perfect.”
As an example, he mentioned the race in Hockenheim: “That was not a good race of mine.”
Yet, with all the humility and drive to reach a higher level being, it would be a real miracle if he didn’t win the sixth title of his still thriving career.
*This article was first published in German at autobild.de/motorsport.