Is Formula 1 being damaged by the dominance of Mercedes?
After 5 consecutive 1-2 finishes at the beginning of 2019, fans and critics are growing tiresome of the Silver Arrows.
One thing is for certain, Mercedes are doing something that's never been seen in the 69-year history of the Formula One World Championship. No team has ever scored a 1-2 finish at the first 5 rounds of the championship before. After mesmeric races in Melbourne, Sakhir, Shanghai, Baku and this past weekend in Barcelona, you have to wonder - Is Mercedes' performance really something to marvel, or actually something to worry about for their competitors, and most importantly, the fans of the sport?
We've seen similar periods of dominance in the sport before however, such as McLaren's 1988 season, where the stunning MP4/4 won 15 of the 16 races at the hands of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Or in 2002, where Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello combined to win 15 of the 17 races, thus sealing Schumi's historic 5th World Championship, equalling the great Juan Manuel Fangio in the process. Even in 2013, Sebastian Vettel singlehandedly won the last 9 races of the season for Red Bull Racing, breaking the record for most consecutive wins by a single driver.
But the current dominance shown by Mercedes feels somewhat, different.
WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH FERRARI IN 2019?
After what appeared to be the fastest team when pre-season testing ended in Barcelona just two months ago, many people anticipated one of the most hotly-contested championships in years. However, when the circus arrived in Melbourne, Australia for the season opener, we saw something completely different - a race dominated by Mercedes, with both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc trailing home in 4th and 5th respectively. The paddock was shocked, but Melbourne is an oddity, and never a true barometer for performance, so we looked ahead to Sakhir for more answers.
Ferrari looked to have a stronger car in Bahrain, especially at the hands of Leclerc, who could've, and certainly should've won his first Grand Prix had it not been for an engine failure. Vettel found the race much harder, struggling with overall pace, and even succumbing to a spin when in wheel to wheel combat with his arch-rival Lewis Hamilton. They ended up beating themselves with strategy and then eventually reliability, not for the first time.
After having the better car in Bahrain, Ferrari still couldn't stop Mercedes recording their 2nd 1-2 of the season.
As we entered the 1,000th Grand Prix in China for round 3 of the championship, many would romantically have linked Ferrari to winning that race. After all, they are the most successful team in the sport's history, so it would've been fitting. But once again, after the team from Maranello showed pace on Friday, it was the Mercedes drivers that locked out the front row for qualifying, and scored another 1-2 finish at a canter. You could say that the Red Bull of Max Verstappen has been occupying the Ferrari's just enough this season to stop them from focusing on Mercedes.
Another perfect qualifying for Mercedes in Baku, followed by a quiet race and a seemingly simple 1-2 finish had people wondering what was happening to the Scuderia this season. But the next race was in Barcelona, the track that Ferrari owned in pre-season testing, so they should be more of a match for the Merc's. Along with an engine upgrade, it should've finally been their week to strike back. But more of the same was soon to come.
If yesterday's race in Barcelona taught us anything, it's that Ferrari don't appear to have the best car in 2019. It's now clear that Mercedes have the best overall package, and with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in imperious form, this championship could be over quicker than most people thought when we touched down in Australia back in March.
Lewis Hamilton is chasing his 6th World Championship, whereas Valtteri Bottas is looking to claim his maiden title.
WILL MONACO BE ANY DIFFERENT, OR MORE OF THE SAME?
Since the major aerodynamic rule change in 2017, Mercedes haven't won a race at the historic principality. They've adopted a longer wheelbase chassis in the last three seasons, and this doesn't usually help with the kind of direction change required to be successful in Monaco. Historically, Ferrari and Red Bull have always been quick on the streets of Monte-Carlo, so Mercedes' current streak of 1-2 finishes could well come to a close in 2 weeks time. Max Verstappen will be looking for a redemption of sorts after crashing out in qualifying last year, making his Sunday harder than it should've been. As for Ferrari, Charles Leclerc will be looking to rubber stamp his intentions with a debut win at his home race. Sebastian Vettel also needs a strong weekend in order to justify his number 1 status for Ferrari. Either way, it could be the most intriguing race of 2019 so far.
So after a dominant start, are Mercedes really damaging for the sport? Or do we need to applaud what the team from Brackley are achieving at the moment?
I do know however, that someone needs to react very quickly, otherwise this championship will over before we leave Europe for the fly-away races.