Is Mercedes Domination Coming To An End In Formula 1?
Could this be the last triumph for the Silver Arrows?
The turbo/hybrid era of Formula 1 saw the Mercedes dominate and rise above every other team in Formula 1. With the help of Lewis Hamilton, who brought Mercedes countless titles, the Silver Arrows have dominated for consecutive years in the sport that is Formula 1. It has caused mixed emotions among fans, numerous fans not wanting Hamilton or Mercedes to win anymore, waiting for another team to challenge Mercedes and rise to the top. And now looking at Max Verstappen and Red Bull leading the World Drivers and Constructors Championship in 2021, people are wondering if the Mercedes reign is coming to a long-lived end.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team dominated and commanded the 2020 season, with Lewis Hamilton taking his 7th World Title, equalling Michael Schumacher's record, and with Mercedes taking their 7 Constructors Title. We were all expecting 2021 to be the same, and even though it's too early to tell, there is still a significant difference about this specific season compared to last year's. Red Bull alongside Ferrari have been the runner-up to Mercedes for the past couple of years, Red Bull taking the upper hand from Ferrari since 2020. Although, this season we are seeing a more aggressive Red Bull, since Monaco the runner-ups have become the leading team. Nonetheless, it's still too early to tell in the season as we have 15 races to go, and Mercedes are learning that they can still stop Red Bull if they perform at their absolute best.
Photo Credit: BBC
However, Red Bull's driver lineup of Max Verstappen and now Sergio Perez has proved to be unstoppable so far, leading Red Bull 37 points ahead of Mercedes in the Constructors Championship. Verstappen saw a first-time victory at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix this year, putting him as the provisional Driver's Championship leader, one point ahead of Lewis Hamilton. During the chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, neither Max nor Lewis scored any points, keeping the lead and gap between the leaders the same. Although, Checo Perez was able to take a fantastic victory on the streets of Baku, skyrocketing Red Bull into the lead.
Once the French Grand Prix was coming into play, everyone expected Mercedes to take back the lead at a track they always dominated at. But with a failed and disappointing strategy executed from Mercedes, this gave Red Bull the upper hand, with Max Verstappen regaining the lead and seizing a win at the French Grand Prix. Perez also secured third in that race, giving Red Bull a comfortable lead in the Championship fight. Red Bull hasn't won the Championship since 2013, the year that followed, started Mercedes' rise to the top.
Lewis Hamilton struggled throughout the entire race trying his absolute best to help the unforgettable and unfortunate strategy, but the Mercedes driver wasn’t able to keep a hungry Verstappen tamed behind him, and during the second to last lap, the win was handed over to Verstappen, giving him the victory, with Hamilton in second place.
“The two-stop pit stop [strategy] paid off. The whole race we were fighting each other. I think it will be like this for the rest of the season” Hamilton explained post-race.
Toto Wolff explains the disappointing and frustrating strategy that left Mercedes in second place at the track they always dominated at. After being affected widely by Red Bull’s impressive undercut with Max Verstappen, Mercedes’ hopes of winning the French Grand Prix were thrown out the window when Red Bull did a surprise two-stop strategy. The Silver arrows explained why they didn’t pit their drivers again when they were asking to be pit for the second time.
“The fight between the three cars [Verstappen, Hamilton, and Bottas] was intense at the front and they you had to opt for continuing with the one-stop or the two," he said. "Two-stop was a danger for us because Perez was in the way. We got it wrong today.”
Wolff added that they were hoping that Perez would receive a five-second penalty for what they thought was an illegal pass on Bottas on Lap 49, and they kept Valtteri out just in case, instead of pitting him for fresh tires to hopefully take the fastest lap. Nevertheless, they stayed out, Verstappen took the fastest lap, and Perez didn’t do an illegal pass. Mercedes can't keep making mistakes because this time out there is no gap that will keep them safe, Red Bull has been mistakeless in France, in Baku it was only Max that crashed out with Checo taking the victory, in Monaco, they kept a comfortable lead, taking another win. Now that Red Bull has realized their position, they won't back down.
Yet, Mercedes still has a chance. The German team is still confident that they can overtake Red Bull and win this year's Formula 1 world championship if they perform at their best.
"The way we look at it is this team at its best can beat Red Bull," he said. "I think [in France] we saw that the opportunities we missed were the difference." Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said confidently.
Mercedes appeared to have the race pace to be able to beat Red Bull at Paul Ricard, but lost the win after misunderstanding the strength of Red Bull's undercut. And as Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said, if we can beat them in France, we can beat them anywhere.
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