What’s next for Mercedes’ driver line-up going into a new era of F1
After years of dominance in the sport, Mercedes will have to plot their next move in order to extend their success post-2022.
Rumours regarding Mercedes have been ravaging social media during the off-season, most speculating about Hamilton and how he has yet to sign a contract for the fast-approaching 2021 season. Although it has been all but confirmed that the seven-time World champion will be driving, it is interesting to contemplate what their driver line-up might look like in the future.
Mercedes has been one of the most consistent teams on many fronts throughout the hybrid era- especially when it comes to their drivers. The team has only had two different driver line-ups between 2014-2021. To put that in perspective, Mercedes’ nearest competitors for most of that stretch, Ferrari and Red Bull, have had five and six respectively. For Mercedes, stability has equalled success time and time again, and I don’t see them straying from that route in the future.
The stability they’ve had is, however, at risk. With the new regulations coming in, they aren’t guaranteed to continue their domination. They didn’t face all that much pressure come race day because of their incredible car, but if that were to change, they would have to come face-to-face with some tough decisions on the driver front.
Mercedes has stuck with the pairing of Hamilton and Bottas since 2017, and they have always gotten the job done, winning both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ championship every year for the team. Hamilton has led the team throughout that time, proving again and again that he is one of the best on the grid. Bottas has been a solid second driver for the team. The statistics are clear- he has racked up enough points to secure the Constructors’ since his Mercedes debut and second in the Drivers’ in 2019 and 2020.
“If you look at the numbers, Lewis is the most successful driver in F1 history, and I need to go up against him with decent speed and consistency weekend after weekend. So it's not an easy place to be,” Bottas said in a Jan. 22 Autosport Article, “Bottas: F1 "Couch commentator" criticism motivates me to perform” by Jonathan Noble, “That will keep me going and that will keep me pushing myself again, hopefully to a next level."
Bottas has done exactly what Mercedes has needed him to do. However, if in the future the competition is tighter and Mercedes must truly fight for that top spot, I don’t know that he would be able to deliver. If he comes off of the line and into an early lead, he will have the pace necessary to cross the line and finish on the podium. But on the rare occasion when we see the mighty Mercedes team under pressure from other teams, Bottas has left much to be desired. If Mercedes’ package ever falls down the ranks or their competitors reach their level, I don’t know that Bottas’ efforts would be enough to defend the team.
The next element that must be addressed are the 2022 regulation changes, which will be a true test for the team. In the case that they want to make a change on the driver front, George Russell is just the person for the job. This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to you, as Russell has been Mercedes’ greatest prospect for some time now. During his time as a driver for Williams, he has proven his worth in the sport despite the lack of points he has collected. The calls from fans and the media to give him the move up to Mercedes were only amplified when he subbed for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix, where he took a commanding lead and ultimately out-drove Bottas. He was poised for his first win, but lost out due to an unfortunate tyre mix-up. Russell has done just about all he can in his campaign for a move up-- now he must wait for a seat to open up.
“I don't like to think about the future. This sport changes incredibly quickly, people's perception of drivers - your reputation [can change fast]. And outside factors, as we've seen [can come into play],” Russell said in an interview with Autosport published in the Jan. 13 article by Alex Kalinaukas and Jonathan Noble titled “Russell not thinking about 2022 Mercedes F1 chance”.
Most viewers see Russell replacing Bottas when that time comes, however it must be mentioned that the possibility of Hamilton retiring is becoming more and more probable as the seasons go on. Hamilton has earned seven Drivers’ titles, and is now gunning for an eighth in 2021-- a record-breaking number. He has already solidified his place in the history books, so one may wonder what is left for him in the sport.
Only Hamilton himself knows what his next moves look like, so all fans can do is speculate. He could choose to retire after 2021, or he could continue into the new regulations. If he retires after the 2021 season ends, he will go out at his peak-- it is almost guaranteed. If he continues, he will be a part of a whole new era of F1, and have to adapt to it. As one of the most experienced drivers on the grid, Mercedes likely wants him to stay and help usher in the new regulation changes. But the question is, does he want to keep driving? Does he want to risk tarnishing his winning reputation if things don’t go Mercedes’ way? These are all questions I’ve considered when it comes to Hamilton’s future. For now, it seems that Hamilton is in no hurry to make such decisions, and is working on “living in the moment”.
“In the new year then I’ll start looking at what’s next, and where I can be better, and what else I want to do in the world. What I can say is I do want to stay here, I don’t think I’ve hit the limit yet,” Hamilton said in an F1 in-depth interview after the Turkish Grand Prix.
The future of Mercedes will ultimately be defined by the impact of two things: Hamilton’s career prospects and the 2022 regulation changes. Both will change the very foundation of Formula One’s strongest team, and their driver line-up. The careers of both Bottas and Russell will be directly impacted, and shake up the rest of the grid standings. It is then when we’ll be able to see whether the team has the power to extend their dominance into the coming years.