“I need more power” – quite an admission from a driver who has been at the wheel of Formula 1’s most complete package for the entirety of this era.
Since the dawn of the V6 hybrids in 2014, Mercedes has blown away the opposition and claimed four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Last season, Ferrari mounted the biggest challenge to the Silver Arrows’ supremacy, only to run out of steam at the end of the season.
However, this year looks set to be different and after the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, Mercedes has found itself in rather uncharted territory.
Scorching temperatures were matched by red-hot track action at Silverstone, as the 2018 British Grand Prix delivered the race in which the 2018 title fight was truly ignited.
Sure, this was round 10 of the season and chief title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had already exchanged top spot in the drivers’ championship on three occasions in 2018.
However, the billed ‘Fight for Five’ – in which four-time champions Vettel and Hamilton would fight each other in a duel to secure a fifth crown – had somewhat been lost in other storylines. Valtteri Bottas has starred, only to be hampered by misfortune. Red Bull has won three races with it’s strongest package since 2013.
These distractions dissolved at Silverstone, replaced by what felt like the first gloves off duel between Vettel and Hamilton. It highlighted and potentially foreshadowed some of the themes that will define the outcome of the championship.
The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a modern classic. It had elements of soap opera, late-braking bravery, inter and intra-team anguish and plenty of unexpected heroes. The ’18 edition of the race was, as a result, in danger of being over-hyped.
In the end, the race lived up to the blockbuster billing with a finale that would have earned a ‘fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
“We were a little bit lucky today,” said Sebastian Vettel after having grabbed victory in the opening round of the 2018 Formula 1 season. Buying a lottery ticket on the way home might not be the best option for him – lightning doesn’t strike twice.
When Romain Grosjean’s Haas crawled to a stop on the exit of Turn 2, Vettel suddenly stole a race defining advantage. As the only front-runner yet to make his pitstop, Vettel dived into the pitlane under the subsequent virtual safety car conditions.
Long-time race-leader Hamilton, who had stopped during the green flag running, could do nothing at that moment to stop Vettel emerging from the pits ahead and in the lead of the race. With Albert Park being the second hardest track on the F1 calendar at which to overtake, it was game, set and match to Ferrari in that race-defining moment.
Had it not been for the deployment of the VSC, Vettel would have finished second at best. Luck played a key role but was not the only factor propelling Vettel to victory.
In Spain, Mercedes’ mistake afforded Red Bull the opportunity to snatch victory. Just two weeks later it was Red Bull who, having dominated the weekend, made a costly error to allow Lewis Hamilton the opportunity to take his 44th race win.
Such is the speed at which fortunes can change in motorsport, pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo saw his maiden win at the Principality slip away, when a miscommunication between pit wall and garage saw him arrive in his pit-box, while his mechanics were still fumbling over which compound of slick tyres to fit.
Elation on Saturday became heartbreak on Sunday for the Aussie.
Ever since F1’s regulations were overhauled ahead of the 2014 F1 season, Mercedes have been the class of the field. A brace of Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles have been achieved in dominant fashion, with 701 and 703 points amassed by the team in 2014 and 2015 respectively. While 2016 has seen Nico Rosberg claim four victories from a possible four and Mercedes secure two one-two finishes, unreliability has hindered them, particularly on Lewis Hamilton’s side of the garage.
Following accusations that the team are deliberately favouring Rosberg this season, Mercedes have written an open letter to the fans looking to quell the speculation.
Mercedes have been the dominant force on track during the past two years and this week, they have managed to take a stranglehold on the pre-season discussion with an excellent launch of their 2016 challenger, the W07. An on-board video recorded and published on a filming day, followed by an inventive “hyperrealistic” drawing published online and concluding with images of the car posted online this morning marks a long W07 launch campaign.
It has been quite the build up to the unveiling of a car which Mercedes hope can guide them to a third successive constructors crown.