Right from the start of this protracted 2020 Formula 1 season, Mercedes have been increasingly dominant in a way that somehow manages to eclipse their general excellence in the last six years, a time frame in which they gained Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, and achieved 1st place in the Constructors’ Championship every year.
The 2020 season has only extended the team’s dominance, with Mercedes securing podium finishes for both their drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in six of the nine completed races; there was only one race where neither of their drivers gained a podium. They also currently hold a 152 point difference in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Red Bull, arguably their only competitor at present.
The three times where the two Mercedes drivers have not been on the podium were caused due to issues faced or rare mistakes by the team, which illustrates the sheer dominance of Mercedes in the 2020 season.
Firstly, in the Austrian Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris reached the podium, with Hamilton unusually finishing fourth and missing out due to a 5-second penalty after colliding with Alex Albon. This led to his withdrawal from the race, displaying ultimately how a time penalty was the only way to stop a Mercedes ‘1, 2’ in the first race of the season.
The second of the three races in which only one or no Mercedes drivers finished on the podium was Silverstone. Held on August 2nd, the height of the UK’s August heatwave, track temperatures reached almost 50°C over the weekend, temperatures totally unusual for the British Grand Prix.
This, combined with Silverstone’s history as one of the most demanding tracks of the Formula 1 season, saw many high-speed corners causing particular strain on the front left tyre, and proved fatal for Sainz Jr. and Bottas. Both drivers had their tyres punctured and they subsequently exploded, causing them to lose places on track, with Hamilton facing the same fate just a few laps later in the final lap of the race, yet still miraculously managed to win in frankly unbelievable scenes.
Max Verstappen came second, with tyres intact, in arguably the second most competitive car on the track, however he was still unable to catch Hamilton due to the 30-second gap the Englishman created in prior laps. Despite having the fastest lap of the race and gaining nearly 20 seconds on Hamilton, Verstappen could not make it up, which not only demonstrates the sheer power of the Mercedes car but the skill of Hamilton himself.
The final race of the season so far, the Italian Grand Prix, saw Mercedes anomalistically fail to secure a podium at all in one of the most unpredictable races of the season and in recent years. A combination of two safety cars, a red flag restart and a 10-second penalty for Hamilton for entering the pit lane when closed resulted in a podium of Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lance Stroll. However, Hamilton still managed to finish in 7th place, well within the points making his way back from the very back of the grid after his penalty, a difficult feat for any driver or team.
Overall dominance has divided fans, many bored by the tyranny of the two Mercedes cars, sick of seeing a race which can usually be predicted to be: 1st – Hamilton, 2nd – Bottas, 3rd – Verstappen.
Others see Mercedes’ dominance as a reflection of technological advancements which go above and beyond any other team on the grid, a celebration of what the sport has always encompassed: technical development and innovation combined with drivers such as Hamilton who is currently 55 points ahead of his teammate and closest championship rival, and only one race win off Michael Schumacher’s record. So what is the solution to equalising the field?
Well, this dominance has led to the discussion of reverse grids, an idea discussed further this season but widely refuted by teams and drivers. With George Russell stating that he believed reverse grids would make drivers in slower cars such as himself look “stupid”, saying in an interview “we will be defending like crazy to try and hold the faster cars off who are behind us, but, as drivers, you’ll be made to look a little bit stupid because ultimately you’re battling against guys who are in cars much, much quicker than yours, who can brake 10 metres later into a corner, who can lunge you from really far back”.
Drivers further up on the grid have also expressed similarly negative sentiments towards this proposed solution, including Hamilton himself. In a press conference last season he said that “people who propose that don’t really know what they’re talking about”, with Vettel adding in the same conference that “I think its complete bullshit to be honest” referring to the idea as a ‘plaster’ for the issues of dominance and gaps between teams on the grid.
The same sentiments expressed again this season, with Vettel saying he believes the idea to be “completely wrong” despite Mercedes tightening their dominance on the rest of the grid, with him and many fans believing the 2022 regulation changes are the best shot at equalling the field, as well as the incoming 2021 spending cap.
Only time will tell if these regulations will indeed equalise the field or if Mercedes will continue to adapt and maintain their dominance for many seasons to come. For now, the opportunity for other teams lies in taking advantage and capitalising upon the rare occasions in which Mercedes makes mistakes and faces issues.
Image: Jaffa the Cake via Creative Commons