The Spark and the Fire

Mercedes is one of the most successful teams in Formula 1, during the recent years, they have won the constructor’s championship for three consecutive years and Lewis Hamilton celebrated his last two titles with the silver arrows, whilst Nico Rosberg won his one and only world title with Mercedes in 2016 (check out our article about Nico Rosberg).

The Silver Arrows made their appearance in 1930, where they won all the European championships after 1932. Their first official entry in Formula 1 was in 1954 which they were known as Mercedes-Benz. Juan Manuel Fangio signed a contract with Mercedes and moved from Maserati to the silver arrows in order to drive in Mercedes’ debus at the French Grand Prix in 1954. That season Fangio won three races and finished first on the drivers’ championship. The following season, Manuel Fangio repeated his success and with four victories and won his second consecutive championship with Mercedes-Benz. A terrible accident which took place at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1955 led to the cancelation of the Grand Prixs and Mercedes retired from Formula One.

The miracle and the firework

Rubens Barrichello, Barcelona, Spain 2009. Author: Jose Mª Izquierdo Galiot

There is one specific year which I believe that most of the young and non-young fans will never forget, the year where a team dominated with almost zero financial support, with only the basic crew and with two very experienced drivers which both had a great “coach”. Of course you will know where I am referring to, the name of the team was Brawn GP and the two drivers where Jenson Button and the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. The master behind the success was Ross Brawn, who believed in his team and led them to the top.

 

Brawn GP participated in 17 races, won eight Grands Prix, finished 15 times on the podium, took five pole positions and scored 172 points. The team became the first to achieve a 100% championship success rate.

Mercedes played a critical role in Brawn GP’s success as they were supporting them with engines.

That season indicated Mercedes’ return to Formula 1, on November 2009, Mercedes with Aabar Investments purchased the 75.1% of Brawn GP. Mercedes had the 45.1%, while Aabar the rest 30%. The next year the team renamed to Mercedes GP. According to reports Mercedes and Aabar paid £110m for the 75.1% and the remaining percentage remained to Ross Brawn in partnership with Nick Fry. Ross Brawn remained as team principal until the end of the 2013 season.

Michael Schumacher, Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Malaysia 2011. Author: Morio

Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were driving for Mercedes the first three years, they managed to get three poles and win three races. After Brawn’s departure the turbocharged engines returned to Formula 1, Mercedes had an advantage as Ross Brawn managed to improve the team’s power unit.

Mercedes dominated during the first three years of the new turbocharged engines, Lewis Hamilton replaced Michael Schumacher, and both he and Nico Rosberg secured 56 pole positions and won 51 of the 59 races. In all these years the two drivers have scored 2169 points combined.

This season, Mercedes is leading in the constructors’ championship by 24 points and Lewis Hamilton is second in the drivers’ standings, 14 points behind his main rival Sebastian Vettel.

Undoubtedly, Mercedes is one of the strongest teams on the grid, Ferrari looks able to challenge them, but it is still too early to make a prediction.

Mercedes and social media – leading the way

Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria.In this current turbo era of Formula One, Mercedes AMG F1 have had an almost unprecedented level of success not seen since the days of McLaren Honda. Three straight clean sweeps of both the World Drivers’ Championship and the World Constructors’ Championship have left the Silver Arrows in a buoyant mood in recent seasons. But it isn’t just on the circuit where the team have been at the top of the standings.

The team have also been ahead of their rivals on social media, with their twitter account being among the 100 most followed sports accounts on the social network with 1.83m followers. That’s 20,000 clear of their closest rivals Red Bull on 1.81m while Ferrari on 1.79m make up the podium places. In fact, only McLaren join them with a seven-figure twitter following, despite their relative woes on circuit.

On Facebook, Mercedes also lead the way with over 11m likes, with Red Bull way back on 7.8m and Ferrari on just over a third of their Brackley rivals with 4.2m likes. While on Instagram, the stakes are as tight as this season’s Formula One world championship fight as Mercedes lead on 1.5m followers, with Red Bull just 100,000 short and Ferrari back on 1.3m followers.

Videos such as the onboard shot of Nico Rosberg at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, in which fans almost got a driver’s eye view of the 2016 World Champion performing donuts, are key as fans look to connect with the teams and their drivers more and more in this ever more digital world. Red Bull are also known for inventive promotional videos such as the caravan race around the Red Bull Ring ahead of the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix – the team’s home event. The in-depth and often enthusiastic race commentary provide across the Silver social platforms go further to encapsulate emotions felt by an ardent Mercedes fan during a Grand Prix.

Japery with teams such as Force India and Renault add to the feel-good theme around social media and Formula One, with Red Bull also known for interaction with their fellow F1 peers. With the giveaways and competitions linked to the team, Mercedes make themselves more marketable than many other Formula One teams with their fan interaction. That extends to following, retweeting and replying to fan queries and less serious posts to the team.

Mercedes hasn’t just stolen a march against its F1 rivals on the tarmac, but in the digital world that has finally engulfed Formula One, the team are a leading light.

2012 Monaco Grand Prix – Shades of the old Michael

The 2012 Monaco Grand Prix had plenty of sub-plots, sidestories and points of interest aside from Mark Webber’s final victory in the Principality. Webber became the sixth different winner from six races in an open start to the World Championship, Romain Grosjean had more opening lap contact – and one other important story. That was the performance of Michael Schumacher during Saturday’s qualifying session.

The seven-times World Champion had failed to find the scintillating form seen during those Ferrari days at the beginning of the millennium ever since joining Mercedes for 2010 after three years away. Since that second coming his best result had been a fourth place scored at the famous Canadian Grand Prix of 2011 and 2012 had been beset by bad luck, collisions and sometimes lack of pace. Indeed, Schumacher went into the race weekend with a five-place grid penalty following an accident with Bruno Senna in the previous Spanish Grand Prix.

Monaco. Monaco Grand Prix 2012 BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

Mercedes had had solid pace all weekend but were not considered to be amongst the favourites – aside from the Chinese Grand Prix in which they were running first and second before Schumacher’s retirement, the car had been inconsistent. However, in the second qualifying session both Mercedes made it comfortably through to the pole position shootout with Rosberg just ahead of fifth-placed Schumacher.

Mark Webber’s time of a 1:14:381 looked like enough as Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean both struggled to eclipse it. But Schumacher, one of the last men over the line, slapped in a 1:14.301 to take his 69th and final pole position of a glittering career. Post-qualifying, in the knowledge that he would start sixth, the then 43-year-old was delighted with the result.

“It is simply a wonderful feeling to set pole after such a long time, and particularly here in Monaco. Okay, it has taken a little bit longer than I might have wanted in the second chapter of my career, but that makes it even sweeter. It’s just beautiful.”

After contact with the pinballing Grosjean at the start, Schumacher remained solidly in the top eight through the Grand Prix until his retirement from a fuel pressure issue with fifteen laps remaining. He would stand on the podium once more before retirement at the end of the season with a third place at a chaotic European Grand Prix in Valencia.

Rudolf Caracciola: the Original Rainmaster

11th July, 1926: thirty-two drivers line up on the grid at AVUS, Berlin, to take the start of the inaugural Grand Prix of Germany. Among them is a young Rhinelander by the name of Rudolf Caracciola, a mechanical engineering student and car salesman attempting to launch a racing career.

Fielded as an independent entry in a loaned and outdated Mercedes-Benz M218, Caracciola’s first Grand Prix start was almost a disaster when he stalled his engine off the line and eventually got going several minutes behind the field. But when heavy rain washed the AVUS track shortly after, Caracciola was given a second chance; as the more seasoned drivers ahead of him careened off the road, Caracciola pressed on, unaware of his position but determined to finish, and after twenty laps he emerged astonished from the dense fog and rain to find himself as the winner of the first-ever German Grand Prix. The press hailed him as the Regenmeister, or “Rainmaster”, and a winning partnership between Caracciola and Mercedes-Benz was born.

Rudolf Caracciola navigating the spray en route to victory at the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix. Courtesy of Daimler AG.

Rudolf Caracciola’s performance at the 1926 German Grand Prix was a prime example of the racing legend he was well on his way to becoming—one who would be remembered for his supreme ability and resolve in even the most challenging circumstances, and for the integral part he played in the pre-war successes of the Silver Arrows.

Caracciola was born in 1901 in Remagen, Germany, and like most early Grand Prix drivers came from a background of wealth and class: his ancestors were of the historic House of Caracciola, a prominent family in the Naples aristocracy whose members included princes, politicians, artists and clerics. Aided by such an upbringing, it wasn’t long before the young Rhinelander had developed a fierce passion for motoring, and by the age of fourteen—despite pressure from his father to attend university—he was already set on a future as a professional racing driver.

His first opportunity to realise that dream came when he took up an apprenticeship at the Fafnir factory in Aachen, and he found success as early as his first races for the company in finishing fourth at AVUS and first at the Opelbahn in 1922. But it was in the following year, after a brawl with an occupying Belgian soldier forced Caracciola to relocate to Dresden, that the German really began to make his mark on the European motoring world: finding new work as a Daimler salesman, Caracciola was allowed to enter up-to-date Mercedes touring cars in prestigious events across Germany, and went on to take numerous rally and hillclimb wins before his infamous German Grand Prix victory in 1926.

From then on, Caracciola’s star continued to ascend. Using the prize money from his first Grand Prix win, he married his girlfriend Charlotte and opened up a Mercedes-Benz dealership of his own in Berlin—all the while continuing to race state-of-the-art Mercedes’ tourers across Europe, in races such as Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, and the first Grand Prix of Monaco in 1929. He secured his second and third German Grand Prix wins at the Nürburgring in 1928 and ’31 (the latter requiring those same wet weather skills that took him to victory at AVUS in ’26) and also displayed his prodigious talents outside of circuit racing with two European Hillclimb titles in 1930 and ’31 and overall victory in the 1931 Mille Miglia.

Caracciola in his Mercedes-Benz SSK during the Schwabenberg round of the 1930 European Hillclimb Championship. Courtesy of Daimler AG.

In 1932 Caracciola was forced to move to Alfa Romeo, after the Wall Street Crash and resulting global economic depression drove Mercedes to withdraw from motorsport altogether. Alfa Romeo was easily one of the most respected teams of the era and, as the dominant force in Grand Prix racing that year, enabled Caracciola to score podiums in Monaco, Italy and France, as well as a fourth win in Germany and a third consecutive hillclimb title.

But although the partnership was a fruitful one, it was far from harmonious. Alfa Romeo would initially only offer Caracciola a contract as an independent entrant, as the marque doubted his capacity to adapt from his old Mercedes-Benz tourers to their lighter Italian cars; even when he was promoted to the works team, his finishes behind Italian teammates Tazio Nuvolari and Baconin Borzacchini were plagued by accusations of team favouritism. Compared with his close, respectful relationship with Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer, Caracciola’s time at Alfa Romeo was undeniably one of intense strain, and proved to be just the beginning of a period of great personal trial for the German.

Caracciola (centre) with Mercedes manager Alfred Neubauer (left) and engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut (right). Courtesy of Daimler AG.

Just a year after joining Alfa Romeo, Caracciola found himself without a seat once again when the Italian marque followed Mercedes in pulling its factory squad from competition. His response was to join forces with friend and fellow racer Louis Chiron and set up Scuderia C.C., a privateer entry built around three blue-and-white Alfa Romeo 8Cs and a Daimler-Benz truck to transport them—but at the first race of the year in Monaco, Caracciola’s brakes failed in practice and he was sent hurtling into the wall at Tabac, suffering an impact that destroyed his car and left the German with a badly fractured right thigh.

After doctors at the local hospital doubted he would ever race again, Caracciola was determined to defy them and spent the rest of the year recovering in private in Italy and Switzerland. But even as his leg began to heal, he was hit by an even greater tragedy when his wife was killed in an avalanche whilst skiing in the Swiss Alps; under the pain of his injuries and his grief, Caracciola retired in mourning from public life and all but abandoned his racing career.

That may well have proved the end of Rudolf Caracciola’s story, had it not been for the efforts of his one-time teammate Louis Chiron. During their years as racing rivals, the Monegasque had developed a close bond with Caracciola and continued to visit him through his isolation, and it was during one of those visits that Chiron persuaded Caracciola to drive the lap of honour before the 1934 Monaco Grand Prix—and despite still suffering considerable pain in his right leg, the experience of returning to a Grand Prix circuit was enough to ignite Caracciola’s flame for racing once again.

Caracciola (far right) with Mercedes-Benz teammates Manfred von Brauchitsch, Richard Seaman and Hermann Lang (left to right), and Alfred Neubauer (back). Courtesy of Daimler AG.

As if by design, Caracciola’s return to the track coincided with the revival of the Mercedes-Benz racing team, which in 1934 was making its way back to the top of Grand Prix racing as the global economy recovered. In April of that year Caracciola had his first taste of the new Mercedes challenger, the supercharged W25, in an AVUS test session; and even in the face of numerous setbacks (chiefly mechanical issues with the W25 and a right leg that, once healed, was now two inches shorter than the left) the Rainmaster proved that he had lost none of his skill in his brief retirement, finishing second at the Spanish Grand Prix and first in the Klausenpass hillclimb before the end of the season.

The following year, Caracciola made a triumphant return to the top of the rostrum when he won in sweltering heat in Tripoli, his first Grand Prix victory since 1932. This marked the beginning of Mercedes-Benz dominance in the European Championship, and over the course of 1935 Caracciola took his W25 to further wins in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain as well as collecting a third place in Germany—with the trauma of his Monaco crash clearly behind him, Rudolf Caracciola was firmly back where he belonged and was all but unchallenged in becoming the 1935 European Drivers’ Champion.

The Rainmaster began his title defence in characteristic style in 1936 by winning the torrential opening round in Monaco, but over the duration of the season the W25 proved second-best to the new Auto Union Type C, and Caracciola lost the title by some margin to countryman Bernd Rosemeyer. Their championship battle sparked an intense rivalry between the two Germans both on and off the track, one which saw a flashpoint at the 1936 Swiss Grand Prix when the stewards ordered Caracciola to cede position to Rosemeyer in punishment for being too aggressive in his defence of the lead.

Caracciola (second) behind teammate Hermann Lang, and leading Bernd Rosemeyer and Hans Peter Müller of the Auto Union at the Nürburgring in 1937. Courtesy of Daimler AG.

For 1937, spurred on by their loss to Auto Union the previous year, Mercedes-Benz introduced the brand-new W125. With an eight-cylinder, 5.6-litre engine capable of producing over 600 BHP, the W125 was considered the most powerful race car ever built—and with Grand Prix engine capacity limited to just 3,000cc the following year, that became a title it would hold until the introduction of turbo-charged engines to Formula One in the 1980s.

Emboldened by the might of his new Mercedes-Benz challenger, Caracciola put the frustration of 1936 behind him in convincing fashion, winning three of the ’37 season’s five championship Grands Prix to reclaim his European title. He followed up his racing success by taking a streamlined W125 to the Frankfurt–Darmstadt Autobahn, and taking aim at the previous road speed records set by Auto Union’s Hans Stuck and Rosemeyer—to this date, the average speed of 432.7 km/h (269.9 mph) set by Caracciola over a flying kilometre remains the fastest ever speed recorded on a public road.

Mercedes-Benz then continued its Grand Prix dominance in 1938 with the W154, a new design built to match the reduced 3.0-litre engine formula. Caracciola opened the season with second place in a Mercedes 1-2-3 in France, and took another two podiums and victory in Switzerland—again in the wet—to secure his third and final European Drivers’ title, sealing his legacy as the most successful driver in the championship’s history; Mercedes-Benz also finished the season with each of its drivers occupying the top four positions in the final standings.

Caracciola leading the rain-soaked 1938 Swiss Grand Prix in his Mercedes-Benz W154. Courtesy of Daimler AG.

Despite the great heights achieved by both parties that season, 1938 turned out to be the final chapter of Caracciola’s and Mercedes-Benz’ Grand Prix success story. The 1939 championship was abandoned after the outbreak of war in September, and with Hermann Paul Müller leading a fightback for Auto Union, Caracciola could only manage one final career win—fittingly that was a sixth German Grand Prix win at the Nürburgring, making him the last German to win a home Grand Prix until Michael Schumacher in 1995, and still the most successful driver in that event’s history.

During the Second World War, Caracciola and his new wife Alice lived in exile in Lugano, Switzerland, during which time the injuries to his right leg returned to pain him. In 1946 he was invited to take part in the Indianapolis 500 in a loaned Thorne Engineering Special, but was struck on the head by a bird during practice and crashed into the south wall, leaving him with severe concussion and in a coma for several days. He returned to active racing six years later when Mercedes-Benz invited him back to drive a 300SL in the 1952 Mille Miglia, in which he finished fourth despite being given an inferior engine to his teammates Hermann Lang and Karl Kling; but in that same year, a heavy accident at the Grand Prix of Berne resulted in a fractured left leg and forced him into retirement for good. In 1959, after enduring a variety of serious illnesses, Caracciola suffered a fatal liver failure and died at the age of 58.

Caracciola and co-driver Peter Kurrle at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz 300SL in the 1952 Mille Miglia. Courtesy of Daimler AG.

Though his story may not be as widely known as those of later Formula One legends, there is no doubt that Rudolf Caracciola is a name that deserves to be remembered. He was a driver of unparalleled skill, possessing the same calculated resolve as Niki Lauda or Fernando Alonso, the formidable versatility of Graham Hill, and with a flair for wet weather driving to rival the great Ayrton Senna; moreover, his legacy includes speed records and a tally of six German Grand Prix wins that still have yet to be surpassed nearly eighty years on.

In the words of his Mercedes manager Alfred Neubauer, Rudolf Caracciola was “the greatest driver of the twenties and thirties, perhaps even of all time. He combined, to an extraordinary extent, determination with concentration, physical strength with intelligence. Caracciola was second to none in his ability to triumph over shortcomings.”

Nico Rosberg – A lesson in bravery

“Brave”, a word that is readily and correctly used to describe Formula 1 drivers and their exploits on the track, essentially being strapped in to the motoring equivalent of a rocket ship. But sometimes, that word exits the apex and extends beyond the track in an unexpected way. A part of our Mercedes F1 tribute week, we look at the brave decision taken by reigning world champion, Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg shook the F1 world at the end of the 2016 season, announcing his immediate retirement from the sport, soon after he secured his maiden F1 drivers title. It was a season of attrition and hard work that saw a toe to toe, wheel to wheel fight for the title, gripping fans worldwide. After a season like that, only those privy to his decision could have expected the retirement.
The inevitable media and fan analysis began with certain sectors mumbling less than flattering comments. Rosberg is an intelligent and astute man and would no doubt have foreseen this and the fact that it may have, for a short time at least, slightly overshadowed the title win. Given the social media storm, media leanings and the fact that a decision like his was relatively unprecedented in the modern era, Rosberg’s decision was brave.
While many may argue that brave might be proverbially stretching things, consider this:
1. Rosberg’s history
2. The weight of the 2016 season
3. The social media discussion

HISTORY
Rosberg’s history is well known, the world champion was regarded as one of the hardest working and intelligent drivers on the circuit. While much as been written about him being the son of a world champion, Mercedes themselves would be the first to confirm that Rosberg was instrumental in the development of the Silver Arrows on their return to the sport.
However, it was his childhood friend and teammate that took the title with Mercedes and Rosberg fine-tuned his thinking for the 2016 season. We simply saw a different mindset, a focused determination and strength of purpose with one goal in mind; the championship.

2016

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona. Spain.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

This made for a titanic fight between him and Lewis Hamilton, coming to a head in Spain and causing tension both on and off the track. The social media backlash against Rosberg was especially harsh with many unpalatable comments being thrown about. Accusations of underhanded tactics were paired like a wine with conspiracy theories, all unfounded of course.
He however continued to focus on his goal, which came to fruition at the end of the season – Nico Rosberg was finally World Champion. Having endured many jokes, memes and media probes, Rosberg could finally join his father in that special club of champions.
Then came the announcement, a decision that he had taken and revealed to only those he was closest too. He would have achieved his goal and did not require anything further.

SOCIAL MEDIA STORM
Media, regular and social alike, erupted with opinions after the initial shock with reactions as diverse as the paddock itself. Many happily understood his reasons, related to his personal goals and family. However, it was inevitable that just as many, speculated that Rosberg could not defend his title or that he was somehow afraid to take on his teammate in 2017 and so on. Rosberg, who had endured many personal aspersions, would have foreseen this and how it would forever be linked to his title win.
Tweets and other social postings referred to him as “afraid of his teammate’s comeback in 2017” or “he won’t beat him again and he knows it” to more personal character related comments which we will not repeat, save for saying that it would make a sailor blush.
Yet he still had to conviction of character to take an unprecedented decision, retire immediately, despite what the F1 world would say, think, and record. Brave decision.

Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

LIFE AFTER F1
Driving the dominant car and being crowned champion would make tempt any driver to stay on for more; another title and a chance to go wheel to wheel with the best again. But Rosberg is not your ordinary driver, he never has been.
Rosberg had set himself the goal of being a champion and achieved it in a season that caused deep division in the F1 world, often erupting into a war on and off the track. He waded through the murky waters and faced even more after his announcement. And yet he was unfazed, basking in his deserved success and committing to his role as a Mercedes ambassador.
While the less than flattering terms were being thrown about, Rosberg stuck firm, he was not retiring because he did not have “what it took” or because he had lost his passion, he retired because he wanted to. He accepted something that at times some drivers are reluctant and perhaps slightly afraid of; there is life outside of F1.
Psychology speaks about the strength of mind it takes to walk away from success and Rosberg, we would argue, displayed this in a way that we may not see for some time, he walked away while he had even more to gain. Some may argue that he had just as much to lose, a consideration which may be correct, however Rosberg has never changed his reasoning, he had nothing to lose because he achieved his personal goal, it was all he needed.
Brave we would argue is his step away from the paddock that he called home for years, with the rumblings about his reasoning not, as far as we know, affecting him, or causing him to waiver.
In taking such a step, Rosberg was unbowed and brave simply saying to the world, I have done all I need, on my own terms and I will leave the same way, despite what many may think. Stepping down in one’s prime is a decision that cannot be made easily and requires a certain something special to do. We would say that is brave.

Mercedes Week – The quiz

How good do you know Mercedes F1 history? Check it out and share with us your result!

Welcome to your Mercedes Week Quiz

How many drivers have became the world champion in Mercedes colours?

In 1994 Mercedes came back to F1 as an engine manufacturer. What team did Mercedes supply?

After what accident did the team withdraw from the sport?

In what season did Mercedes return to F1?

What is popular nickname for the Mercedes F1 cars?

During which season & at what race did Mercedes take their first ever win?

In 2009 Mercedes purchased a team, which team was it?

In what race did Michael Schumacher take the last pole position of his career?

Since what year is Toto Wolf the head of motorsport for Mercedes Benz?

In which year did Mercedes manage 11 one-two finishes?

 

Mercedes in 2017: Fourth time unlucky?

2017 marks the first year of Formula 1’s hybrid era where Mercedes have not had an advantage that sets them ahead of the rest of the field by a country field. After achieving three consecutive constructor’s championships, might Mercedes and their dominant winning ways finally be coming to an end?

Though we are only eight races into the 2017 season, with another twelve races yet to be contested, it is clear that it is far from the same old story for the German team. By this point last year, Mercedes had won all but one of the races – their one loss an anomaly after the collision between Rosberg and Hamilton in Barcelona – and would go on to win nineteen out of the twenty-one races. It is already impossible for them to hold onto such an impressive win percentage.

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

It was in Melbourne at the season opener that we saw the first glimpses that Mercedes might have lost their grip on the dominance that they have enjoyed for the past three years. Though Ferrari had outperformed them in terms of ultimate pace in testing, it is always impossible to say whether form will carry over from Spain to Australia. Though Mercedes won pole position Down Under, clearly hanging onto their superiority in putting together a blindingly fast qualifying lap. It was in race pace that they found Ferrari could match them.

Ultimately, it was strategy, and Vettel’s use of the undercut that won the race for them, as well as Hamilton struggles in passing Verstappen, despite his higher speed. This was the first sign that a disadvantage of the new Mercedes package might be its struggles to run in dirty air.

China saw Mercedes back on top, with a grand slam for Hamilton, but Bottas finished a little way down the order in sixth. It was enough for Mercedes to take the lead in the constructor’s championship by a single point. Again there was no denying that the Mercedes engine is as impressive as it has been since the hybrid era began, but the question still remained of whether or not that would be enough to carry them to a fourth consecutive title. Had they got a handle on all aspects of the new regulations; which was always going to be the biggest challenge for them in 2017.

Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

The pendulum swung away from them in Bahrain, and it seemed as though the pattern for the season was set. But it was in Russia, where Valtteri Bottas would win – the first of his career – where it became apparent that Mercedes struggle to get the new Pirelli tyres within the correct operating window. Unfortunately for them, this is something Ferrari have a much better time dealing with.

This problem didn’t seem to hinder them in Spain where Mercedes managed to win with Hamilton thanks to smart tyre strategy, but it returned to haunt them in Monaco. Both drivers, but especially Hamilton, struggled for grip and getting their tyres up to temperature.

Whether it is a setup issue that the team have yet to get on top of, or the design of the car which hinders them from extracting the maximum from the new Pirelli tyres, only time will tell. While it is something the whole grid seems to have trouble with, the fact that it affects Mercedes’ closest rivals Ferrari far less will undoubtedly prove to be crucial.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

Hamilton’s sixty-fifth career pole in Canada left no doubt that Mercedes have the one lap advantage over the rest of the field, especially at circuits, such as the one on the Île Notre-Dame, which suit the Silver Arrows. But with a one-two for Mercedes followed by a distant Ricciardo in third, after problems for Ferrari, it was one race where they weren’t really under pressure. But it does show that they know how to capitalise on the mistakes of their rivals, and gain the most from such moments.

In the grand scheme of things, Azerbaijan was an outlier for all the teams in terms of gauging their performances. It was always going to be a track that suited the Mercedes engine, and the huge margin Hamilton and Bottas had in qualifying proved just that. But with such a disrupted race, it is impossible to say whether, in normal circumstances, their race pace would have held up.

Bottas’ impressive drive from the back of the grid to second place does suggest that Mercedes might have found a way around their troubles of driving in traffic. Especially compared to the first race of the season in Australia where Hamilton had great difficulty overtaking Verstappen in a much less powerful car.

Where the German team seems to be lacking is in their understanding of these new specification Pirelli tyres, and how their cars run in dirty air. But all things considered, these do not detract from the face that Mercedes have once again produced a package which is more than capable of winning the world championship. The only difference this year is that they are not the only team to have done so.

With Ferrari closer to them than they ever have been before in the hybrid era, it is the little things that matter most. A small mistake during a pit stop, a single lock up in qualifying, a clumsy start; these things are now the difference between winning races .And as the season wears on, these things will become the difference between losing and winning the all important constructors and drivers’ championships.

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
BY COURTESY OF PIRELLI

In the past three years, Mercedes, thanks to their unbeatable machinery, rarely faced such pressure from their fellow competitors. It is entirely possible that they made these small errors but they went unnoticed because of the lack of impact on the bigger picture. Dealing with an inter-team battle is wholly different to an intra-team rivalry.

So far in 2017 Mercedes have dealt with this pressure with composure expected of world champions, but it hasn’t been entirely smooth running – as Sebastian Vettel’s lead in the drivers’ standings proves. If they are to make it to four in a row, they will need technical supremacy, first-rate performances from their drivers, and perhaps just a little bit of good fortune.