One of the stories of 2014 has been Mercedes’ utter dominance of the field. After three years of settling for 6th places behind McLaren, Lotus, Ferrari, and Red Bull, the silver arrows are back where they used to be. And they’ll be there for a long time. This years WO5 is probably one of the most well built, designed, and carefully engineered foundations that Formula 1 has ever produced since the Brawn GP BGP01 – both of which were designed by Ross Brawn.
You only get a car that is designed with longevity in mind once in Formula 1, which is why you need to capitalise as a team and as a driver when it gets handed to you. From a teams point of view, we can see Mercedes are in this for the long haul.
After announcing a “multi-year” deal with oil and lubricants company Petronas over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Dr Dieter Zetsche, revealed that the Mercedes car company board did have discussions as to whether or not they are benefiting from F1, ultimately agreeing to commit “long term to the sport.”
That long term commitment to Formula 1 is likely going to bring them at least two championships without too much of a challenge from the other teams on the grid. Mark my words, Mercedes have entered this new era of Formula 1 with Red Bull-esq dominance in mind. And after lapping the entire field in Spain up to Fernando Alonso, the strong driver lineup that consists of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton was always going to be the final ingredient for the recipe of success for the Brackley-based outfit.
As history tells us however, there is always a problem when you pair two drivers with the same piece of competitive kit. Tensions have been brewing in camp Mercedes for a while now. With stories of secret engine modes being used to defend the lead of a race, when it was already agreed between the team and drivers that they would not be used, the on-camera friendship between Lewis and Nico has slowly started to turn into fierce and bitter competitiveness.
From what went from “Nico and I have known each other for a long, long time. Everything’s cool between us” to “We’re not friends, we’re colleagues,” in the space of two races, shows how much of an impact what went on behind closed doors has effected one-anothers attitude.
Do you think Lewis was really late to Practice One in Monaco on Thursday morning? I don’t think so. In fact it was perfect timing, as he arrived at the garage just as Rosberg was ready to go out to do his installation lap. Then there was not accepting Nico’s apology for causing the Yellow Flag in Qualifying, which even the data showed was a mistake. One could say it was premeditated, but from the onboards it just looked like he was overdriving the car – much like his mistakes in China.
“The tension is building up, no question,” said Mercedes nonexecutive chairman Niki Lauda in an interview with The Guardian. “We have to make sure that it doesn’t get out of hand. And I know with my experience when it gets out of hand. So if they don’t say hello to each other in the morning any more, I think it’s out of hand.”
I’d say we’re already at that level. Nico and Lewis clearly aren’t interested in each other any more when they get out of the cars in Parc Ferme. The camaraderie the pair shared in Bahrain has all but dissolved, with Lewis making it clear in Monaco that he didn’t think that he got a fair shot at the win, especially after the team did not react to Sutil’s crash which brought out the Safety Car in Monaco.
Mercedes want to get the best result out of the weekend for their two drivers, which of course means having one strategist. They react to who is out in front, and if its Rosberg in the lead then he gets to pit first – and vice versa. This method is something Hamilton is not happy with though, revealing to Sky Sports that he had his own strategist back when he was at McLaren who would do the best for him.
But how do you react to that as Mercedes? As a company, you’re going to stick with the method thats been working, and likely tell your drivers to put up or shut up. Only problem is, F1 drivers have massive egos. They want to be the best, even if it means being the pantomime villein in the process. Chances are, Mercedes are going to let these two battle it out on track.
What I want to know is how is this affecting the development of the car. Back in the Prost and Senna days, it is well known that the pair would still share information in order to still have the winning advantage over their competitors. If their drivers are going to start avoiding each other by turning up late to practice sessions and start using engine modes that both agreed not to used before the race, then it could transcend into the amount of information and feedback they give as a collective. And once that start happening, that 50 second pace advantage will start to slowly crumble as the other teams catch up.
Mercedes have the chance to take at least the next two constructors titles without competition with this team. Both their drivers have multi-year long term contracts with the team. Just this weekend Rosberg reportedly extended his commitments with the team through the 2016 season. And with the amount of investment that has went into getting the team this close to winning, the last thing Mercedes wants is for both drivers to start falling out.
As such, it will be interesting to see how both Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda are able to respond to this. Out of the two, I’d say the latter has the experience in this area to be able to deal with the drivers properly and frank. But I’d say Toto knows how to deal with this so it doesn’t affect the team as a whole, because that unity when it matters is really what will keep both Lewis and Nico punctual to debriefs and pre-race meetings. That – ultimately – will keep these two on top for a long time.