Mercedes are most dominant F1 team since 1998

2014 F1 season

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Mercedes are currently enjoying a greater margin of superiority over their F1 rivals than any team has done in almost 16 years.

They are further ahead of the chasing pack than Red Bull were during their period of supremacy in recent seasons, and have a more comfortable lead than Ferrari had in the early 2000s.

Not since McLaren made a crushing start to the 1998 season with their MP4-13 has a team shown up with a car that’s as competitive as the Mercedes W05. Mercedes had a hand in that success as well, supplying McLaren with their V10 engines.

Over the first five races of 2014 Mercedes were 0.82% quicker than their closest competitors on average, based on the lap times from all the sessions at each race weekend. That’s worth more than seven-tenths of a second over a typical 90-second lap.

To put that into perspective, it’s more than 50% higher than Red Bull’s margin of superiority at the end of last year, during the spell which saw Sebastian Vettel win nine races in a row.

Here’s how Mercedes’ advantage over the first five races of the year compares to similar averages achieved by the most dominant teams in recent F1 history (race numbers in brackets):

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It’s possible Mercedes are actually even further ahead than they look. Wet conditions on Saturday at Australia, Malaysia and China probably served to mask some of their advantage.

Spain was the first time this year the drivers qualified in dry conditions on a high downforce track typical of much of the rest of the calendar – and Mercedes were further ahead than ever. Their nearest rivals – Red Bull – were 1.053s slower around the Circuit de Catalunya.

So far Mercedes have done a near-flawless job of converting their performance advantage into points. None of their rivals have managed to finish a race in front of a Mercedes so far.

They have won five out of five races and four of those were one-twos – only Lewis Hamilton’s engine failure in Australia prevented them from achieving a clean sweep. Compare that to McLaren’s form in 1998:

1998 First Second Third
Australian Grand Prix Mika Hakkinen, McLaren David Coulthard, McLaren, +0.702 Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Williams, +1 lap
Brazilian Grand Prix Mika Hakkinen, McLaren David Coulthard, McLaren, +1.102 Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, +1’00.550
Argentinian Grand Prix Michael Schumacher, Ferrari Mika Hakkinen, McLaren, +22.898 Eddie Irvine, Ferrari, +57.745
San Marino Grand Prix David Coulthard, McLaren Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, +4.554 Eddie Irvine, Ferrari, +51.775
Spanish Grand Prix Mika Hakkinen, McLaren David Coulthard, McLaren, +9.439 Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, +47.095
2014 First Second Third
Australian Grand Prix Nico Rosberg, Mercedes Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, +26.777 Jenson Button, McLaren, +30.027
Malaysian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +17.313 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, +24.534
Bahrain Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +1.085 Sergio Perez, Force India, +24.067
Chinese Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +18.062 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, +23.604
Spanish Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 0.636 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +49.014

Another one-two for Mercedes in Monaco would make them the first team to do win five-in-a-row since Ferrari in 2002. Mercedes have also led every lap of the first five races of the year, something which last happened in 1992.

History gives some encouragement to Mercedes’ rivals as Ferrari were able to catch up with McLaren in terms of performance and both championship battles went down to the final race.

However even if they do get on terms with Mercedes’ pace soon they will find it much harder to catch them in the championship than it was 16 years ago, as points finishes are worth much more than they used to be. Third place, for example, is worth 50% more relative to a win than it used to be (60% instead of 40%). Though of course we do have the super bonus double points season finale bonanza this year.

But if the prospect of a threat to Mercedes coming from outside the team seems remote, we have at least enjoyed some close races between Hamilton and Rosberg in Bahrain and Spain. That’s more than can be said for many of the other occasions in recent history when one team has found itself with a massive performance advantage.

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Images © Bridgestone, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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67 comments on “Mercedes are most dominant F1 team since 1998”

  1. Another one-two for Mercedes in Monaco would make them the first team to do so since Ferrari in 2002.

    To do what? Get 5 out of 6 1-2s?

    1. To get five 1-2s in a row obviously

      1. To get 1-2 in Monaco, actually

      2. Maybe you commented after the text was updated, but nothing in it previously indicated that it was talking about consecutive 1-2s.

  2. Shows what an incredible effort it was for Schumi to beat the Maccas at Buenos Aires.

  3. What about Brawn in 2009?

    1. Over the first five races of the year their margin was actually negative: -0.02%. So they were not on this kind of level.

      Remember that was still in the days of race fuel qualifying and it wasn’t uncommon for some other team to post a faster time earlier in qualifying than the Brawns did, then when they put their race fuel loads in for the race that was when Brawn would come to the front.

      And of course at md-season Red Bull came on strong and took Brawn’s place as the quickest team. They’ll be hoping for a repeat of that…

      1. @keithcollantine How soon do you think teams will start looking at 2015? I’d almost think it would be time for Ferrari to do so…

        1. @xtwl
          Since the rules should remain stable towards 2015, I cannot imagine any team giving up on this years car. Most of what they learn this year, will carry over directly to next year.
          Unless they want to do a McLaren and ditch a working concept and start from scratch like they did with their 2013 car. Which was obviously a great success…

          1. @mads I was thinking about indeed changing some stuff radically. Like the nose for example. It’s hard to tell but Mercedes seems to have one that works very well.

          2. @xtwl
            Well in that case, giving up early would probably make sense, and then for this year focus on engine / gearbox / braking.
            But of cause that depends on the teams desire to do this radical change.

        2. The double points jamboree might change all that – so it could achieve something positive (probably unintended). 16 points for a 6th place at Abu Dhabi may make a huge difference to a team’s prize money. Wonder if anyone will bring a new car, or at least major updates, for that race?

        3. @xtwl
          Ferrari are already thinking in 2015, the “666” project has already began in Maranello under James Allison supervision because it seems that the F14T (the last “orphan” Ferrari from cologne) has a conceptual defect (the tiny sidepods) that is impossible to correct. The first let’s say beta version of the new Ferrari will be present probably in Canada or in Silverstone and then Ferrari will decide if they will continue developing the current car or dedicate all the resources to the 2015 car

        4. @xtwl read what @tifoso1989 said that’s what most motorsports outlets have reported, and even Ferrari’s own Horse Whisperer talked about it.

      2. @keithcollantine
        Do you think Merc will win every race for this season?.
        I think they will and that’s not good for F1.
        Talk about RBR dominance is nothing compared to Merc.

    2. For comparison; Brawn GP; 2009:

      1,2 (AUS)
      1,5 (MAL)
      3,4 (CHN)
      1,5 (BHR)
      1,2 (ESP)
      1,2 (MON)

  4. its all an artificial advange caused by engines being homologated far too early. they are likely to break every record in the book this year. Hamilton will probably win more races in a season then anyone before. the only thing that will stop them winning every pole position and every race is mechanical failure or driver error. this is the new great f1.

    1. If the engine’s such an unfair advantage, explain McLaren’s performance.

      1. Martin Whitmarsh

        1. Bazinga! :-)

      2. Mclaren have built a car worse then last year, that is the answer

        1. I don’t think this answer, however popular, is good enough. McLaren is getting lapped by a car with the same engine, which is in turn burying the field. To ascribe it to just McLaren have a crummy chassis, you have to believe that McLaren have produced by far the worst chassis in their history, perhaps in the recent generation of the sport for any team. And at the same time you must also believe that the likes of Caterham and Marussia would be beating them soundly but for a Mercedes PU. Neither conclusion passes the laugh test.

          1. @dmw

            To ascribe it to just McLaren have a crummy chassis, you have to believe that McLaren have produced by far the worst chassis in their history, perhaps in the recent generation of the sport for any team.

            Not at all.
            If we assume that Red Bull and Mercedes has a car which is in terms of downforce and traction (before we factor in the more predictable power delivery of the Merc PU).
            Mercedes are between .5 and 1 second faster. So let’s assume that that is the interval in which the difference between the Mercedes PU and the Ferrari/Renault is.
            So when McLaren is 1.5-2 seconds (in Q1, not taking tyres into account) faster then Marrussia, and even 1 second of that (which would be on the large side) is down to the engine, then the McLaren chassis will still be nearly a second quicker then the Marrussia.
            So no, the McLaren doesn’t need to be anywhere near as horrible as you suggest, even if we assume that the Mercedes PU is a second quicker then the others.
            So it is entirely plausible that the McLaren simply is that bad. What else should it be? The engine? Surely not..

      3. Mclaren have built a car worse then last year, that is the answer, you probably already knew that

        1. One thing is for sure, if anyone can beat the Mercs on a dry track on outright pace (just once), it will be one huge achievement!
          I hope more than anything this happens at least once or twice.

      4. @kpcart I think that if engine homologation was a concern in terms of being a stumbling block for teams to catch up to Mercedes we’d be hearing a lot more about that. Instead we have just heard/read Horner stating that Renault ‘simply’ started too late working on this new PU generation, but they are working very hard to catch up.

        Ie. if in fact all teams were handcuffed PU wise to catch Mercedes, Horner would be very vocally decrying F1, FIA, and the homologation regulation, not Renault being slow to start the new PU project vs. Mercedes.

  5. “some close races between Hamilton and Rosberg in Bahrain and China.”
    I believe it’s Bahrain and Spain. @keithcollantine

  6. You should do the 1988 season I would like to see how McLaren did in your graph. They won the first 11 races and 15 out of 16 as close to perfection as any team has gotten, so far anyway. this year may change that, although I hope not. @keithcollantine

  7. “we have at least enjoyed some close races between Hamilton and Rosberg” This is the key fact and the reason why I personally think that this season is not boring as the Red Bull or Ferrari domination use to be. I mean to give a team orders when it’s necessary I can understand that, but give an order in fifth or sixth race it’s unacceptable especially when the leading driver is dominating previous races as was the case with Michael and Rubens in Austria 2002 for example.

  8. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    16th May 2014, 14:04

    The only way anyone else will have a chance is if:
    A) Heavy rain in the race (and even then the Mercs are still the best)

    B) Both experience reliability issues.

    C) They hit each other while battling for the lead.

    Other than that, I can’t see anyone getting anywhere near them for the rest of the season, let alone beating them.

    1. A safety car at Monaco, during qualification or the race, or rain anywhere else could easily cause problems for one or both Mercedes drivers.

      Another question that I haven’t seen raised, though is: wouldn’t it actually be in Hamilton’s favour for Red Bull, say, to get closer and split the Mercedes, i.e. put some distance positions between him and Rosberg? Obviously that assumes Hamilton will continue to be faster in qualifying and faster in most races (or much further away from Rosberg when he manages the fastest set-up, compared to when Rosberg has a better set-up). A risky situation perhaps but with a DNF causing so much damage to the points tally when Mercedes finish 1-2, perhaps it wouldn’t be all bad for Hamilton at least if the other teams became more competitive at some point later in the season.

      1. we do’t want Rosberg to have any excuse for being beaten, let him keep his second position!

      2. Either way Hamilton will have a fun time as he likes intense racing . The trick is to not get carried away by the pressure…but yeah easy for me type on a screen .

    2. And if all else fails:
      D) Put tyre spikes onto the track half way through the race when the two Mercs are leading lol

  9. I watched since 1996 and would say the w05 is the most dominant i have seen followed by 2002 fez. Not scientific, but i also think using all times is misleading too. Maybe use qualy gaps for light qualy years, and fastest laps otherwise…. its so hard to compare eras but the victory rate and security of w05 is striking….

  10. History gives some encouragement to Mercedes’ rivals as Ferrari were able to catch up with McLaren in terms of performance and both championship battles went down to the final race.

    But 2014 homologated engine policy prevent that.

    1. @ruliemaulana It didn’t stop Lotus going from Q1 rejects in Australia to ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes and Red Bull last Saturday, and it didn’t stop Ferrari finding (according to Vettel) an extra 7kph in China thanks to a new fuel mixture.

      1. You are saying it yourself: behind Mercedes. Yes they are getting more performance out of the engines, that is true.

        The bigger picture though is that the scope of development is much less – back in those days several seconds could be found over the whole season. At best the cars nowadays will be 1.5s faster.

      2. @keithcollantine & @turbof1
        I’m not against homologated engine policy. I think its one of best strategy to reduce cost. But having that too early on new engine regulation year has cripple Ferrari and Renault development capacity to catch Mercedes up.
        Mercedes deserved their early advantage but for me leaving some space to other team to be more competitive engine wise is necessary.

        1. If there is no homologation, what makes you think the gap will only shrink? It could very well widen even further. What then?

          1. People should stop crying over engine for mecerdes bringing better performance, I would love to see Mclaren, force india, williams (which use the same engine) giving mercedes a run for their money but it is redbull (renault) which seems closer to doing that!! I do think the W05 is more than just the engine as it has beaten every other car on the grid both in dry, wet races, high down-force tracks…….it cant just be a coincedence, there must be something more. I do think Lotus is beginning to get it right and they are going to beat some teams to trying to close the gap on mercedes

          2. @sigwa
            If you think that Mercedes AMG will supply the exact same PU to their customer then you’re wrong. It is true that the rules forces engine supplier to sell their customers with the same hardware they’re using, but how about software ? how about lubricants and fuel? It’s possible that Mercedes is supplying their customers with basic software versions and with basic fuel versions. Shell has developed this year more than 40 type of fuel to the Ferrari PU, in China the improvement of Ferrari in terms of top speed were down to Shell’s efforts and i doubt that Marussia or Sauber are running the same fuel as Ferrari.
            Another thing Mercedes customer teams were surprised by the clever turbo/separation solution which have many advantages in weight distribution because they have already designed the chassis while Mercedes AMG were designing the chassis alongside that super compact PU

          3. i think they are allowed to improve engines for next year, but cannot do it during the year. I remember Mercedes saying they already started working on next version of this engine and pretty sure other 2 are too.

          4. @tifoso1989 if they wanted to they could, each group has their own fuel company for the most part backing them. If McLaren felt that Petronas is a better viable option to Mobile1 they’d pay for it. A group that is probably bigger than Petronas has as much resource if not more to help McLaren get as much out of the engine as possible. Also the teams are allowed to use their own mapping or that of the provider (mercedes). The electronics used are by McLaren for everyone, so in essence you spouting the notion that every other Merc PU customer is at a disadvantage is ludicrous. So I guess McLaren leave the good electronics for them and just give everyone else the decent stuff?

            How about people stop taking away from the engineers because they don’t know the names of the people as well as they know the name Newey. Bob Bell (before he left) is a well known engineer in F1, Aldo Costa, Nick Fry, and most importantly Paddy Lowe. There is a reason Mercedes bought up a ton of engineers and it wasn’t to mold a brick around the new PU, the results are now being shown and people want to deny them that because they can’t except who they’re taking away from (Ferrari, Macca, RBR)

          5. @magillagorilla

            If McLaren felt that Petronas is a better viable option to Mobile1 they’d pay for it

            I didn’t meant to say that Petronas fuel is betther than Mobile1 fuel, the thing is that Petronas is a Mercedes partner so they had access to the PU project details since the start of the project which has given them an advantage over Mobil1 regardless how good are Mobile1 fuel & lubricant.
            Mclaren partnership with Mobile1 in F1 marks its 20th anniversary this year so i doubt that such a strong partnership will be ended just because Petronas produces better fuel (for the reasons i have said) than Mobile1.
            I doubt also that Petronas could partner any top team in F1 as long as Mercedes are fighting at the front let alone this year when they’re having their own championships.

            The electronics used are by McLaren for everyone

            The ECU (engine control unit) is supplied by Mclaren electronics to all the F1 teams, the thing is the teams have to develop their own software, well Mercedes AMG software engineers have been working since the start of the project on how to extract the maximum from that PU, on the other hand and because Mclaren Mercedes partnership is at its final year Mclaren in general were having special treatment from Mercedes to prevent them from knowing any details about the PU that can be transferred to Honda, so again Mclaren are down on the software too (for the reasons that i’ve said)

            Bob Bell (before he left) is a well known engineer in F1, Aldo Costa, Nick Fry, and most importantly Paddy Lowe

            I do recognize that Bob Bell is well know engineer, the R25,R26 designed by Bell are the only F1 cars to win the WCC since 1991 and in their design neither Ross Brawn nor Adrian Newey were involved.
            Paddy Lowe has joined Mercedes midway through 2013 and in that time the PU and the chassis were already designed.Nick Fry is not considered as a top F1 engineer and Aldo Costa records in Minardi then in Ferrari(when he was the technical director) were not outstanding
            A F1 car is a complete package, the W05 is good overall no doubt about it and the Mercedes PU is the benchmark in terms of power but what has enabled (personal opinion) Mercedes to build such a compact car very efficient aerodynamically is that super compact and powerful PU

        2. @tifoso1989 If you had said the last two lines, I would have never said anything against you. Because it’s obvious and it has been said through out that that is the single most reason why Mercedes are better. Because they made the engine in house thus the works team gets quick knowledge and can build a better machine around it. That’s why the aero and mechanical grip package is such a superior form. This is also the same reason why RBR and Ferrari are the top of their engine departments, because they are the works teams. Thus they know what to build around the engine, rather than a group just being powered by it.

          So I give you that.

          The rest of it to me is just conjecture and speculation. Especially your opinion on the engineers.

    2. @ruliemaulana, it should be noted that, whilst the engines did have to be homologated prior to the season, the FIA’s regulations allow the engine manufacturers to upgrade the engines over the course of the season (ostensibly for cost reduction or reliability reasons, but inevitably there will be some aspects that do yield performance gains at the same time).

      Renault have already brought in upgrades beyond just the fuel mixtures (there are reports that Total has brought in a new fuel – although that is in part because the FIA indicated the old fuel mixture was corroding the seals on the fuel flow meter) – Renault brought in a modified control unit that changed the way in which the electric motors operate (which is also part of the reason for Lotus’s improvement in form), and Ferrari seem to have made a few small modifications to the cooling systems on their power units.

      @tifoso1989, the indication is that at least part of the software will be the same between the works team and their customers because of the use of the same standard ECU between teams.

      As for fuel, that potentially is one area where there might be differences between the teams – there have been a few rumours that McLaren are using a different fuel mixture, but that is because the team are blocked from using the fuel mixture Mercedes developed with Petronas due to McLaren’s existing deal with Exxon Mobile.
      Other customer teams, though, do appear to have the same fuel mixture as the works Mercedes team – Williams referred to that when they signed their deal with Petrobras (they declared that they would use Petronas’s specified fuel mixtures this season, but would be supplied by Petrobras from 2015 onwards).

  11. Bahrain and China? @keithcollantine.

    Oh, and that Super Bonus Double Points Season Finale Bonanza thing again!

    1. It makes me chuckle every time he sneaks it into an article :P

      1. +1
        Actually, I just realized that there is still something missing to make it complete: the name of the main sponsor. Something like Fruit-of-the-Loom Super Bonus Double Points Season Finale Bonanza.

    2. So these first 5 races are really only half points, so it’s really only equivalent to two 1-2s in a row for Mercedes so far. Cheer up, Red Bull and Ferrari.

  12. *sigh* Did someone say v10?

  13. super bonus double points season finale bonanza

    I like that. Maybe we can call it “Hyper Super Duper Double Points XR3 GTI RS Turbo 9000” Race

    1. @fer-no65 you forgot to work in an X-Treme!!!

      How about this?

      X-Treme Hyper Super Duper Double-Fire-Breather-Points XR3 GTI Bone-Crusher RS Turbo-Blaster 9000 Awesome Abu Dummy Grand Prix Extravaganza

      1. huehuehue

      2. @us_peter that’s the real deal, man !

  14. Neil (@neilosjames)
    16th May 2014, 16:47

    And McLaren had tyres to help them in 1998. At ”Bridgestone races’, anyway.

    Very impressive from Merc.

  15. Well well…. imagine that the final race with double points may actually decide which Mercedes driver will win the championship!

    1. I doubt it will get to the finale to determine the winner, as long as Rosberg keeps coming second to Hamilton it will done by the 16th race maybe of course excluding the DNF issues.

  16. Let’s say that the double points finale bonanza is next weekend. It’s the last race of the of the year. Despite utterly dominating and lapping other leading teams in the last race, Lewis and Nico crash going into the first corner. Alonso goes on to win. The fact that Alonso could possibly finish higher than Rosberg and only one point away from Hamilton, is baffling. Now this is all theoretical of course, until one day…..

  17. well 1998 was all down to tyres…as was every year from 1998 to 2006.
    In 1998 Mercedes switched to Bridgestone while Ferrari stayed with Goodyear….As soon as Goodyear changed their compound, Ferrari was competitive again and able to win races….that’s the reason why f1 will never have a second tyre supplier again

    1. In 1999 and 2000 all cars drove on Bridgestones

  18. Alejandro lanza
    17th May 2014, 0:48

    I wonder what Vettel would have if he had had a teammate

  19. This years tyres have definitely helped mercedes also, and especially hamilton. Merc cars have never been great with tyre wear. Hamilton was probably the worst of top 4 drivers at tyre management during his f1 career, but exels when the tyres are durable, this year tyre wear is hardly a factor, pirelli have gone too conservative.

  20. Its interesting to see that f2002 and f2004 had obviously smaller advantage to other cars in their season than other so called “dominated cars” in the table above. But all the time we just hear people talking about Ferrari domination in 00-04 with the best ever car….Schumacher made the difference and thats it ;)

  21. What I dont understand is that over the last few years, I’ve heard many people complaining about the red bulls dominating and the sport being boring since we always know that Vettel will win. Now, we have exactly the same situation with Hamilton and the Mercedes, yet its suddenly so much more exciting? This may not be entirely the case here, since I only found this website in January, but in general with people I talk to about the sport, and actually BBC News especially. With this news that Mercedes are the most dominant team since 1998(!!) I’m struggling to understand why this is. While this isn’t really a concern for me, I’ll watch it regardless, I’m curious as to how long this apparent fallacy that this year is more competitive will last.

    1. @redwan I think it’s a bit early to draw that conclusion. Red Bull were the pre-eminent team from mid-2009 until the end of last year; Mercedes have been for five races. That said, the two sub-6/10 races we’ve had so far this year tell me that Hamilton/Mercedes dominance could be just as unpopular as Vettel/Red Bull dominance.

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