Mercedes has taken a grip of Formula One in a way few teams have managed to since the world championship began 65 years ago.
Although Ferrari scored a rare triumph last Sunday, this was only the fifth time Mercedes has been defeated in the 29 races since the beginning of last season.
At the end of 2013 F1 made an instantaneous transition from Red Bull domination to Mercedes domination. The V8 engine era ended with nine consecutive wins for the former, and Mercedes ushered in the new V6 hybrid turbo era with six victories on the bounce.
When Red Bull were doing most of the winning from mid-2009 until the end of 2013, it was not always possible to say with certainty whether they were truly ‘dominating’ in the way previous F1 teams had, such as Williams in 1992-93 and McLaren in 1988-89. But Mercedes’ crushing performance leaves little room for debate, as these new data visualisations show:
Since the return of ‘proper’, low-fuel qualifying at the beginning of 2010, the contest for pole position has been a more reliable indicator of which team had the fastest car over a single lap. And while Mercedes’ monopoly of the top step of the podium over the past year and a half has been dominant, in qualifying they are almost unsurpassed, with Mercedes-powered Williams the only team to have kept them from pole position on a single occasion during that time.
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This doesn’t look like changing any time soon, either: in Hungary they were seven-tenths of a second quicker than anyone in qualifying compared to half a second last year.
But does Ferrari’s latest win give cause for optimism among those hoping to see a bit more variety at the front of the field this year? After all both Mercedes were beaten despite both cars locking out the front row, neither suffering any notable technical problems and without the interference of rain.
That all rests on the question of whether they continue to suffer the kind of poor starts we’ve seen in recent races. Lewis Hamilton has failed to convert pole position into the race lead in the past three grands prix. While only Nico Rosberg was able to benefit from Hamilton’s sluggish getaway on the short run to turn one in Austria, at Silverstone and Hungary both cars stuttered which allowed rival teams into the mix.
Mercedes have revealed they already have one eye on the rules change which comes into effect at the next round of the championship at Spa-Francorcamps in Belgium to curb the amount of coaching drivers can receive to optimise their starts. Hamilton and Rosberg have been using Friday practice sessions to prepare for the coming change.
Sunday’s race gave a reminder that when Ferrari are able to run in clear air they can be a serious threat to Mercedes. The team’s other win this year, in Malaysia, came after a Safety Car period allowed Sebastian Vettel to hit the front of the field early in the race.
Domination of the kind Mercedes has enjoyed since the beginning of last year can only happen when every aspect of a team’s game is strong: performance, reliability, tactics and drivers. Their iffy starts in the past few races will give their rivals some cause for optimism that Mercedes’ dominant days will not last indefinitely – just as none of their predecessors’ did.
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