Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

‘It’s incredible they haven’t won yet’: Is Mercedes dominance over?

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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The first three races of 2018 showed Mercedes face their hardest fight yet to retain their championship titles.

When Valtteri Bottas won the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year it was the team’s 63rd win from the 79 races since the V6 hybrid turbo regulations were introduced. Which explains Red Bull team principal Christian Horner’s surprise at Mercedes’ win-less start to the new season.

“It’s incredible that after three races they haven’t won a grand prix yet,” he said. “They certainly will win races in the near future I’m sure. But it’s inevitable in any sport that there will be cycles.”

After five years of the current engine regulations, have Mercedes now been caught or even passed by their rivals? Or have they got a fundamentally quick car they haven’t been able to get the best out of yet?

Mercedes’ one-lap performance advantage since 2014

2018: first three races only

“Mercedes have still got a very quick car,” Horner pointed out. One-lap pace comparison (above) indicates they have the fastest car overall, albeit only by a small degree, less than last year and nowhere near their high of 2014-16.

But this has to be contrasted with real-world performance. Mercedes has only had one pole position this year, which was a particularly fine effort by Lewis Hamilton on a day when his rivals underperformed. Since then Ferrari have swept the from row for the following races, leading Hamilton to conclude Mercedes is now F1’s second or third-fastest team.

The full picture appears to be a continuation of what we saw last year. Ferrari have raised their game, particularly on the power unit side. They and Mercedes are still unsure how to extract the best from Pirelli’s latest tyres, Mercedes probably more so than Ferrari.

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In China Wolff said the car and tyres were not behaving the way the team expected them to. “You can see when we hit the sweet spot like we did in Melbourne we are very fast,” he said.

“The fundamental base of the car is very good. If you don’t hit the sweet spot, as we didn’t do [on Sunday and Saturday], we’re just too slow.”

Last year Mercedes only won one of the opening three races and that victory, in Shanghai, was arguably aided by the timing of a Safety Car period. As they came to understand their car better and develop it they began to put more daylight between themselves and the competition.

What is encouraging for ‘the neutral’ is that while Red Bull’s pace was disguised in the opening races, China showed they are contenders for victory too.

The next race will be a fascinating indicator of how much Ferrari and Red Bull have closed on Mercedes. Despite not winning their 12 months ago, Baku has been a stronghold for the silver cars in the last two years. They were 1.2 seconds faster than the next-quickest car in 2016 and 1.1 seconds ahead in 2017. How much of a margin do they still have in hand on arguably their strongest venue on the calendar?

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season

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Author information

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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64 comments on “‘It’s incredible they haven’t won yet’: Is Mercedes dominance over?”

  1. As much as I’d like Mercedes dominance to be over, they are still the team to beat. Hamilton had Australia wrapped up until the VSC came out, Bottas comfortably had the pace to win in Bahrain and would have done so if the team had let him off the leash a few laps earlier and Bottas’ blistering pace round the first pitstop meant he had China in his pocket until the safety car came out.

    Circumstances have gone against Mercedes in the first three races, Ferrari and Red Bull are closer and Mercedes weaknesses when fighting other teams for the win have been exposed, but I think they still have a very realistic shot at taking both titles this season.

    1. @geemac I agree and I think we just have to see more races, as obvious as that sounds. I think it could be neck and neck between Ferrari and Merc for much of the year, with RBR there to pick up the pieces, but as it sits with Mercedes being the defending Champions, and given circumstances in the first three races, I’d say their potential to win both Championships is definitely there.

      Is Mercedes dominance over? I think their dominance was less apparent last year until the second half, and this year they may still win but we may not be able to ever call it any degree of dominance. Ie. it’s just way too soon to count them out.

      1. I think you’re underestimating red bull, verstappen made several mistakes this year, but they’re only behind in qualifying (and not behind ferrari in melbourne) and lose time in the straights, but they recover it elsewhere, the little time we had to compare them with mercedes and ferrari they seemed up there.

        Obviously it’s a huge disadvantage to start behind ferrari and merc usually, but in the races they should be able to jump some of them on merit.

    2. Despite the bad luck Mercedes and Hamilton have had in the first three races – two unhelpful safety cars, the gearbox grid penalty – Mercedes is leading the constructors championship and Lewis only 9 points behind Vettel. Over the next 18 races luck will even out and race pace and driver savvy should put Hamilton in a very good position for WDC No. 5.

    3. Well said @geemac, sums it up perfectly.

  2. I expected Mercedes to have China and then Baku in the bag. But given Ferrari’s performance in China and their seeming improvement in straight line speed, I am expecting a real showdown in Baku. It also bodes well for other Mercedes strongholds like Spa, Canada and Monza.

    With the Red Bull’s also being a serious contender that I expect to be punchy in Monaco, Hungary and Singapore, that’s quite a few tracks Mercedes will be on the back foot over. Though I’m still expecting them to dominate Spain, Silverstone, Sochi, Suzuka, Austin, and Abu Dhabi. I’d be shocked if this championship doesn’t go down to the last race.

  3. I thought their dominance was over last year. Ferrari had the better car for the first half of the season, and it was their reliability and inability to develop the car as well as Mercedes that lost them the title. Mercedes was the better car at the end of the season, but I wouldn’t call it a “dominant” force last year.
    Baku should suit then better and they should be fighting for the pole and win, but unlike 2014-2016, there won’t be more than a couple of tenths between them and Ferrari/Red Bull.

    1. @todfod I’m not longer writing it down everytime I see it but please have a look at the first races last year. At no point whatsoever was the Ferrari the better car, realistically they had some races really covered thanks to the car.

      That being said, @geemac explains it very well. And I’m on the same page.

    2. @todfod Agreed. Although Mercedes won both titles again last season, I still consider that the dominance of Mercedes ended at the end of 2016 already as last season’s double wasn’t achieved dominantly like the three preceding ones.

      1. 2017 Mercedes were almost as dominant as 2013’s RB

        Both of those seasons also have in common the increased performance of their lead drivers from halfway point of the season, with Hamilton and Vettel dominating the championship

        1. @johnmilk Well i actually wouldn’t really call the 2013 RB dominant. Yeah, Vettel minced everyone from halfway point onwards, but at no point during the season the car looked like it was far ahead- i mean vettel won 3 races during the first half- that is hardly dominant. The fact that his teamate neither won a race nor took 2nd place in the Championship further indicates that this was not exactly what one would call a dominant car. Look at the great dominant cars in recent history, the FW14bs, the FW15s, the F2002, the F2004, i think it is a completely different category. And then take the 2014-16 mercs, they mince the level of domination these cars had- At least in 2002 or 2004 a second place finish was well on the cards without Ferrari suffering major calamities.
          Yeah i know, the second half of 2013, but at least the way i remember it the Red Bull was faster, but not by an awful lot. They just never openend the door for someone to compromise their tiny speed advantage.

          yes i am aware that Hill was also not 2nd in 1993. But at least he won a couple of races.

          1. @mrboerns my comment was based on the number of races won by each car, hence my choice of words “as dominant as”

            The key as you said, was the finger boy in 2013, and the rapper in 2017

          2. @johnmilk I’d argue it was mostly the finger boy both times- assume he didn’t crash into anybody in Singapore by squeezing his teammate (where have i seen that again?) and ferrari had used proper sparkplucks suffcient to keep p2 in Japan and you end at 360 points. Taking into account that he and Lewis would never share and therefore the rapper wouldn’t have also taken 25 from singapore and you have a fingerboy celebration in Abu Dhabi.

          3. TL,DR: The 2017 merc was even less of a dominant car than the RB 2013 (9?) imho

          4. @mrboerns good point, finger boy driver of the season in both occasions. Do you think he changed the spark-plugs himself?

            where have i seen that again?

            There is hope in me, that one race, sometime soon, Kimi will stick to it, and they will both crash, that would teach him. The only bad thing about this, is that we would have Kimoa saying he performed better than his car because he finished in front of the two Ferraris

          5. interesting, I think I have a nickname for every one of them (puts on thinking face)

          6. Thing with Kimoa is he is also Samurai.
            Also, Conspiracy alert: Mclaren went to Renault power because, having claimed to have the best chassis, Samurai knew he could no longer say with a straight face that he “won” despite having such an awful car, so they could only go for the worst of the ‘normal’ PUs because that way at least he could say he “won” despite having the worst PU that still kinda works!

            They never even asked for Merc engines O.O

          7. @mrboerns wow! that is some deep level insert inappropriate word here

            and by doing so he re-branded McLaren to Kimoa-Renault F1 team, at least it looks like it.

            But the Merc engines, they can be set to explode at crucial times of the season to gift the championship to another driver, maybe that’s another reason not to go with them

            P.S: you know we will get so much (again inappropriate word) for this right? Maybe I can scare them if I keep moaning about it

          8. @johnmilk but the Giveaway (or was it Party Plus?) Mode of the merc is only accesible through Toto’s secret ‘Germany First’ mapping don’t you remember? Only he and the Mechanics that worked on Rosberg’s side of the garage until 2015 know where it is.

          9. @mrboerns oh yes! the Maschinensabotage-Desintegrationskartierung, some say it was hidden on the clutch leaver, that’s why Nico was so good off the line

          10. @johnmilk i hear the trick was swapping the mechanics, as they had to cross-reference the cars’ ECUs, so that, when they gave Nico the ‘Engine Strat DE1′ directive, it would lead to the Rapper’s engine mapping to access the hidden Null-pointer, leading to a segmentation fault in the gearbox- however Toto’s großdeutscher plan almost got foiled when fingerboy got a hint by a mole planted deep within Mercedes’ operations years earlier by ferrari- code name ‘the rat’. But fingerboy’s attempt to stop nico failed and the rest, of course, is history.

          11. German engineering argh!! German engineering!!

            It’s a yoke, a yoke

        2. If i had to draw a line i would say the F2001 is exactly at the edge between a ‘best car’ and a ‘dominating car’

    3. @todfod

      and inability to develop the car as well as Mercedes that lost them the title

      A metropolitan legend that is very popular round the British media btw (Sky Sport mostly). Ferrari has never been out-developed by Mercedes in the second half of the 2017 F1 season. Mercedes was stronger in power-dependent/high speed corners circuits, Ferrari was stronger in slow corners/high downforce circuits.

      In Singapore, Vettel was on pole and Raikkonen was 3rd, In Malaysia Raikkonen was 2nd and while Vettel was out from qualy for reliability, he did a blistering stint of ~20 laps on 1.34s and set the fastest lap of the race, even Verstappen who won the race couldn’t hold that pace. In mexico Vettel was on pole, however his race was decided by the first lap incident. In Brazil, both kimi and Seb were 2nd and 3rd very close behind Bottas in qualy and Seb eventually won the race. It was a matter of both cars being competitive all the year depending to their strengths.

      1. @tifoso1989 Stop bringing facts into it, everyone knows the 2017 merc was the most dominant car in the history of evar and Arrivabene and his bumblers just sit next to the windtunnel picking their noses all year.

      2. @tifoso1989
        As you mentioned, there were circuits where both cars had their respective strengths. We knew that in warmer conditions and high downforce tracks Ferrari was better and in cooler and power dependant circuits, Mercedes were.
        I honestly don’t have the time to go through the trend of qualifying gaps for each race throughout the season as well as race pace with gaps at the end. All I can remember is Mercedes finding more consistentcy as the season went on, Lewis getting more confident, and having lesser weekends like Russia, Monaco, Bahrain etc.
        I don’t remember any improvements from Ferrari as such. They didn’t improve their gap in qualifying or make improvements on race pace. They seemed stagnant post Hungary. Instead they faced reliability problems in the 2nd half.

        I would barely call this a case of Ferrari has never been out developed by Mercedes.

        1. @todfod
          Lewis and Mercedes finding more consistency and being perfect in the second half of the season than Ferrari is something, being out-developed is something else. As I said Ferrari wasn’t out developed by Mercedes in the second half of the season :

          I don’t remember any improvements from Ferrari as such. They didn’t improve their gap in qualifying or make improvements on race pace

          – In Belgium Vettel was breathing down Hamilton’s neck for the whole race and couldn’t pass due to Mercedes superior straight line speed.
          – Monza : the circuit that emphasizes Mercedes PU superiority the most. Ferrari was trashed
          – Singapore : Ferrari was the dominant force : 1st and 3rd in qualy, without the first lap incident it was clear that Vettel would win due to the
          – Malaysia : Raikkonen qualified 2nd and Vettel was the fastest man in the race by quite a margin.
          – Japanese,USA and Abu Dhabi : back to Mercedes territory.
          – Mexico and Brazil : Vettel qualified on pole in Mexico and won the race in Brazil.

          Reliability issues and some mistakes from Vettel were the main reason why Ferrari fell down badly to Mercedes in the second half of the season, Ferrari did improve in the second half of the season and could have won more races but as I said it was a matter of both cars being faster depending on circuit layout with Mercedes holding a slight advantage in qualy.

          1. And also, Ferrari having their failures/ Vettel’s brainfart at three tracks where they looked particularly strong instead of, for example, at monza.

  4. As its race 4, we might get to see the first signs of engine reliability appear. Which manufacturers were too conservative on the engine to last 7 races or not conservative enough.

    1. @emu55 this is true. It will be interesting to see how the gamble on engine wear works out. Would it be worth starting from the pit lane one race later in the season in exchange for winning a few more early on…

  5. Lots of safety cars and lots of situation where things change quickly. Without the safety cars merc could have won all first 3 races. Merc is still ahead but not enough so they can just breeze into victory even if they get unlucky in race.

  6. will be easily the fastest car when the engineers and drivers get the tyres to work better in the race, people forgetting how the experts trackside for most of the free practice sessons rave how ‘planted’ and settled it looked through the corners

  7. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    19th April 2018, 13:45

    @keithcollantine Fantastic chart – how was the one lap advantage calculated? Is it from the race laps over the whole season for both drivers or the Q3 times?

  8. 3 races in. Long way to go yet.

    1. Wise words

  9. Flashback to 2003. McLaren and Jordan won the first 3 races and I thought Ferrari was finally dead.

    And then those two teams never won another race that year!

    While I don’t quite expect that to happen this time, I do think Merc will make a full recovery and win 11 races this year.

    1. well in the end the difference was 2 points and kimi was already being extremely lucky…..

  10. Interesting to note that 2017 was the first year without the tokens system which appeared to lock in the advantage of Mercedes’ power unit design.

    I think we’re in for a great season. I feel like right now Ferrari need to be maximising their potential because historically Mercedes have been at their strongest towards the end of the year. Their strike rate following the mid-season break has been devastating; since 2014 they have won 29 out of 35 of the GPs after the mid season breaks. Although if you look at the trend you can see that in 2014, 15, and 16, they failed to win one post-break race per season (mostly through retirements), in 2017 they were beaten three times after the break, suggesting that the rest of the field has certainly closed up.

    The other factor, besides the general closing up of power unit performance, would surely be the major aero and chassis changes brought in for the 2017 season. I still maintain that while the car, ’14-’16, was optimised in just about every way, there was still some kind of magic macguffin that Mercedes had come up with which gave them a performance edge, particulary in qualifying. I could be wrong, I just think there’s something like a double diffuser or an F-duct that nobody knew about on those cars. Something they haven’t been able to bring across to the new aero concept.

    1. FRIC probably. We probably don’t really know the relative effect of the ban on each car, perhaps it affected Mercedes the most.

      1. @john-h, back in 2017, it seems that Ferrari’s late protest to the FIA that resulted in parts of the suspension systems that those teams had developed their cars around hurt the performance of both of those teams quite badly.

        It has also been suggested that another aspect is that, right now, Ferrari seem to be prepared to take a lot more risk with regards to oil burning than Mercedes, with suggestions that Ferrari is currently using the maximum amount of oil permitted under the regulations (and seems to be the only one burning that much).

        At the very least, there is a suggestion that all of the Ferrari powered teams have been tending to have higher end of straight performance than their Mercedes powered rivals, leading to some speculating that Ferrari might have actually overtaken Mercedes in terms of peak power performance.

  11. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    19th April 2018, 14:12

    I’m a little bit worried about Lewis – I’m not happy about the fact that he doesn’t seem upset after qualifying or after the race. When he’s competitive, his whole body says that he wants more. This year he seems a little bit different.

    This is his 6th season with Mercedes and the past 5 years haven’t really been that easy – for one reason or another, usually totally out of his control, he’s had to fight pretty hard those years against Nico and Seb. I imagine they’ve taken a toll and he must be somewhat mentally or emotionally tired.

    The VSC in Australia was very deflating because as it’s been pointed out, it’s a travesty of a situation and ridicules racing. It could have easily been corrected by race direction and I’m sure Lewis was having flashes of Baku.

    If I were Toto, I wouldn’t want to add any pressure with a contract – from what I’ve read Lewis gets very involved in the contracts and does a lot of it himself. I’d try to get that resolved asap and I would try to get him into something that gets his love for racing going again.

    1. The VSC in Australia was very deflating because as it’s been pointed out, it’s a travesty of a situation and ridicules racing. It could have easily been corrected by race direction and I’m sure Lewis was having flashes of Baku.

      with this again? it is always happen, I wonder if you feel the same about the SC in China

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        19th April 2018, 16:23

        @johnmilk VSC and SC aren’t the same – the VSC allows for a totally different type of pitstop – Verstappen and Ricciardo lost positions while pitting at China while Vettel jumped from P3 to P1 in Bahrain.

        It’s not even a subtle difference – it should be absolutely not possible to do that in any motosport event under any circumstance. There are absolutely no free victories in racing – Ricciardo still had to pass the drivers and the undercut also requires you to make haste when you need to.

        This was a case where a driver was literally promoted to P1 – it doesn’t matter who it is, it simply cannot be allowed to happen…. You do not get promoted to P1 by taking a pit lane shortcut – that’s Mario Kart… Not F1.

        1. I see why you keep on telling such things, you haven’t fully understand it yet

          1. Well, they can’t all be as clairvoyant as us

    2. I think it’s possible he might have a year off in 2019, then join Ferrari in 2020. That leaves things open for Ricciardo to partner Bottas next year (he’s not going to be partnering Vettel I’m sure of that).

      1. Ricciardo has shown that he can successfully work in a team that houses a naturally fast driver like Verstappen. He takes risks too which end up on most occasion in a successful overtake and picks up points which is crucial from a championship perspective. I think that makes him an ideal candidate for both Mercedes and Ferrari. At the moment both Mercedes and Ferrari have a de facto lead driver. It is a matter of who wants to manage trouble when it becomes close in the drivers championship. Mercedes have gone through this trouble and Ferrari tries to avoid this altogether.

      2. @john-h I’ve always had the impression they wouldn’t quite gel, so to speak. That said, I’m just a fan so what do I know?

        This isn’t a prediction, just speculation, but I’ve been thinking it’s possible that Hamilton may decide to leave F1 altogether after this year. No doubt he will want a larger salary, which Mercedes possibly might not be keen on, especially if they’re considering leaving F1 and are facing a prize money reduction in the future if they do stay. If they are after getting a slightly younger and cheaper Ricciardo in the car, maybe they won’t want a repeat of the rivalry between their drivers.

        Hamilton’s personal target was always to achieve three championships (to match Senna), which he has already exceeded. It is possible that, having achieved so much already, he could decide he wants to go and enjoy his life.

        That said, I reckon Hamilton will be back on the grid in a Mercedes in 2019, and if the competition stays this close it would be exciting to see him continue to compete

        1. Just to be clear, I was referring to Hamilton and Ferrari gelling. I could be very wrong on that too so please take it lightly

    3. Not completely related but i have been wondering for some time now- the VSC was introduced following the Bianchi crash basically to enforce going slow in case of double waved yellow. I seem to remember that back then it was said that it would be used to put a deltatime for the dangerous area of the track, even in a ‘finer resolution’ than just the standard 3 sectors.- When exactly did it morph into ‘lets just go agonizingly slow for all of the circuit and hand out free pit stops’?
      TLDR i thought the basic idea of VSC was you didn’t need to colpletely neutralize the race for all of the track- what went wrong?

      1. @mrboerns they tested slow zones originally, but found they didn’t work. Why they were a problem for F1 to handle, when other series could do it, I don’t know.

        Eventually they settled on slowing the whole track essentially because it was less complicated

        1. Thanks, wasn’t aware of the details. Well, that sucks then…

  12. Mercedes dominated Australia, but in Bahrain and China they were matched by Ferrari. In the former Scuderia did better job on strategy and in the latter Silver Arrows did.

    There are also cries about Hamilton’s lost victory in Melbourne. However he is not the first and last victim of the SC. What Ferrari can say about Valencia 2010 and Lewis beneffiting from transgression while Alonso and Massa obeyed the rules? In that occasion, it wasn’t just bad luck like Australia’18 (or some instances in 2017 when Vettel lost out due to VSC) but also bad judgement by the stewards regarding Hamilton’s penalty.

  13. Even this year Mercedes have a race winning car. A combination of race situations relating to track conditions, safety car and use of tyres have not gone in their favour. They may also have to look at strategies and laptimes a bit more closely as competition is close.

  14. I think the Mercedes dominance is over, because Ferrari have picked up their qualifying pace. In the races both Ferrari and Mercedes have been quick, but in a reversal of last year, this year the Ferraris can drive in clear air. Much has been said about Hamilton’s disappointing performance in China, but how much of his struggles were down to being in dirty air the whole race?

    For Baku, I’m not expecting much from Mercedes. Thinking back to the 2016 qualifying session, I don’t think this is a good track for Hamilton, especially since he/they seem to be struggling with balance and tyres at the moment. I know last year he nailed the qualifying, but I think Baku is a difficult track to put a lap together if you’re not feeling good in the car. Bottas has been good the past two races, but I doubt he can keep Vettel off the pole and win.

  15. Mercedes are still the favourites for the WCC, and Hamilton is still the favourite for the WDC, but I don’t expect a walkover anymore, which is a nice feeling.

  16. Yeah, a little incredible indeed. A nice surprise. We have 2 teams, 2 engine constructors who won at least 1 race so far, but not Mercedes or a Mercedes-powered car. About time someone else wins the WDC, at least. Won’t mind at all if Mercedes doesn’t get a single win all year long. Too bad it won’t happen tho.

  17. What is encouraging for ‘the neutral’ is that while Red Bull’s pace was disguised in the opening races, China showed they are contenders for victory too.

    I think this assertion is wrong, Redbull being on the quicker tyres throughout the race made it seem like they can match Ferrari and Mercedes.

    1. Same impression here. RBR was like almost 90% of the race on faster or faster+fresher tyres and this is the main reason they performed so good.

  18. I wouldn’t count out Mercedes 3 races into the season, but I think Mercedes’ chassis is getting exposed. From 2014-16, the Merc engine was so much better than anyone else to the point it didn’t matter how well the car handled. Their straight line speed was so good to the point they could pass slower cars almost effortlessly. The chassis hardly mattered as long as it was at least middle of the road.

    1. Well, three weak points maybe: chassis, operating window for tires, ability to drive close to a car ahead. Currently also weak on in-race decisions. And Hamilton off form the past two races.

  19. “Is Mercedes dominance over?”

    One can hope. But hope lies.

  20. Yup dominance is over, they might still prove to be fastest overall, but not by default.

  21. Can`t help thinking Mercedes have been complacent. Good for the competition but unless they improve in various areas, this is Ferrari’s championship to lose. They could have won the first three with better strategy decision, but Ferrari and Red Bull have been much sharper during the races. The Mercedes philosophy seems to be to win on cautious percentages. Against one rival team, like Ferrari last year, that might work. But against two, there’s too much of a chance of them coming out third best too often and losing serious points. That would have been the case in China had Verstappen not ruined his own and Vettel’s chances of a podium.

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