Why Hamilton’s claim about the scale of Red Bull’s dominance doesn’t stack up

2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix stats and facts

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After Red Bull dominated the second race of the 2023 Formula 1 season, a glum Lewis Hamilton claimed they are as far ahead of the chasing pack as his team once were.

That’s a big claim to make. Mercedes annihilated the competition when the V6 hybrid turbo era began nine years ago and remained in that position for three years. It may not have been the all-time high watermark of domination by a car and team, but it was the most one-sided contest any driver on the grid today has experienced.

We’ve only seen what the Red Bull RB19 can do in two competitive outings so far this year. But last weekend’s race in Jeddah was enough to crush their rivals’ hopes that the Bahrain International Circuit had flattered its capabilities. No one is in any doubt that this year’s championship is Red Bull’s to lose.

Nonetheless this early look at their performance has to come with the caveat that we haven’t seen what they can do across all tyre types and track configurations. Perhaps an ‘outlier’ venue like Singapore will catch them out, as memorably happened to Mercedes in 2015.

But based on the limited data available so far, it seems the RB19 is not quite a match for the formidable Mercedes cars of 2014 to 2016. In terms of pure qualifying pace, its advantage is quite a bit less. Taking the average performance advantage of the four cars over those seasons, the RB19 falls well short of the three Mercedes:

This may slightly under-read how far ahead Red Bull are. Max Verstappen lapped up to half a second quicker than his team mate Sergio Perez in Jeddah until he was sidelined by a driveshaft failure. It’s likely he could have set a faster pole position time, though likely not enough to put their advantage on a par with a 2014-16 Mercedes.

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While Red Bull’s advantage in qualifying is in the order of a few tenths of a second, in the race it is far more. At times last weekend they were up to a second per lap faster than their rivals, notably once they switched to the hard tyre in the second half of the race. That advantage dissipated as the tyres degraded:

But Mercedes’ advantage was greater in the races as well in their dominant years. During the second race of the V6 hybrid turbo era in Bahrain, Hamilton and team mate Nico Rosberg faced off in a battle for victory which revealed just how much quicker they were than the chasing pack.

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Following a late-race Safety Car period, Hamilton and Rosberg left their pursuers behind at a staggering margin of up to 2.8 seconds per lap. That’s more than double what we saw from Red Bull in Jeddah.

Verstappen’s driveshaft. failure allowed Perez to grab the second pole position of his career at the same venue where he scored his first 12 months earlier. He went on to claim his fifth grand prix victory.

Perez is now a five-times race winner
Perez now has as many wins as Giuseppe Farina, Keke Rosberg, Clay Regazzoni, John Watson, Michele Alboreto and Charles Leclerc. However his pole-win ratio is strikingly different to that of Leclerc, who has 18 pole positions to his name.

Red Bull scored their 24th one-two, yet remarkably this is only the second time in F1 history they have filled the top steps of the podium in back-to-back races. The sole previous occasion predated all their world championship successes.

Their drivers have also reversed positions in both instances. Verstappen won in Bahrain and Perez did in Saudi Arabia, and 14 years ago it was Sebastian Vettel who won at Silverstone while Mark Webber did the same in the next round at the Nurburgring, the pair finishing runner-up to each other in those two races.

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Verstappen ensured he claimed the bonus point, taking the fastest lap for the 22nd time in his career. He also equalled his longest points-scoring run of 21 races, which stretches back to last year’s Australian Grand Prix. The record of 48 is held by Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Alonso was eventually confirmed in third place
Verstappen raced from 15th on the grid to finish second. Had he gone one better he would have been only the second driver in F1 history to win from 15th on the grid, the other being Fernando Alonso in the notorious 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

After some back-and-forth with the stewards in Jeddah, Alonso’s 100th podium finish was confirmed. Continuing his strong start to the season, this was the first time he had taken back-to-back podiums since finishing second in the Italian and Singapore grands prix for Ferrari in 2013.

Over to you

Have you spotted any other interesting stats and facts from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix? Share them in the comments.

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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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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75 comments on “Why Hamilton’s claim about the scale of Red Bull’s dominance doesn’t stack up”

  1. Thank you for the article. Numbers speak well.

    1. It’s an article specially for our resident race ist and his 100 accounts, so yes you can be grateful. George said the same thing after all, but

    2. They should have shown the alleged unbeatable Ferrari years too. I am not a Schumacher fan, but that car was less dominant than this and Vettel’s RBR let alone the Mercedes. Yet people always say it was so dominant and made racing boring. The results were very close, but aero turbulence was terrible in that era. It was basically impossible to pass without a 5+ second lap advantage most of the time.

  2. 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 – Lewis Hamilton: It’s not the car!
    2021 and 2022 – Lewis Hamilton: That’s definitely a car!
    This gentleman should concentrate mainly on himself and why George Russell beats him so easily.

    1. You nailed that one

    2. I think you’re being disingenuous. Tell us exactly in what instances Hamilton claimed that the car had nothing to do with his success. And I don’t think Russell beats him easily, at all. Look at the qualifying battle last year.

  3. Pityfull attitude from Lewis. Either he has got a very bad memory, or he just doesn´t want to recognize that Max is (by far) the better driver.
    In the years of Mercedes dominance, Max would have won every race if he would be driving that car. And Lewis in 2021 in the Red Bull? He would never have achieved the championship like Max did.

    1. In the years of Mercedes dominance, Max would have won every race if he would be driving that car.

      While impossible to say either way, I’ve always found it interesting that despite all those years of Mercedes domination – or even just front-running competitiveness – none of their three drivers ever got close to matching what is perhaps one of Schumacher’s most unique records; to finish on the podium in every single race of the season. Which he did in 2002, and it wasn’t for lack of incidents either (ask Juan-Pablo Montoya). It’s an amazing high level of technological and personal consistency.

    2. I always find it weird that people hype up or diminish drivers based on there attitude towards them. When all they do is turn a wheel. Meanwhile everyone else knows its the engineers that are the sexy ones.

      1. Agreed. The nut behind the wheel does make a difference, but the engineers are the ones with the real skills.

        1. Thirded.

  4. Carlos Furtado das Neves
    22nd March 2023, 13:58

    LH beeing LH.
    You can’t ask for more…
    That’s life !

  5. I think Lewis must check the facts before opening his mouth.
    He has on numerous occasions put his foot in it.
    Frightening how much better that Mercedes was to the rest of the pack in those dominated years. No competition!!

    1. You think LH is unique in that regard? I’m pretty sure that, if you examine what other top drivers have to say (especially when they are in a much worse car than they would like), you’ll find many exaggerations.

      The best drivers want to be fighting for championships, not struggling for the odd podium here or there. If they can’t get into that position, they are going to complain, and those complaints will include exaggerations.

  6. I think Hamilton is absurd to mention that. I think he refers to Red Bull being even faster in a straightline than the 2019 Ferrari. The Mercedes cars from 2014-2020 were more balanced in terms of downforce and straightline speed. This Red Bull today is too fast in a straightline. Whether Hamilton’s 2021 Brazil Mercedes had a higher straightline speed difference or not, seems also close to this year’s Red Bull.

    1. That Brazil race was a one-off due to a superior engine. Red Bull is faster by design.
      One year later and still impresses me how it was faster than Ferrari at the main straight at Bahrein last year.

      1. Red Bull is faster by design.

        And it’s one heck of a design. It’s not the Honda engine either, because their second team uses those and it’s nowhere near the same level of performance.

        Something is going on, and while there’s no reason to suspect it’s not by the book – because the FIA will be keen to keep an eye out given Red Bull’s budget cap breaking antics – it’s still a great trick that Red Bull has found. So far they seem to be the only one to have it – whatever it is – figured out.

      2. a car faster by design would be dominant in Barcelona, but it was quite the opposite. Mercedes were dominant, even if Max could almost match their laptime on soft tyres in qualyfing. mercedes was superior car in 2021 all year, with few exceptions on particular weekends, when they struggled with excessive rear tire deg.

        1. i was talking about the ’22 car and its straight line speed.

    2. Red Bull had the Faster can on average before the Silverstone update, Mercedes reversed in for the 2nd half of the season and was slightly the faster car over the season but only by 0.07%

      New Engine in Brazil was out of sync so they could abuse it more since it had less races to do

  7. Well, now it’s Max’s turn to have his merits diminished by the quality of his car. That’s F1 for you.

    1. Exactly, it’s always the car when you’re winning. One thing I’ll say is Red Bull is more coy about their performance than Mercedes was in the early days of the hybrid PU. Mercedes did not have budget cap to factor in back then so whatever extra performance Red Bull has on tap they will keep it in reserve until necessary.

      1. Agreed. I don’t think we’ve seen even close to the best the RB has to offer.

  8. 2014-16 non-Mercedes pole positions: Massa – 1 (2014), Vettel – 1 (2015), Ricciardo – 1 (2016)

    2022 non-RBR pole positions: Leclerc – 9, Sainz – 3, Russel – 1, Magnussen – 1

    1. Yes, speaks for itself, it’s still a very dominant car, but not to the same extent.

    2. I’m talking about 2023 though, 2022 was not what I’d call a dominant car, just by far the best car.

    3. That’s true, but you don’t get points for qually. The Red Bull doesn’t seem to be particularly dominant in qualifying, even this year. It’s fast, but the margin isn’t massive.

      However, in the race it’s a different story. In Bahrain, both Max and Checo looked to be coasting for the majority of the race, but still finished a long way ahead. In Jeddah, Max sliced through the field, but they still didn’t look too be giving it everything. It would not surprise me if they could have dropped at least half a second from their fastest laps and maintained that for a full stint if they needed to. It looks easy to drive, kind on the tyres, great on a straight line, grippy in the corners, and comfortable in dirty air.

      In short, the perfect, all-round F1 car, something Mercedes never managed: they always had an excellent car, but it always had its flaws, though other areas generally compensated. For instance, they always seemed much more affected by dirty air than their competitors, but they could normally make up for that with increased engine power and better clean air performance. The RBR doesn’t need to do that, it’s just excellent in every situation.

      1. I think the failures of Mercedes and Ferrari might be making them look even better.
        You would fully expect them to be well ahead of Aston Martin, not behind.

        1. This is true. But dominance is always relative to the rest of the field, so if everyone else does badly and you do OK, it’s no different to everyone else doing OK and you doing an excellent job.

          1. I agree. That is exactly why it’s not right to compare the ‘dominance’ of this RedBull to the Merc era.
            Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t remember any of the big teams getting their car concept completely wrong like the current Mercedes, or the abysmal Ferrari that has used up it’s seasons worth of control units in one race.

          2. I don’t know. You could say that Renault and Honda got their engine concepts completely wrong, and I remember reports that Ferrari realised they’d made big mistakes. That’s not particularly different.

          3. I get that, although the engines needed a redesign to match the Merc engine. Not something they could tweak with a few tokens.
            We are already seeing Merc this year switch concept (which they should have really done early ’22) to catch up. The RedBull doesn’t have anything like a 2014 Merc engine that keeps it out of reach.

          4. The development restrictions and budget cap aren’t that different to the development tokens either. Mercedes won’t have the budget or wind tunnel time to develop a new concept from scratch to a decent level this season.

          5. They can change it though and make up the difference with smart engineering. Ask Aston Martin.
            If they had bitten the bullet last year and changed then we might be seeing a title fight this year.
            In 2014 the other teams were pretty much resigned to not catching Mercedes for a number of years.
            I’d say that’s where the difference lies.

          6. Yes, they can change it. RBR have a massive head start, though, and it seems likely they’ve found something special which none else yet understands. I suspect most of the teams are also resigned to not catching RBR for a number of years now.

            Of course there are differences between the two periods. However, there are a lot of similarities, and most of the differences actually have a corollary when your look a little deeper.

          7. Would it be fair to say Mercedes would be close to them this year if they ditched their poor concept early last year and focused on a revised 2023 car?

          8. They may have been, we’ll never know for certain. It’s certainly more expensive to develop a new concept from scratch, though, and RBR have a year’s head start. It’s highly unlikely that they’d have caught up by copying the RBR design, whereas if their development of their own concept had worked they could well have overtaken them.

          9. I think either way they have a better chance than the other teams did from 2014.
            Fingers crossed they see progress with the change this year and then a redesign next year.

  9. Well, this certainly shows that Sergio followed RB team advice rather more than Max on the final lap.

    1. – FLti 21, Max, FLti 21…
      – NO!

    2. @frasier Although even he could’ve attempted to improve his personal best to keep the FLAP point, so losing was all on him not using an opportunity allowed for good.

      1. Actually, checo was told he was free to push.
        And he did, at least he tried.
        He pushed the first 3 corners, but mad mistakes, and was already slower than het previous best time, so he gave up the flap.

    3. Last seven laps both were ” free to push”.
      Perez even tried to better his time but cancelled this attempt after the first corners where he already lost some tenths.
      When they told him he lost his flap he didn’t care much about. Until they told him it was Max.

  10. Alonso’s first front-row start since the 2012 German GP at Hockenheimring, the highest for AM since the 1950s, & AM also (possibly) led an F1 race for the first time.
    Additionally, the second time he first lost a position post-race before getting that back (last season’s US GP).
    At least, he had lost his third place after the podium celebrations rather than before, like Max in the 2016 Mexican & 2017 US GPs.

    Checo matched Alesi in pole positions.

    With Alonso having two third-place finishes in two races, so does Hamilton have two fifth-places, Gasly two ninths, Tsunoda two 11ths, De Vries two 14ths, & Norris two 17ths.

    K-Mag’s pass on Tsunoda for P10 meant Haas left the zero-point group while AT stayed at zero with Mclaren.

    The first race in which only a single driver got lapped since the 2021 Azerbaijan GP.

    The current points-scoring run should stretch to the following Emilia-Romagna GP, though, as he retired in Melbourne.

    Lastly, Bahrain GP was round 3 in 2014, with Malaysian GP being round 2.

    1. Coincidently, in Norris’ case, also the last finisher in both races.

    2. @jerejj Alonso started on the front row in Canada last year, and Vettel led the US GP for Aston as well.

      1. @mashiat I’d forgotten that & also got misled.

  11. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    22nd March 2023, 15:43

    I think it’s actually both right and wrong ;-)

    Not sure what happened in the last race but it doesn’t show Max’s pace except in the sense that he could have won the race if he pushed the car for 20 laps which he seemed unwilling to do.

    Teams are more savvy now than they were in 2014. Mercedes didn’t have the luxury of hiding the pace as Rosberg was quick in the Mercedes and their two drivers would be scrapping for pole and victory so there was no way of hiding the pace during the season.

    With new regulations and all kinds of scandals surrounding their last 2 championships, Red Bull is smart enough to know that showing a 1.5 second deficit for Max to the Ferraris or Mercedes is not going to play well regardless of how quick Aston Martin may be. The teams will cry foul play and perhaps rightfully so given the 2021 crazy season where Red Bull practicallly owned FIFA (sorry, I meant FIA but the differences are probably just limited to a missing letter) and the draconian penalty ;-) for Red Bull last season.

    As for lap times, we know Max has more pace and he showed that in Bahrain and in the fastest lap in Saudi Arabia. But lap times don’t tell the whole story because the Red Bulls come out of corners literally on top of the other car – DRS is almost irrelevant for them.

    So looking at the car and driver, Lewis was wrong about Checo but probably right about Max especially compared to his own stint in the Mercedes cars with Nico keeping him on his toes.

    1. Lewis’s quote was specifically about straightline speed (not really lap time, even for race pace), and no question this years RB looks like being one of the reknowned cars already on that front.

      For more general performance, I reckon the merc was likely better (but the picture isn’t so clear). It would have been more interesting if RB had had to make an effort in Bahrain, as we’d at least then have the somewhat representative comparision with Bahrain 2014 (where Nico and Lewis – allegedly – didn’t stick to the “recommended” engine modes, something restricted on ’23 cars too). We saw in the first race that weaker cars are shown up more badly there.
      The merc advantage was getting near FW14B territory that day, although the next car on the road was a midfielder and may have exaggerated its abilities a bit.

      1. The Mercedes was crazy fast in every parameter, including straight line speed. Only a completely illegal Ferrari engine in 2019 temporarily changed that.

  12. Say what you like about Michael Schumacher but he never threw his team under a bus when the machinery was lacking.

    1. Yes, schumacher was a team-man, hamilton usually speaks well about the team but when things go wrong I’m seeing some blaming comments.

  13. We’ll never know how fast those early hybrid Mercedes really were.

    1. And let’s not forget the token system that prevented other engine manufacturers to catch up from 2014 to 2016.

      1. Let’s not forget that Renault couldn’t be bothered to use any tokens to actually make any effort to improve their PU in 2015.
        They also made no efforts to provide “party mode” to their software so whilst others did improve their PU’s, the one RBR had (and they realistically were one of the few that could catch them) had a massive handicap.

        So in reality, it wasn’t the token system, it was a really poor PU and manufacturer effort (or lack thereof) that contributed most to the gap.

        1. @dbradock

          I agree. It was PU manufacturers that dictated the dominance of that era. Mercedes’s engine had to compete with a garbage box called ‘Honda power’, a lazy, constantly underdeveloped and unreliable Renault engine, and Ferrari, which started off on the wrong foot in terms of engine design but decided to fix things by cheating. Ferrari still fell short of expectations, as it is the Ferrari way.

          The engine token system didn’t help, but it wouldn’t have made any difference anyways. Mercedes just hit the jackpot on that front.

          1. The engine token system didn’t help, but it wouldn’t have made any difference anyways.

            Oh, it did make a difference alright. Renault and Ferrari were kept from binning their original engines, which they would have needed to do to have any hope of becoming competitive, and forced into developing a concept that never had the potential to challenge the Mercedes PU.

            That’s multiple years of guaranteed dominance gifted to Mercedes by the rules makers because they chose saving other people money over having competition in the sport. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

  14. Red Bull had a top speed advantage at this race because they took out so much rear wing while still being able to have enough downforce (assuming from the underfloor itself) through the 1st sector to be competitive. Merc had so much rear wing which added drag, there was obviously going to be a high speed delta. If you look at some of the pictures of Mercedes and RBR next to each other from the race, you can see the rear wing difference. Merc and to an extent Aston also had much larger rear wing setup for this race.

  15. It’s quite clear Lewis is trying to play the audience (read: FIA) in oder to get some form of intervention. He should focus on why Russel beats him again… You cannot claim anything about relative speed if you yourself don’t extract the maximum out of the car.

  16. 1. It’s two races in only with the fastest Red Bull driver unable to set a Q3 time (or race optimally perhaps) due to a drift shaft failure. Even the article acknowledges that fact. Just not enough data for a plausible comparison.
    2. Everyone expects Verstappen to beat Perez with ease: there is no internal competition (unlike the Hamilton – Rosberg years).
    3. The closest team to Red Bull, Aston Martin, are a team without comparable resources, while the other two big teams, Ferrari and Mercedes are clearly facing issues and unlikely to catch up over this season.
    4. Budget cap.

    1. I can’t see much difference if it was Rosberg/Max. Rosberg was better than Perez, but not by much, Max would have beaten him anyway. Red Bull gap is half Max skills and half to the car itself, if Alonso main competitor was only Perez he could dream about the championship, it’s not like he’s pushing either.

      1. Rosberg was a lot better than Checo. Come on guys. Let’s be real.

        1. +1 Rosberg was beating Schumacher after all. People love saying he was in decline on his return but fail to acknowledge Rosberg’s impact on that impression (or reality) of decline.
          Verstappen (like Hamilton) is a smooth, balanced driver with insanely good feel for adherence to the track, especially the rear tyres, meaning he can handle a car with a lot of oversteer and less rear adherence – other drivers at Red Bull have expressed bewilderment over the years about how he has been able to control a car setup they find impossible. And Red Bull have mostly developed the car in that direction. Why not? He’s their lead driver. But it does mean someone like Perez, with a completely different style, is even more at a disadvantage. This year the car was supposed to favour both. Even so Verstappen is clearly several tenths ahead on pace.

    2. I think it’s pretty clear already that the Red Bull is not as fast in relative terms to the rest of the field as that 2014-2016 Mercedes. It is however so far clear of the pack that no other car can challenge it in a similar vein regardless what the numbers say. As you stated the budget cap and engine freeze also serve to lock in their advantage within the current rules. Ultimately I think Hamilton was most shocked by the top speed difference when the Red Bull opens their DRS rather than their general pace.

      1. @slowmo I agree about the DRS boost shock. I don’t think we can compare the Red Bull to the field accurately just yet though – I mean, just how far ahead they are.

  17. 100% of Perez’s poles to date have come in Saudi Arabia – the only other multiple pole-sitter to score all their poles at the same circuit is Alesi whose 2 poles both came at Monza.

    The first two races of 2023 have each seen the winner lead all bar 3 laps.

    8th consecutive season in which Verstappen has managed at least 1 fastest lap.

    15th consecutive season in which Red Bull have managed at least 1 fastest lap – 2 seasons shy of Ferrari’s record (1995-2011 inclusive).

    29th consecutive season in which at least 1 Mercedes-powered car has led a lap at some point – extends their record.

    Thanks to statsf1 for some of these.

  18. Hamilton about 2013:

    “ Hamilton later described his decision to change teams as being motivated by the desire to find a new challenge for himself, and that the idea of taking a struggling team and building them up to become a successful one held more appeal to him than “cruising around with a great team”.[52]”

    Seems relevant (-8

    1. The work had already been done by Brawn, Schumacher and Rosberg though. So, he didn’t turn a struggling team into a successful team. Unless you consider a car that was already getting poles and wins a struggling team.

  19. “At times last weekend they were up to a second per lap faster than their rivals, notably once they switched to the hard tyre in the second half of the race” But then went fast enough to set the fastest lap right at the end which shows they could have been faster, this, after asking what the laptime to do was which suggests he set just what was required.

    It’s not possible to know one way or another because the teams run their cars at the minimum speed required to achieve the maximum result that they can get. Even in 2014-2016 Mercedes had different engine modes and the competition also often knew they were slower so the 3rd placed car usually did a pace just enough to finish 3rd which was not always the maximum that they could do.

    1. All the teams and drivers could have gone faster – that is sadly the case for last 10 years – it is tire management.
      The gap between pole time and FLAP is far larger in earlier decades – partly this is due to the refueling ban but also the not so durable tires.

      What is maybe more telling is that Max FLAP was not that much faster than lap times set by competitors on lap 50.
      Max 1,31.906 set lap 50 (pushing to get FLAP)
      Perez 1,32.188 +0.282 set lap 38 (fresher tires but more fuel)
      Fernando 1,32.240 +0.334 set lap 50 (pushing to get 5 seconds gap)
      Russell 1,32.433 +0.527 set lap 50 (pushing to stay within 5 seconds)

      1. The gap between pole time and FLAP is far larger in earlier decades – partly this is due to the refueling ban but also the not so durable tires.

        The gap between pole time and FLAP is far larger THAN in earlier decades – partly this is due to the refueling ban but also the not so durable tires.

  20. “Perez now has as many wins as Giuseppe Farina, Keke Rosberg, Clay Regazzoni, John Watson, Michele Alboreto and Charles Leclerc. However his pole-win ratio is strikingly different to that of Leclerc, who has 18 pole positions to his name.”

    Ouch indeed, Leclerc started 18 times on pole and yet only won 5 races. Perez started on pole 2 times but won also 5 races. Even more painful is that Leclerc only won once a race where he did not have pole (Austria 2022) and even in that race he was just 0.029 off pole, finished 1.6s behind in sprint and clearly had the fastest car due to Red Bull being somehow off the pace and eating their tires.

  21. Verstappen has now raced 142 races for Red Bull.
    1. Hamilton 202 Mercedes
    2. Schumacher 180 Ferrari
    3. Raikkonen 151 Ferrari
    4. Coulthard 150 Mclaren

  22. In Brazil a couple of years ago the Merc was 2-10 seconds a lap quicker than everyone in race trim, yet people praise hamilton for taking 2 races to get from last to first

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