Will Red Bull’s domination be like Mercedes or Ferrari’s? That’s up to Perez

2023 F1 season

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The die is seemingly cast. Barring a shock development over the next few races, the 2023 Formula 1 drivers’ world championship will be disputed by the two Red Bull drivers.

Reigning champions Red Bull stunned their rivals with the scale of their superiority in the opening two races. Their winning margin in Bahrain was the biggest seen at a season opener in 25 years. On the same rubber as their rivals in Jeddah the RB19s were over a second per lap quicker than their rivals at times.

With an advantage that large, Red Bull’s rivals know they are not in competition for titles this year. “Is it realistic with today’s performance to even talk about the world championship?” mused Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff in Jeddah, where his cars finished fourth and fifth. “No it’s not. You’re a fool if you think that way.”

A repeat of the down-to-the-wire championship fight between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton which gripped F1 in 2021 is not on the cards. But just because one team is dominating doesn’t necessarily mean the driver’ championship is a foregone conclusion too.

Ferrari, 2002 and 2004

Points: 1st – 10; 2nd – 6; 3rd – 4; 4th – 3; 5th – 2; 6th – 1

Points: 1st – 10; 2nd – 8; 3rd – 6; 4th – 5; 5th – 4; 6th – 3; 7th – 2; 8th – 1

Two Ferraris leaving the behind field was a common sight in 2004
When Ferrari were at the peak of their powers around two decades ago the chances of Michael Schumacher being beaten by team mate Rubens Barrichello never seemed realistic.

Schumacher overcame McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen to take his first title with the team in 2000, then the threat from their rivals receded over the following year. By 2002 Ferrari had a stranglehold on F1, but anyone hoping their drivers would be allowed to fight for the title understood that was not the case after the notorious 2002 Austrian Grand Prix where Barrichello waved his team mate by to win in sight of the chequered flag.

So dominant was Schumacher’s title win that year – he clinched the crown in July with six races to spare – that F1 changed its points system for the following season and introduced other changes which temporarily brought Ferrari’s rivals back within reach. But in 2004 Ferrari reasserted their dominance and Schumacher romped to his seventh and final title, winning 12 of the first 13 races on the way.

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Mercedes, 2014-16

Points: 1st – 25; 2nd – 18; 3rd – 15; 4th – 12; 5th – 10; 6th – 8; 7th – 6; 8th – 4; 9th – 2; 10th – 1, double points at final round

Points: 1st – 25; 2nd – 18; 3rd – 15; 4th – 12; 5th – 10; 6th – 8; 7th – 6; 8th – 4; 9th – 2; 10th – 1

Hamilton was quick to compare Red Bull’s performance advantage this year with the superiority Mercedes enjoyed from the beginning of the V6 hybrid turbo era in 2014. In fact, Mercedes enjoyed a considerably greater margin over their rivals. But there was often little to choose between their drivers, and as a result the title fight went down to the final race twice in three years.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2016
Rosberg turned the tables on Hamilton to win 2016 title
In 2014 Hamilton suffered an early setback with a retirement in the opening round which meant team mate Nico Rosberg led the majority of the season. Hamilton’s eventual winning margin of 67 points was flattered by the one-off double points finale which Rosberg retired from.

The following year was a more straightforward triumph for Hamilton. Rosberg’s season began to go awry when he suffered a power unit failure at Monza and was unable to fully capitalise on Hamilton suffering the same problem in the next race at Singapore. When Rosberg dropped out with a throttle fault in Sochi, Hamilton’s third title was all-but decided, and he duly claimed it next time out in Austin.

Mercedes may have questioned their willingness to let their drivers fight each other when Hamilton and Rosberg took each other out while scrapping for the lead in the fifth round of 2016. But this was a pivotal moment: Rosberg had won the seven previous races, and Hamilton was desperately seeking to reassert himself.

Six races later Hamilton was back in the points lead, but this was to be no return to ‘business as usual’. Rosberg ultimately prevailed thanks to a combination of better reliability and better starts in a year when Hamilton took more wins and pole positions. The title was decided by five points in a tense finale where Hamilton, leading, backed Rosberg into the chasing pack, over the objections of his team, hoping in vain someone would overtake the other Mercedes.

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Points: 1st – 25; 2nd – 18; 3rd – 15; 4th – 12; 5th – 10; 6th – 8; 7th – 6; 8th – 4; 9th – 2; 10th – 1

Verstappen versus Perez

Perez paid the price for not pushing to the end in Jeddah
Just two races into the record-breaking 2023 F1 season, Verstappen holds a one-point lead over team mate Sergio Perez. Can we expect the fight to remain this close until the curtain falls in Abu Dhabi eight months from now?

On the strength of their previous two seasons as team mates, that seems like wishful thinking. Verstappen scored more than twice as many points as Perez in 2021 and was nearly 150 points clear last year. Perez may have won the last race from pole position, but would there have been any kind of contest had Verstappen not suffered a driveshaft problem in qualifying?

However at this early stage in the season it remains to be seen exactly how Perez and Verstappen will face off against each other in a direct fight. Charles Leclerc separated the pair in the early stages of the opening races and Verstappen had to recover from 15th on the grid last time out.

The Red Bull duo have plenty to be pleased about
What is clear, however, is that Perez will need to be quick-witted as well as quick. After all, he could be leading the championship already had he made a bid for fastest lap on the final tour in Jeddah, instead of backing off at the beginning of the lap and assuming his team mate would do the same.

The question of how Red Bull will manage their drivers’ competing bids to become champion will also prove fascinating. Last year the team was quick to impose team orders on them, demanding Perez move aside for Verstappen as early as round six, at which time he was just 19 points behind his team mate.

But that situation was markedly different to the position the team is in today. Verstappen went into that race trailing Leclerc, who already had two wins and four pole positions to his name. As the threat from outside the team has receded, hopefully Red Bull feel emboldened to let their drivers settle the destiny of the title between themselves. Then the question of whether Perez can ‘do a Rosberg’ will be down to him.

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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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42 comments on “Will Red Bull’s domination be like Mercedes or Ferrari’s? That’s up to Perez”

  1. I hope Red Bull leaves their drivers free to race. I don’t think Perez can seriously challenge Max for the title, but there may be the odd race where he is on the pace and able to fight him.

    1. Don’t count out Checo for the WDC. He is fast in this RB and in F1 you also have the factor luck with safety cars, incidents and reliability. The RB is fast enough to finish 1_2 in all the races so luck is even more a factor.

      1. He would need Max to have seriously bad luck to be in with a shot.

        Realistically, on driving talent alone in that car (assuming nobody else surpasses the RBR throughout the year), Max will beat him in every race he doesn’t suffer a decent helping of bad luck. That means Perez would need Max to be unlucky in a large proportion of the season’s races, even if he suffers no (or only very little) bad luck himself.

        He’s by no means written off, but it would take sobering close to a miracle.

    2. @f1hornet
      It’s nothing to do with Red Bull. It’s obvious to even the most naive F1 fan that Perez doesn’t have it to challenge Max for a whole season.
      It’s no knock on Perez, he’s a good driver, it’s just that Max is in the Senna, Schumi, Ham bracket. That’s a whole another level of driving.

      1. As long as the car remains equal for both drivers I believe Perez has a chance.

        It’s no knock on Max, but PER shouldn’t need to play guard and hold rivals behind to protect Max at the front. That strategy makes sense when PER cannot match the pace of Max on different cars or on the car developed towards Max. But on equal cars with proven pace from PER there should be no reason to hold him back or team orders.

        Max is supper upset with last race result and will come out to AUS eating the asphalt like a beast, tall order for Checo to match or even stay close to Max, but not impossible if Checo indeed has the same ambition and with the car on equal terms right now. We will see ….

        I say let them race and whomever wins at the track wins the race.

        PS: It sounded like even Horner was confused with the Driveshaft comment from Max last race, are there any reports of what really happened or has the Team confirmed what was “wrong” with Max’s car? A car with driveshaft problems posting the fastest lap? hmmmm

        1. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE for Checo to be able to challenge Max throughout the season. I want to see a battle.
          I just don’t see him having the speed to challenge Max. I do hope I’m wrong and we see the battle we all crave.

  2. Would love to know the figure of articles in F1 media about Mercedes dominance after 2 races in 2014……

    So many assumptions being made/talked about. Such a long season ahead, so why don’t we just sit back and see how it plays out.

    All us non Mercedes/Hamilton fans had to put up with this for 7 years before we saw a change in the pecking order. Max could have a couple of reliability issues in the next 2 races, and Sergio could win them both, that would spark the season into life. Their restrictions on development could also hamper them as the season runs on.

    Its way too early to be writing off this season, let alone the next few years. If by the end of next season the other teams haven’t caught up the FIA could step in and tweak the rules to help level the playing field (despite the fact that they didn’t after 2016) And what rule teak could they implement that would see change. I for one suggest getting rid of DRS completely as that seems to be where the Red Bull is nailing it this year.

    1. To be fair to the authors, it’s probably only a few more races until there’s not much weight to articles that imagine Perez challenging Verstappen to the title, unless there’s a wave of unreliability for Verstappen exclusively.

  3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    29th March 2023, 14:10

    If you watch the fifth season of drive to survive, you know that Perez doesn’t stand a chance of winning the WDC. Verstappen has a fit if he loses 1 point so it’s comical to talk about Perez being ahead in points or winning the WDC. Verstappen and his father will obliterate Red Bull if they let that happen. Verstappen is still fuming about Monaco last year and has completely forgotten Abu Dhabi 2021 where Checo did most of the racing for him to win.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      29th March 2023, 19:22

      “Verstappen and his father will obliterate Red Bull”
      My all time favourite argument. How will they do this?
      – Jos Verstappen has compromising photos of Marko, Horner or both
      – Jos Verstappen hired the Yakuza
      – Jos Verstappen will buy Red Bull
      There isn’t a single person able to answer this. Unless the threat is based on Verstappen leaving the team like Prost left McLaren in 1989.

      1. Unless the threat is based on Verstappen leaving the team like Prost left McLaren in 1989.


  4. Your knowledge of the Verstappen’s is remarkable. Where did you pick up this information? Yesterday I finished S5 of Drive to Survive, no such information was given. Also to know what Verstappen is feeling and thinking, great talent you must have. Maybe you can give us a profile of all the drivers on the grid with feelings and thoughts etc, thank you for your sharing your talent with us all.

    1. I believe it’s called “observation”.

      Did you notice Jos Verstappen congratulating Perez for winning in Jeddah? No, and neither did anyone else.

      Remember this quote?

      “I told you already last summer. You guys don’t ask that again to me, ok? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it.”

      This was in response to being ordered to give position to Perez when Max had already wrapped up the championship.

      1. To be fair to Jos. Jos did congratulate Checo just after that TV moment it just wasn’t broadcasted. But Max doesn’t need his dad he already earned his status within RB.

        1. Did he? can you post a link to the photo or video? I seriously doubt Jos did that.

      2. Itsmeagain (@)
        29th March 2023, 16:57

        Observation is mostly done with a neutral/unbiased view. That’s not the case here

        1. No. Observation is always biased. The best we can hope for is to reduce that bias, until such a time as our society embraces the concept of a Fair Witness.

          I admit, I’m biased against Verstappen, but I try to separate my opinion of his personality from his actions– a difficult trick. Both of the actions I referred to however, actually occurred and are therefore generally considered “facts”.

          Granted, our current society is basically “post truth”, in that whoever yells the loudest and longest usually is believed, whether they’ve got any facts to back them up or not. But I’m a bit of a rebel, and prefer to back up my opinions with facts whenever possible.

          1. Itsmeagain (@)
            30th March 2023, 18:30

            ‘ an observation is always biased…’ you’r meaning an ‘opinion’.

    2. To quote some people from previous articles: “Verstappen lives RENT FREE in his head.”

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        29th March 2023, 16:46

        Well, there’s an episode dedicated to Checo and I think a few dedicated to Max.

        He’s been a “servant for the team”, “headloved by Max” – those were Horner’s words.

        I guess that translates to champion in some languages. :-)

  5. Red Bull will continue to claim that their drivers are free to race and all things are equal– and based on their history with Webber and Ricciardo, all of their strategy will favor Verstappen, and all the bad luck will fall on Perez.

    At least Ferrari was honest about their number one driver policy.

    1. Itsmeagain (@)
      29th March 2023, 17:03

      Yes and the driver for MB are also free…..’Valtteri, it’s james’….. What is that obsession about the number 1 driver at RB when Max crushed Sergio last year. Can’t people accept it he is just quicker? How many times did we hear ‘it’s James’, never heared complaining here about that

      1. In equal cars both drivers are fast, VER “crushed” PER once the car’s development went towards MAX’s style and team orders played a role (read article above). Max has never had to adjust his driving style to the car, it has always been the opposite, so it is unfair to say Max crushed (name the teammate here).
        I want to see Max having to deal with a car different from his style/liking, suddenly he is not out of this world and PER can drive as fast as him on equal cars, develop the car towards PER style and then you will see Max struggle and maybe even get “crushed”, is that simple.

        Here’s hoping for the RBR promise of equal cars and fair racing stand for the rest of the season.

        1. I find the driving style argument very flawed, Max was just better able to extract all performance from a pointy car then Perez last two seasons. A design philosophy that is a RBR staple (rapid turn-in and apex speeds), since it’s the fastest way around a corner.

          It also does not match with the fact that Max does not have a set driving style, rather a lot of “feel” for what the car can do in varying conditions (e.g. rapid out-laps, rain drives, instantly on the pace without much practice) and him being in a class of his own in sim endurance racing (requiring a wholly different approach/style).

          Saying a driver has “never” had to adjust driving style to a car is laughable levels of hyperbole, as I don’t think Toro Rosso could even know when he was a rookie. Nor a 2016 (2015 designed) RedBull he wasn’t even supposed to drive, but still won in.

          RedBull will honor your wish for equal cars, just a matter of Perez holding his end of the bargain pace-wise over the season.

        2. Itsmeagain (@)
          30th March 2023, 18:44

          So when he started at RB and had his first win in his first race the car was already suited to his driving style? And what the team RB was communicating about the development of the car is for both drivers equal is not correct? Interesting. I think the car is 100% developed for checo. Can’t prove it but that isn’t the case these day’s I see.

  6. Electroball76
    29th March 2023, 15:37

    It’s like when big bro is destined to be the next king and you realise that you can only ever be the Spare

    1. But Verstappen can be kingmaker! Winning WDC is 0 challenge for him this year, but making Perez WDC could turn out to be a worthy challenge.

  7. There are a number of factors. Verstappen is simply a much better driver than Perez, faster and better at passing if and when he needs to – though if the Red Bull’s race pace advantage and DRS boost remains the same, Perez too should be fine.
    On the other hand, if Red Bull look to have the titles in the bag by, say, this Sunday, I expect the team’s management/PR machine to start turning up the dial themselves on the ‘intra-team battle.’ They won’t want to be seen as the reason fans (money) turn off Formula 1 over the season. Just how realistic or cynical this would be, we’ll have to wait to see. But – given the intense competitiveness of the Verstappen camp and the hostility towards Perez ever since Monaco qualifying last season (remember those family social media posts?) – I’m not sure how well that PR strategy will turn out. The Verstappens won’t want to play along, I suspect.
    Finally there’s a difference between Perez competing against Verstappen and Perez doing a Bottas and securing 2nd place consistently. If he fails to do the latter, Verstappen will be champion with many races to spare. But if Perez actually performs to the cars level and they finish 1 (VER) – 2 (PER), Verstappen actually winning the title very soon can be quite tricky. Two DNFs, say, and Verstappen is the equivalent of 7 race wins behind (discounting FLAPs and sprint races of course).

    1. If that is the scenario with more DNF,’s for Max and Checo in the lead of the WDC at the final races it will be interesting to see what RB will do.

      Still I think Checo will win some 1-2 based on merit this year. Maybe he is more motivated than ever and he has nothing to lose so he can take maximum risks.

      1. To their credit they let Webber and Vettel at it in 2010, and – at the time somewhat controversially – didn’t order Vettel to let Webber past in Brazil despite the former having a seemingly (much) better chance to win the title. Had Webber won that race, he’d have gone into the season finale in Abu Dhabi with an extra seven points to make it 246 for Alonso and 245 for Webber. Instead, the win brought Vettel to 231 (rather than 225). Vettel ended up winning the next race as well, and with it the championship. But crucially just 4 points ahead of Alonso, so that seemingly ‘logical’ team order in Brazil could have cost Red Bull its first (!) championship. If they were willing to let them race then, hopefully they still feel the same today.

        Not that it’ll matter. Pérez is not keeping up with Verstappen, and unlike in 2010 the other teams are not a factor.

        1. ‘Former’ actually being the latter; i.e. Webber.

        2. MichaelN, earlier that year, Horner had gone on public record effectively stating that the preferred result for Red Bull was for Vettel to win the WDC, rather than Webber, and was not particularly subtle about why.

          Firstly, Horner was fairly open that a title for Vettel would be worth more to the team in terms of advertising, because Vettel was deemed to be more marketable and a better fit to Red Bull’s corporate image than Webber.

          Secondly, they expected Webber to retire in a few years, given he was much older than Vettel: thus, Vettel was the driver that Horner was looking to build the team around for the long term – not Webber. Indeed, with the rather tense relationship between Webber and Red Bull at times in 2010, the team weren’t even entirely sure that Webber was still going to stay with them for 2011, whereas Vettel was on an existing long term contract with Red Bull.

          They therefore had an incentive to “let them race” – because a Vettel WDC, or at the very least having Vettel finish ahead of Webber in the Drivers Championship, was considered the better option for the team, both financially and in terms of how they wanted to structure the team for the longer term.

          1. +1 a pattern likely to repeat

      2. Grapmg – I think it’s possible Perez can win one or maybe two races more on merit, but only if Verstappen makes some kind of mistake or runs into other trouble. Monaco last year was an issue precisely because iit’s so hard to overtake and Perez’s ‘little accident’ proved, ahem, beneficial (I happen to think the Verstappens had something of a point about his weird inputs, but it’s Rosberg-at-Monaco level dubious, not Schumacher level).

        You’re right though, I wonder what happens too if Verstappen has a sequence of DNFs. If they are reliability related, my guess is that Red Bull will be asked to compensate to ‘make up’ for letting Max down. That was almost bubbling at the surface in Saudi Arabia, I felt, in some of the comments he made.

    2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      29th March 2023, 16:51

      @david-br yeah, good point. Reliability can set a driver back tremendously when you’re talking a +7 point net differential vs -25 point. One DNF while leading the race and you lose 32 points (33 with FLAP). It takes 4 races minimum to get back to where you were with P1-P2s.

      Add a 2nd one and now it’s 8 races to get that 14-16 point lead.

      1. @freelittlebirds It can happen indeed. One advantage Red Bull/Verstappen have this year (so far) is that the closest to them is Alonso, who tends to be very cautious. So collisions are unlikely. If Mercedes get closer, very unlikely, that would very certainly be upturned entirely. Both Russell and Hamilton racing with Verstappen would be feisty. I think Alonso is still a great driver, but now he’s back towards the front, so to speak, I’m reminded of all those times he’s actually been a bit disappointing since 2007 – the championship rivalry with Vettel in particular.

  8. There’s also Mercedes 2019-20, which was much more like Ferrari’s dominant period than 2014-16. Ultimately the factor that makes the difference is whether you have relatively evenly-matched drivers, or a clear No 1/No 2 situation (whether that’s contractual, as with Schumacher/Barrichello, or just down to one driver being faster than the other nine times out of ten, like Verstappen/Perez or Hamilton/Bottas).

    1. @red-andy The contract was not holding Barrichello back. To the extent that there was an issue there, it was just good business. Todt was there to win the title, and having missed out by the tiniest of margins in 1997, 1998 and 1999 (!) it was imperative not to leave anything to chance. As it turned out, Barrichello created very few opportunities for himself where he was ahead of Schumacher. It was a non-issue; nobody got even close to Schumacher in those days.

      Contrast to 2018, where Räikkönen was largely unhelpful to the championship battle and worse, when he did end up ahead of Vettel – as in Germany and Italy – he seemingly made it his mission to be as stubborn about it as possible.

      1. MichaelN – Räikkönen the Unhelpful :)
        Possibly my favourite period. Singapore 2017 was peak uncollaborative.

  9. Perez fan here, and i hope they can have the fight honestly. I don’t expect Sergio to beat Max, but am allergic to the idea of the team basically limiting him, forcing him to move out of the way in favor of Max. That’s why i’ve always had a bitter after taste of the years in which certain drivers were preferred by the teams, let alone in years where the teams were so dominant that they only fought each other.

    Domination isn’t my favorite, but can be appreciated (as a whole season) if the battle lasts…that’s why I still like ’88 and ’16.

  10. This a direct respond to Eddye Jordan and all Max fanatics :
    1) 2021 season “He is a legend”-Max (Abu Dhabi GP) after he hold Lewis so Max could catch up, key factor for max win.
    Batles whit Lewis like Azerbaijan, Turkey resulting in points loses for Hamilton.

    2) 2022 season “I have my reason”- Max (Brasil GP) while finishing. Did not return position & ot follow team orders.
    2022 season “It would be no sportmanship to hold Charles ” (Abu Dhabi GP)
    2022 season Max won Spain GP when team orders twice to Checo not to overtake take Max.
    2022 seaso Sergio wins Monaco , after that suddenly Sergio performance goes down dramatically , what is not been acknowledge is that Sergio was all half season was with different car than Verstappen i.e. different floor , testing parts
    So far Sergio has shown he is a top driver that can handle the pressure i.e 2022 Monaco holding Sainz in raining conditions to take the win, why did Max not overtook Sainz??? 2022 Singapur Sergio hold Leclerc who was a less tha 1 second behind on raining conditions to win the race. While world champions Max , Lewis, Vettel made several mistakes.
    So Mr. Jordan make a false statement that sergio was allow to win 2023 Saudi Arabia GP because it was planned before the race???
    a) Suddenly Max obeys team order according to Mr. Jordan , when Max is in 2nd place with 25 laps to go (half race distance) compare that to 2022 Brazil for 6th place ot following orders.
    b) The fact that Max tried from lap 25 to lap 37 to reduce the 5 second gap to Sergio by putting fast tract record to no avail since Sergio responded also with fast laps made Max made up excuse of “vibrations of the shaft”.
    c) Strangely he continue his fast pace. does not obey team order or respond from lap 39 to lap 43 finally team give up giving free to race order to oth drivers on lap 45 Max gives up since he ca reduce the gap asking ” who is fast lap track”
    d) So Mr. Jordan explain how did Max allow for Checo win
    e) Mr. Jordan has former owner ad team chief you do not make any critic on the childness and foolish behavior of driver who had the chance from lap 25 tru 37 to make any progress said he has car issues but not follow team order on lap 39 has no concern about creating an accident to himself and risking drivers on the tracks (unless he knows he is lying)..forcing both cars to be on high pace risking reliability ad high stress on both car (engine , trasmission, etc).
    f) Different from Bahrein where Sergio where not allow to close gap to Max (again did not follow order for 4 laps causing his race engineer “Max I am tired of this” .
    g) Why do you have short memory for all the great drives from Sergio i.e 2022 Silverstone coming back from 17th on lap 3 battling with Lewis. Charles and Lando finishing 2nd..2012 Malaysia 2nd, 2012 Canada 3th starting o 15th both with Sauber team. Best of the rest with Force India team (Over all 4th in drivers championship) etc.
    h) Why instead Mr. Jordan you do not have any concern that there is a conflict of interest of having Gianpiero Lambiase with two hats has the Team Track Engineer and also Max race engineer. Mr. Lambiase recieves all the data , set up
    and race strategy for both cars.
    Whe can only hope like Mr. Hill said that Red Bull Team we allow Sergio to compete with Max on same conditions and let the best driver win…. hoping that Alonso joins the party with Aston Martin upgrades.

    ‘ .

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