Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2023

Wolff: F1 had ‘two cars fighting’ when Mercedes dominated – unlike now

2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Mercedes’ spell of dominance in Formula 1 brought more to the sport because there was a close competition between its drivers, team principal Toto Wolff has claimed.

His team’s drivers won every championship from 2014 to 2020. All bar one of those titles was taken by Lewis Hamilton, but the 2014 and 2016 contests were decided in final-race showdowns between him and team mate Nico Rosberg.

At the halfway point this season, Max Verstappen has won all bar two of the 11 grands prix and leads the championship with 281 points to team mate Sergio Perez’s 171. Red Bull have more than twice as many points as their closest rival.

While Mercedes regularly won the constructors championship by huge margins in the mid-2010s, Wolff said the contest between their drivers made those seasons more entertaining than today.

Hamilton and Rosberg fought each other hard at Mercedes
“I don’t know whether our dominance was similar or less [than Red Bull’s],” he told media including RaceFans yesterday. “I think we had years where we did it in the same way.

“But at least we had two cars that were fighting each other so that caused a little bit of entertainment for everyone. And that’s not the case at the moment.”

Mercedes is the only team besides Red Bull to have won a race in the last 12 months. However following George Russell’s victory at Interlagos in the penultimate race of last season, Mercedes dropped far back from their rivals during the winter.

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Wolff admitted the scale of Red Bull’s margin over the competition had taken them by surprise. “I often say that it’s a meritocracy and it’s up to us to fight back. Did we expect that gap? Certainly not.

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
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“I think with the last step of upgrade it seem they have another advantage that they were able to exploit. But again it always gets me back to the point of we’ve just got to dig in and and do the best possible job.”

Red Bull scored their 12th consecutive grand prix victory in Hungary last week. That broke the record set by McLaren in 1988, when the team had its famed all-star line-up of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Verstappen, who is on course to win his third world championship this year, deserves to be regarded on the same level as that pair. “It’s so difficult to compare drivers from different generations but Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, both legends of the sport and I think Max is rapidly joining that group.”

However pairing two drivers of that calibre brings challenges, said Horner, noting Senna and Prost “got pretty sparky between the two of them” before the latter left McLaren the following year.

“Two alphas is always a difficult one to manage,” he added.

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2023 Belgian 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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39 comments on “Wolff: F1 had ‘two cars fighting’ when Mercedes dominated – unlike now”

  1. You had two cars fighting for three seasons out of 8, not by choice, and the first opportunity you had to end it and just get a meek second driver you could team order out of the way you did so. But I can forgive a bit of revisionism from the main player in that.

    However, there was not much added entertainment from two teammates fighting each other. The end result is the same, you know beforehand which team is winning and whether it’s one or the other only matters if you have a dog in the fight. If you support any other driver or team or nobody in particular, then it is just as uninteresting if it’s the neon yellow accented car or the other one.

    The only season you could make an argument for at any rate was 2016 and that was mostly a reliability thing with a farcical final race determining the winner.

    1. Just to remind you, out of 8 seasons you count, “only” in 4 Mercedes was dominant (2014, 2015, 2016, 2020). In 2019 Ferrari and Red Bull won 6 races amongst themselves, so I would not label it as “dominance” but that is up to a debate.

      Seconly, Bottas was not just a “meek” driver. He was a very perspective driver at the time with record of beating his teammate each year. The main problem was he was signed for short-term contract, which disadvantaged him within the team, and that he came into team just as Ferrari reappeared as top team.

      1. There is only just a difference between Bottas and Checo since the latter is going to a rather bad streak recently. But in general I wouldn’t know the difference between them (their driving and their purpose in the team “Valtteri, It’s James”).

    2. Spot on. It is imho a result of the format. Especially after a regulation change. And they keep doing it: just as the field converges they feel the need for a regulatory change again.

    3. mostly a reliability thing

      That’s rather unfair on Rosberg. The big ones were China and Malaysia – but that didn’t determine the championship any more than Rosberg’s additional technical DNFs in 2014 made Hamilton a ‘lucky winner’ then when the title was also decided in the final race. Similarly, Rosberg had numerous issues in 2016 too, but was lucky to escape race ending DNFs, for example in England when his gearbox started to act up and he lost one or two places.

      The Chinese 2016 race is actually quite interesting when one compares it to Red Bull this year; Hamilton had to start 22nd (who knew you could have 11 teams!) and could ‘only’ recover to 7th. Meanwhile we’re now in the second year of Verstappen basically starting wherever and leading the race halfway through. Also in Malaysia, Rosberg was sent to the back of the field by a rather optimistic move by Vettel and could recover to third, helped by multiple safety cars (and Hamilton’s DNF).

      1. On cutting through the field – that takes two things: a quicker car, and the ability to overtake.

        The Mercedes in those years had a bigger time advantage than the Red Bull does today – but overtaking was harder, so it struggled to carve through the field in the way you see many drivers do now.

        For comparison, Russell went from 18th to 6th last weekend in a car that was probably joint-2nd/3rd-fastest with the McLaren. It’s simply easier to do.

    4. Yellow Baron
      30th July 2023, 13:48

      Actually 5 out of 8 seasons had title battles. Just Ferrari could not sustain it last the 2/3 point. As someone mentioned 2019 wasn’t absolute dominance either. Bottas also took multiple wins and a bunch of the Merc wins were fought for the lead

      It’s impossible to argue that this current stretch isn’t the most dominant in the history of F1. Even 2015 had more competition than now

  2. It’s so ironic that the team whinging and whining the most about dominance is the team that had the longest dominant spell in the sport.

    1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      30th July 2023, 13:41

      I am not sure I see any outward whinging only that MB can’t find the sauce to get their car performing like McLaren has.

      Toto seems pretty clear he doesn’t want any intervention to hobble ORBR but depending on perspective then I guess you could take what is being said as a veiled wish to the FIA to do just that.

      1. Toto seems pretty clear he doesn’t want any intervention

        Agreed. I also see no “whinging”. Toto has been very complimentary about RBR’s car and performance, and has spoken out strongly against making any rule changes to hinder RBR. He’s taken the same position as he had during Merc’s dominanace.

        Hamilton has talked about needing rule changes to stop dominance, but he also said such things when he was in a dominant car. Again, same position as previously.

        Max has also been consistent in his opinions, generally being that it’s up to the other teams to catch up. He said the same when Merc had the faster car.

        On the other hand, we have RBR/Horner. They were staunchly against making any rule changes during their previous dominant period, then changed their mind very early on during Merc’s dominance. They’ve now switched back to being firmly against it now they are back in a dominant position…

  3. Yes, I too remember Valtteri Bottas regularly challenging Hamilton for the title.

    1. Especially Bottas 2.0 😂😂😂😂

    2. Ah yes, those ferociously close fights with Wingman Bottas that kept me riveted throughout the seasons…

    3. Yellow Baron
      30th July 2023, 13:49

      Seems your Pavlovian instincts have left you a bit forgetful

  4. In 2014-16, yes, but in 2019 & ’20, Lewis was somewhat similarly superior at most times.

  5. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
    30th July 2023, 8:17

    I hope Mercedesstay in the mud. Toto us such an odious man.

  6. The only thing Bottas fought with Hamilton is a pillow fight

  7. Toto thinks our memories are short. But I clearly remember Mercedes’ dominance – 1, sometimes 2 seconds advantage in qualis and races. Remember Rosberg and Hamilton fighting in Bahrain 2014? They were running away from others by at least 2 seconds. And remember when they recently revealed they had to turn down their engines to mask their huge advantage? So Toto should never mention others dominating while his team was crushing opposition for many years. Red Bull is dominating not only because of their car, which sometimes has advantage in races by 1 second (Hungaroring), but sometimes by only a couple of tenths (Silverstone, Montreal). It’s because Max is executing everything perfectly even on the odd days. Out of 11 races, 9 victories are from Verstappen. I wonder if Toto would be willing to throw a competetive driver alongside Max and who would be that much competetive against him to be fighting for WDC from current grid? Probably only Lewis, Lando and Charles. So not many and you have to 1) lure them from other teams; 2) manage them in the team to prevent fireworks.

    1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      30th July 2023, 13:42

      If it were only a few seconds in races then that is a long way different to 30 seconds we are seeing at present.

      1. I was talking about 2 secs per lap, not in the whole race. I don’t know how you came to such conclusion. If you think this is big domination, you haven’t watched F1 long enough. I’ve seen bigger dominations and bigger gaps in races and qualis.

        1. Plus the perpetual 1-2 of Mercedes, clearly painting the picture it wouldn’t matter who you would put in the car. Not to say Lewis isn’t great. But he was also incredibly lucky to have such car for such a long time.

    2. Yellow Baron
      30th July 2023, 13:51

      If you didn’t think 2014 Bahrain was a good race you either just hate Merc toto Lewis and rosberg or you aren’t a fan of racing. Battles like that pretty rare for a fan of pure racing

      1. Liking or not liking wasn’t my point. I was talking about dominating the sport. I did like Bahrain 2014 battle. But Mercs now complaining about Red Bull domination is totally absurd. That was my point.

        1. Yellow Baron
          30th July 2023, 20:35

          If you read his quotes they’re not complaining. Neither are they complaining about domination. They’re simply highlighting that there was more competition during that dominance than there is now during this. Which is clear, at least so far, without doubt.

          1. I do not agree. There wasn’t a hint of competition back then. And I would argue the field behind the current single (not both cars, which is already way better than back then with the default Lewis – Bottas finish) is much more close together and way more competitive. So overall I haven’t got the slightest idea what Toto is babbling about.

  8. The head photo summarizes this season and especially the dynamic between RB drivers perfectly. If the trend is not reversed by the end of season the photo would be suitable for the Head to head teammates battles article.

    If there is a driver change at Red Bull, I just wish it is not back to Ricciardo. He was able to challenge Verstappen´s position within the team and for that he had to leave. I do not trust him that he would make that challenge once more. He will be glad for another opportunity and happy to pick up the pieces when Verstappen has a day off.

    There is Norris, there is Leclerc, there is Russell. Each of them has showed his merit and would be eager to try to topple Verstappen. Red Bull has buffer against other teams, the regulations are stable. There will be no better time to make such change.

    Mercedes has allowed that in 2014-2016, it would be popular with the viewers to have that if we have to endure years of Red Bull dominance to come.

  9. Rosberg went agains team orders multiple times, didn’t back down from the fight when told to, requested and received the other cars pit team and got the WDC and promptly quit, not just your team but the entire “sport”
    You even called Bottas a wingman, when they were still “fighting”

    1. It is hard to listen to this man. He is full of

    2. Yeah… I agree that having Hamilton/Rosberg close enough in ability to fight each other was better than Hamilton/Bottas where they weren’t. But that’s no thanks to Toto.

  10. Tommy Scragend
    30th July 2023, 9:53

    Not so much the boy who cried wolf, as the Wolff who just cried.

  11. Wolff isn’t completely wrong, but there are two big things he skips:

    – Very few people expected Rosberg to be a match for Hamilton as often as he was. Hamilton had an advantage, but was beaten on merit plenty of times. This was probably not what Mercedes intended.
    – The second Rosberg left they hired Bottas. Bottas could sometimes beat Hamilton, notably in Austria and Russia – and as such he was probably a step above Pérez – but it was pretty obvious that this was an emphatic #2 signing.

    It’s disappointing. Sometimes teams dominate, but the least they could do is make it a fun brawl. They’re going to win the titles anyway. Red Bull acts tough by dumping De Vries, but they are more than happy to have Pérez sit in that 2nd Red Bull for three years in a row.

    1. Going off on a tangent here: Perez vs Bottas

      Looking back over this website’s driver rankings, Perez and Bottas have been remarkably close in performance over the years — they must be one of the most tightly correlated pairs of drivers, having good years together (2019) and bad years together (2021). Overall, Perez has done marginally better, but they’re basically even.

      2022 – Perez 9th, Bottas 11th (+2P)
      2021 – Bottas 10th, Perez 11th (-1P)
      2020 – Perez 7th, Bottas 8th (+1P)
      2019 – Bottas 5th, Perez 6th (-1P)
      2018 – Perez 7th, Bottas 11th (+4P)
      2017 – Bottas 6th, Perez 7th (-1)
      2016 – Perez 8th, Bottas 10th (+2P)
      2015 – Perez 3rd, Bottas 8th (+5P)

      Total – Perez +11 over 8 years… slimmest of margins.
      If we’d started from 2017, Perez would have been +4 over 6 years… either way about 1 ranking spot higher

      I’m not trying to make a point here; I just thought it was weird and worth sharing that they come so surprisingly close.

      1. Coventry Climax
        30th July 2023, 11:09

        I’ll make the point for you: Verstappen is a much, much faster racing driver than Hamilton.

    2. Yellow Baron
      30th July 2023, 13:55

      I don’t see how people gloss over 2017 and 18 where Merc and Ferrari battled and not always with just one drivers from each team either but the the bunch. Sure the title race didn’t go to the end but it went around 2/3 of the season minimum. Perhaps people think those two seasons were dominance too. Well no wonder people are annoyed with these comments from toto. Ignorance is bliss

  12. All these people commenting about Bottas etc.

    Merc never treated Rosberg/Bottas as a clear no 2, someone to help Lewis to the title.

    Checko since he arrived has played that role, all you had to see if the difference in his helping max in 2021 vs Bottas who was clearly driving for himself vs Lewis.

    Checko is one of the worst, if not the worst driver on the grid. How he is not taking that Redbull to a at east 2nd on the podium each race where Max wins is a testament to how bad of a race driver he is.

    1. Even as a fan of Hamilton and Mercedes, I don’t completely agree with you.

      Mercedes didn’t treat Rosberg or Bottas the same way as RBR treat Perez, that is true. But they did favour Hamilton. Admittedly, that was generally because Hamilton was the better/faster driver, but they did ask for favours to assist him. It was more balanced, though, with Hamilton playing “wingman” to Bottas on occasion, and they didn’t tend to stop their drivers from battling when they could.

      I would disagree that Perez is one of the worst drivers on the grid, though. He’s a solid midfield driver. He’s no Stroll. Nowhere near the same class as Max or Lewis, but few are. Not even up to Bottas’ standard to me. He shows the odd brilliant performance, but on average he is… average.

      I agree with Toto on this one. Rosberg, while not at the same standard as Hamilton, was up there, just a step behind. He regularly fought for wins on merit, and even took a championship. Bottas was a step or two further back, but he was remarkably consistent and did still manage to take the fight to Hamilton on merit occasionally. So, while Mercedes was more dominant at times, it was almost always less predictable who would win any given race. Even when the other teams weren’t challenging, it wasn’t nailed on that one driver would win any given race.

    2. Merc never treated Rosberg as a number 2, because he was always close to Hamilton, in terms of quali, pace and points.
      But in Bottas’ case, I think you either have a short or selective memory. Not only did Merc asked Bottas to move aside, to let Hamilton passed to win (aka “Valteri it’s James”), but how many times was Bottas put on a bad strategy (staying out way too long on old tires) to hold off Vettel, to allow Hamilton to catch him.
      Heck, Wolff even called Bottas a wingman!
      And regarding Checko, sure he’s not great, but I don’t think he is the worst driver on the grid. If you look at his whole career, he’s probably the guy who got the most podiums in a mid-field car. I think Max is just that much better than everyone else. I know this is hard for some (or most) to accept, but the guy is special. And this is comming from someone who isn’t a Max fan.

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