There was a time, around three years ago, when it felt like the Mercedes dominance in F1 would last forever. Their cars were faster than anyone else’s, their drivers more in tune with the vehicle, not focused on a podium finish, but the podium finish. Every race was to be won, and anything less would be a shock.
But in 2020, Red Bull seemed to take a drink of their own mixture, and ever since they have been flying into first place. So what exactly happened? Is Mercedes no longer making the best F1 cars, or do the Red Bull drivers just have something a little extra?
The Efficiency Of The Mercedes Model
First off, even over the last few years, it’s hard to deny the efficiency of the Mercedes model. Ever since Ross Brawn became team principal back in 2008, Mercedes has had the brains and brawn to not only fly when the wind was right, but when the wind was against them too, and that hasn’t changed despite the newly dominating Red Bull team.
Just look at the Nicholas Latifi F1 debut in 2020. A crash in FP3 threatened to put him out of the first Australian Grand Prix. Against the odds, however, the team convened, and the car was fixed even before qualifying. It’s hard to deny that the Mercedes team still runs like clockwork, and their clock is spinning at 100mph.
It’s important to remember that the run of World Championship wins – beginning in 2014 and ending in 2021 – all came down to a simple design statement. A difference in power units between Ferrari and Renault. It was when Mercedes split their turbocharger in half that they finally got ahead of the race.
By doing this, the intake turbine and the compressor could be put at opposite ends of the engine, which not only boosted horsepower but boosted the overall performance of the vehicle itself. With the split system needing less cooling than the traditional setup, the intercooler could be fitted in the car’s side pod, making Mercedes smaller and more aerodynamic. With incredibly efficient F1 maintenance and care for the small details, this radical – but ultimately small tweak – was enough to shoot them ahead, so there’s no reason why they are not just a simple tweak away from hitting first place again.
Red Bull As The Great Competitor
It’s important to remember Red Bull in this conversation too. With their design now allowing drivers to use immense downforce across the speed range – the flat floor brings the cars lower to the track, which creates more usable downforce than other teams – they have been a worthy opponent who certainly earned their victories. Max Verstappen has also had a sizable part to play over the last two years, with driving skills that have gone unmatched, even from racing legends like Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez – who drives for the same team!
While some may argue that Mercedes still makes the best car in the championship, there’s no denying the RB19 dominance. Every feature – from the mounting points to the engine – is just a degree better than Mercedes, and the reliability of the design is off the charts compared to its competitors.
But as mentioned before, Mercedes are not far off. Over the last year, they have been quietly working on their W15 car, and with Damon Hill suggesting that they have created a title contender, there’s enough reason for Red Bull to get a little nervous. Whether that’s a tweak to polish out the parts that weren’t working on the 2023 model, or a more substantial redesign, remains to be seen. We’re all just going to have to tune in to find out.