Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes on a fast track to become Formula One's Invincibles

The straights of Silverstone at the British Grand Prix should see another two Mercedes wins and heighten the possibility of a perfect campaign

Can Mercedes really win every race and become F1’s Invincibles?

Are we about to witness the most dominant season in the sport’s history by a single driver and a single team?

Some will say it is too early to be talking about the elusive Perfect Season after just three rounds. And in such a changeable world.

But in a season of records surely this is the record of all records? Surely it has to be the target. And with this car Mercedes have to be in the game.

When they were in their pomp in the 1980s McLaren came closest with 15 wins in 16 races – and only lost at Monza because Ayrton Senna tripped over a dithering stand-in Williams driver.

And that shows how difficult it can be. One dozy rival racer, one miscommunication and the dream is over.

Mercedes have certainly laid out their stall in devastating fashion in the opening three rounds of the championship – three pole starts, three wins.

Lewis Hamilton has won twice while his fraught opening weekend went to teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The last round in Hungary was the most impressive, with Hamilton so far ahead of the rest he had time to pit without losing the lead, then tick off fastest lap and a win.

But it was not only the manner in which it was achieved, against the backdrop of the pandemic uncertainty, but the stage.

Austria and Hungary could hardly be called Mercedes’ strong suits. Normally.

In fact, they were 1.3 seconds clear of their nearest non-Mercedes rivals in Hungary qualifying. An age in F1 terms.

And the talk of Invincibles is all the more convincing because their traditional rivals are stumbling.

Ferrari are in utter chaos: both cars were lapped last time out and it was evident the engine lacked power and the car handled like a frightened pig.

Things are so bad Ferrari chairman John Elkann has publicly ruled out a win this year or next, run to similar regulations.

On the ground, team principal Mattia Binotto announced a reshuffle and the return of South African Rory Byrne, the architect of the Michael Schumacher glory days.

Very much against Maranello’s traditional reaction to failure, no-one was fired but the corporate structure and areas of responsibility of key figures juggled and more tightly defined.

Unsuccessful Ferrari team bosses usually have a shelf life not far removed from that of a Premier League manager.

And the result has been a continual spiral of change, uncertainty, decline and failure. So perhaps they are finally learning from the Merc model; long-term competitiveness demands long-term stability.

Even so, the wisdom in sacking such a prolific figure as four-time champion Sebastian Vettel before the season has even begun begs serious questions of those in charge.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the 2016 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. PA
Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the 2016 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. There will be no fans at this year's race due to the coronavirus. PA

And as for Red Bull; they have discovered an aero weakness which makes the car unstable in long corners and the Honda engine cedes half a second to the Merc on the straights.

Design legend Adrian Newey says he knows the cause of the problem but has not shared whether it can be solved for Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Of course, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff will rubbish all talk of Invincibles as “too soon” or “we don’t even know where we are racing or how many times, let alone whether we can win.” I can hear it now.

But where is the Mercedes competition going to come from? Only themselves, it appears. Or more accurately a year-old version of themselves – Racing Point’s controversial copy of last year’s winning Merc is so astonishing similar (and competitive) it has been protested twice by Renault and the results of the FIA inquiry is due any day.

Everyone had been hoping F1’s future out the other side of the global pandemic would be bright – but it might just be bright pink.

New owner and Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll has worked miracles – shed loads of money tends to have that effect in F1.

Perennially broke and close to closure under previous management they are now vying for the spot as the second force in F1.

Rivals teams must reflect with some chagrin that they are being outperformed not only by the current Mercedes design but a Mercedes powered year-old one as well.

If any circuit is made for Mercedes the expansive straights of Silverstone is it and on Sunday, and a week, later fans will surely witness one of the biggest chasms in recent times between the pacesetters and their pursuers.

Let’s see how outrageous talk of an Invincible season seems then.

Updated: July 30, 2020 07:36 AM



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