Mercedes dominated Formula 1 at the start of the 2019 season. In the first eight races they clinched eight victories, including six double wins. But the dominance of the silver arrows appears to have crumbled somewhat.
For five races there was no pole position and only two of the last six races were won. Ferrari seems to have overtaken Mercedes somewhat since the summer break.
“We have seen in the past races that we no longer have the fastest package,” explains team boss Toto Wolff and adds: “Our chassis performance is very good, but the power/air resistance ratio and the sheer power are deficits compared to Ferrari. We have to get this under control by working hard.”
Is Mercedes suddenly in a chasing role?
Certainly not in the World Championship, here they still have 162 points ahead of the Italian team. And in the drivers’ championship Charles Leclerc, as the best non-Mercedes driver, is already 107 points behind Lewis Hamilton.
Here, the silver arrows still benefit from the strong start to the season. “The championship is also about constantly scoring points throughout the season,” recalls Wolff.
“Actually, this is an entertaining challenge. In the beginning it’s always difficult to adjust to something new,” Wolff explains in view of the new situation, adding: “If you think you’re going to win the race, but then you’re not going to win it and that’s going to happen again in the next race, then it’s going to be difficult to deal with that expectation.
“But I think we can do that,” he says optimistically, explaining: “It’s a funny situation. I still remember what it was like in 2013. The only difference is: we’re still leading the overall standings.” 2013 was the last year in which Mercedes did not win the world championship. Since 2014 the silver arrows dominated the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships.
This is not expected to change in 2019. This is probably one of the reasons why Wolff is relatively relaxed in view of the new Ferrari strength. “We could have decided a while ago to put the pressure on until the end of the year. But that would have allowed [our preliminary work for] the 2020 season to run its course. We didn’t do that then,” Wolff reveals.
Has the focus long been on 2020?
The silver arrows may already have shifted a large part of their resources to the new car for 2020, while Ferrari is still working on improving the current car. This could have helped Ferrari close the gap in 2019. On the other hand, Mercedes would then start again in 2020 with a lead.
“Ferrari had a few breakdowns at the start of the season, but now they’re on their toes. They’ve been pretty strong four races in a row and are now the reference in lap times,” says Wolff, explaining: “You have to be careful. It’s a question of how you handle it. When asked if Ferrari could still be caught, he replied: “That’s possible and it’s an absolute must”.
“With the sheer power [of the engine] we won’t be able to gain much more”, he admits and explains: “You have to admit that there is a certain distance, which we almost can’t make up for. That’s why we have to do more and get a good chassis on the track. We have to understand the tyres and drive the right strategy in the race.”
“In the last three races we had a really good race car, although we didn’t have the pace on Saturdays. I think that’s exactly where our chance lies. But of course: Given their engine power we can’t expect to dominate the coming weekends,” says Wolff, who is claiming the current period to be “one of the most difficult” in the hybrid era.
“We’ve already had situations in which Ferrari was very strong,” he recalls. “But currently they are superior to all the others with their high speed on the straights. It’s very difficult to make up for that in other parts of the track. But we have to master this challenge,” says Wolff. However, the 2020 season is likely to be the most important one.
Because the 2019 title fight has long since been decided. Lewis Hamilton could skip the next four races in Japan, Mexico, the USA and Brazil, and Mercedes would nevertheless travel to Abu Dhabi for the finale with the lead in the drivers’ championship. Therefore, the one or other Ferrari victory in 2019 might not be quite so painful.
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