What happened to the mighty force that once ruled Formula One? Mercedes AMG F1 with their record eight consecutive team championships were once unstoppable but now they have been relegated to one of the ‘also rans’.
An ‘also ran’ is originally a 19th century term used in horse racing and referred specifically to a horse not finishing in the top three. Of course Mercedes have claimed podium finishes this season but maybe less than you think.
Mercedes form fizzles out
From 17 Grand Prix in 2023, the silver arrows have just six podiums and before the Red Bull disaster that was the race in Singapore – where Mercedes benefitted from Verstappen’s mysterious absence from the front of the grid – the previous podium for Lewis or George was back in July in Silverstone.
Fernando Alonso himself has 7 podiums to his name this year as do the McLaren duo who pushed Verstappen all the way last time out in Qatar.
So in terms of podium and prize paying positions, Mercedes are indeed ‘also rans’ in 2023 despite currently sitting second in the constructors’ title race.
McLaren surge past Mercedes
McLaren have scored 90 points during the last three Grand Prix while Mercedes even with a P3 in Singapore have just 41. While the papaya liveried squad have some hope of overhauling Ferrari who are 79 points ahead in third, Mercedes lead of 107 will most likely prove to be a bridge to far over the remaining 5 events of 2023.
And Mercedes have been fortunate this season. Had Aston Martin a driver alongside Fernando Alonso more capable than the rookie efforts delivered by Lance Stroll, their current second place amongst the teams would be less likely.
Further, had McLaren not scored a mere 17 points over the first eight F1 weekends of the year, they too would be overhauling the silver arrows team.
Verstappen dismisses Mercedes driver pairing
Max Verstappen has recognised who the main threat to his Red Bull team are now as the pairing of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris have outscored the world champions over the last three Grand prix weekends.
“I do think that as a team they are probably the most consistent, compared to the others behind us,” says Verstappen who goes on to dismiss his arch rival and his team mate George Russell as ‘also rans.’
“They [McLaren] have the best driver line-up out of all of them, they are operating really well.” the three times world champion asserted.
Max is well aware that even should he retain his high level of driving and the advantage he presently has over the field, at the current rate of knots his team will be overhauled by the impressive McLaren duo next year.
Max looks to next year
“It’s going to be interesting to the end of the year,” Verstappen acknowledged. “But also I think the start of next year, to see where everyone is at.”
Yet even Verstappen was under more pressure last time out in Qatar than he has been all season. Despite his best efforts, Max biggest advantage of=ver the field was around 8 seconds and the race finished with both McLaren’s less than 6 behind Verstappen.
Red Bull’s normal dominance over the field was disrupted by the extreme measures taken by the FIA on safety grounds which meant no tyre could be raced once it had clocked up a cumulative 18 laps.
This turned the Grand Prix into a series of four sprints for most drivers who just drive flat out from lights out to chequered flag. Verstappen noted after the event one of the big advantages his RB19 has been designed for is tyre management.
RB19 little in hand in Qatar
Whilst not always the quickest over one lap, the RB19 has demonstrated during the Grand Prix it has better pace and longer tyre life over its rival car designs who generally have to stop for fresh rubber earlier than Verstappen.
Max was complimentary towards the McLaren team and their efforts though believes his RB19 has a little in hand at present.
“McLaren is making great steps forward throughout the whole year,” he insisted. “I do think we had a bit more pace in hand if we really needed it, but nevertheless I don’t want to take anything away from them.
“They’ve been doing a great job. We see that they are getting closer and closer, so we have to try and maintain a bit of a gap,” he continued. “We’ll try to improve a little bit this year, but of course mainly for next year.”
Mercedes hopes diminished for 2024
Of course given the lack of rule changes for next season, the chance most likely is that a Red Bull in the hands of Max Verstappen will lead the charge. Mercedes are about to voyageinto the unknown as they completely abandon their current car design philosophy and start again with a Red Bull inspired copy.
The problem for Mercedes is the rest of the teams who morphed towards Red Bull’s ground effect car design concept have been learning for two years how the car needs to be set up from week to week.
The Silver Arrows will be starting almost from scratch.
In terms of prizes awarded this season, Mercedes are ‘also rans’ but next year their actual place in the top three constructors is under threat and the title may remain but for wholly different reasons.