Mercedes’ latest epoch of F1 domination shows no sign of crumbling | Richard WilliamsOne week ago
F1 is waiting uneasily to see if new regulations can end what feels like a period of stagnation. Most of all, the athletic would like to see Mercedes face stiffer competition
Lewis Hamilton appeared pretty pleased with life as he spoke at the launch of his new Mercedes Formula One auto on Thursday, but it was hard to know whether his relaxed, chatty demeanour was caused by good feelings resulting from a few exploratory laps earlier in the day or by the need to put on a cheerful face for the 50,000 fans tuning in to the Instagram feed from his iPhone, which was propped on a nearby table to provide live monitoring of the press conference.
The triple world champions relationship with the social media audience is one that Formula One will hope to imitate now that its new proprietors, Liberty Media, have taken over from Bernie Ecclestone, who failed to see the phase of Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Hamilton compared the progressive stance found in other athletics he mentioned football, the NBA and the NFL with that in F1, where if I posted a scene Id get a warning from the FIA or an order to take it down. For the athletic to be able to grow, its a super-easy free tool.
There is a big desire for change at many levels in Formula One, which is waiting anxiously to see if a new situate of technological regulations can end what feels like a period of stagnating interest by eliciting more spectacular and unpredictable racing. Most of all, the sport would like to see Mercedes face stiffer challenges from competitors who have been forced to wave the white flag as the Silver Arrows scooped up the drivers and constructors titles for the past three seasons.
People complained when Michael Schumacher and Ferrari exerted a similar monopoly but at the least the Italian team had the benefit of a warm-blooded charisma resulting from decades of victory and misfortune. Although Mercedes can boast an even longer history, it lacks the same romantic appeal to the feelings of the average fan.
At least Mercedes respected the situation of women champs this week by holding something resembling an old-fashioned launching for the WO8, unlike the online-only debuts of the 2017 vehicles from Ferrari and Red Bull. But it was not like the working day when McLaren rented Alexandra Palace and paid the Spice Girls to help them unveil their 1997 car, or Benetton revealed their 2001 machine by floating it on a gondola to St Marks Square in Venice, or when Jordan took over Moscows Red Square in 2005.
Enzo Ferrari began the practice of launchings in the 1950 s, inviting journalists to inspect his new contender on a spring day in Maranello. Gradually these events became more and more competitively lavish, until the financial crisis of 2008 forced the teams to curtail spending and reduced their ability to afford unlimited quantities of absurdly elaborate and endlessly redesigned carbon-fibre front wings expensing tens of thousands of pounds apiece.
You would not bet the house against this years Mercedes repeating the sort of results obtained by its all-conquering predecessors in the precede three seasons, which repeated a pattern assured throughout the history of motor racing. This is the fourth time in simply over a century that the German squad has been a dominant force-out. Two periods of success were truncated by the outbreak of world wars; the first of them was after the team had finished 1-2-3 in the French Grand Prix at Lyon, crushing the home opponent three weeks before the first shots were fired in the Great War, and the third, in the mid-1 950 s, was abbreviated when the team receded at the end of a season in which one of their autoes had flown into the crowd at Le Mans, killing 82 spectators.
So far nothing untoward has happened to persuade the board of directors to call a halt to a campaign that began with their buy of the title-winning Brawn team in 2010. It differs significantly from the previous eras in that the cars are not designed and induced in Stuttgart but at two mills in Northamptonshire, 25 miles apart and both within hailing distance of Silverstone. The two technologists present at this weeks press conference, Aldo Costa and Andy Cowell, are Italian and English respectively. The drivers, Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, are English and Finnish.
Maybe the economic consequences of a hard Brexit will eventually be the bloodless undoing of such a successful multicultural arrangement. Until then their challengers will be hoping that the new technical regulations generate the sort of interruption seen in 2009, when Ross Brawn took over the Honda team and built the car featuring a double diffuser arranging that dedicated Jenson Button such a decisive advantage in the championship, or in 2014, when a switch to hybrid engines put a sudden end to the run of four titles for Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.
Having just lost one highly rated technical leader, Paddy Lowe, to the Williams team, Mercedes are about to acquire another, James Allison, whose sudden departure from Ferrari last year did the Scuderias hopes no good at all. On the face of it, this like-for-like swap should add new ideas and energy to a winning combination.
Even the most promising strategies sometimes fall apart, however, as they did when Brawn, after 5 years of unbroken success with Ferrari, decided to step away and could only watch as his carefully devised succession scheme disintegrated under the stress of internal rivalries. When I left, some of the glue that was holding it together used to go, he said recently in Total Competition, a fascinating volume on strategy which takes the form of a series of Socratic dialogues with Adam Parr, the former Williams team principal.
It was Brawn who laid the foundations of Mercedes success, enduring three years of annoyance before the emphasis on long-term planning paid off. By the time the champagne started flowing, however, “youve already” left, squeezed out by the arrival of the Austrian pair Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda as joint bosses and front-men. And it is in a few more amazingly unguarded terms from the book that Mercedes rivals might find a measure of hope. I ensure no future with people I couldnt trust, he says.
A universally respected figure, Brawn is now working for F1s new owners on reshaping the sport in order to make it more exciting and competitive. In Barcelona for next weeks pre-season testing, he will be watching Hamilton put the WO8 through its paces and thinking about ways of frustrating prolonged periods of dominance by a single squad the very phenomenon of which he was the master, and Mercedes the inheritors.
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