Mercedes: Continuing Dominance
What more can we say about Mercedes? They are dominating F1 yet again, but still finding a way to break new ground. Winning all seven races thus far in 2019 and five one-two finishes have the Silver Arrows staring a sixth constructors title in as many seasons. The Toto Wolff-led brigade has burst out of the starting gates like they have in pretty much every season during the hybrid era, and their pace has been unmatched in five of the seven races. They were behind Ferrari in Bahrain but capitalized on mistakes and car failures, and they got the benefit of the doubt from the stewards in Canada.
Other than those two blips and a pair of medium tires in Monaco, Mercedes has been pretty much perfect. Lewis Hamilton had a slow start through the first four races as he is accustomed to, and it’s hard to call two wins and two second-place finishes slow, but it seemed as if his teammate Valtteri Bottas had the better of Hamilton. However, Hamilton has bounced back with three straight wins and a stronghold of the championship lead. The way things are going, Lewis is on track to enter 2020 just one title away from matching Michael Schumacher, and Bottas has shown to be a strong Finnish version of Rubens Barrichello. Either way, this is the Mercedes era.
Ferrari: Failing Expectations
In similar, yet far more negative fashion to how I opened my summary of Mercedes, what more can I say about Ferrari? They came into the season with sky-high hopes. They dominated Winter Testing and were the championship favorites as Melbourne approached. Not only were they completely sandbagged by Mercedes in terms of pace, but they have also utterly shot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions, keeping them from having a fighter’s chance to score as many points as possible. Sebastian Vettel had a patented spin in Bahrain, and their engine stopped Charles Leclerc from securing his maiden victory.
They had strategy issues in China, constantly swapping drivers and losing time. Leclerc crashed in Q2 in Baku, resulting in a recovery drive and a lost shot at a podium on a track that he could have taken pole. Ferrari made that terrible decision of not sending Leclerc out in Q1 at Monaco that led to not only a Q1 elimination for the Monaco native but a crashed car early in the race, as Leclerc had to push the elbows out to get anywhere near the points on an overtaking-impaired Monaco circuit.
Vettel had his best shot at the win in Canada if he could hold off Hamilton, but a driver error triggered the most controversial penalty of the season, leaving the German standing on the left side of the podium. Ferrari has been beaten by Mercedes in speed — they couldn’t hold a candle to them in Australia, China, and Spain — but in the races where the margin was somewhat close, Ferrari has gone out of their way to lose those races. The Prancing Horse needs a serious comeback to the likes of one they have never mustered up before to have any prayer of catching Mercedes this season.
Red Bull: Same Old Red Bull
Red Bull is always an optimistic group. They always say “This package is it, we finally have something to challenge the top two for a championship.” I am paraphrasing of course, but then season in and season out, they are just one step behind in engine power. They finally scrapped Renault for an engine provider that can give them all of their attention in Honda, but still, there is something missing. However, it is not a total disappointment for the energy drink brand.
They have taken the fight to Ferrari in Spain and Monaco, and Mercedes is just destroying everyone. But the biggest issue for the team is with their drivers. In the area of pace, Pierre Gasly‘s performance will not be acceptable moving forward for Helmut Marko and Christian Horner. The French driver will need to perform much better to be able to hold that seat in the future. It is a shame that Gasly is being compared to Max Verstappen, who may be getting more out of the car than the car actually has, but right now he is many, many steps behind Verstappen and I would not be surprised if Red Bull has started a replacement driver search.
Red Bull may need to kick up their driver search further with the rumors flying that Verstappen could be out the door as early as next season. His father Jos Verstappen retweeted (and since deleted) a tweet supporting the idea of Max leaving Red Bull, and Red Bull has not given a driver as talented as Max a shot at the title. Verstappen has to do what’s best for him and if he gets an offer to drive for Mercedes or Ferrari, he will take it in order to win a title. Red Bull as a brand may not even be part of F1’s future with many rumors surfacing that Red Bull could pull out of F1 if the Honda deal does not lead to a title. The only thing that Red Bull has dominated so far this season is the headlines.
While I say that Red Bull is the same old Red Bull, it is with much optimism. Honda has improved leaps and bounds over the past four seasons and are no longer a laughing stock. They can probably put their engines next to Renault’s and find similar power. It is only year one in the Honda engine deal and they are constantly working on upgrades. While it is going to be a hike to catch Mercedes, Red Bull has at least bought another “wait for next year” excuse from me.
McLaren: Finally Positive
McLaren is breathing fresh air for the first time in many years, I’d say since 2008 when they won their last driver’s title with Hamilton. All of the off-track controversy of the 2009-2010’s, Fernando Alonso’s drama about the pace, kicking Ron Dennis out of the door, etc., there has been a lot of problems for McLaren behind closed doors.
Then starts 2019, after a tough Melbourne, a few strong drives from Lando Norris in Bahrain and Spain, and three strong points-paying finishes including a sixth in Monaco, McLaren stands in fourth, best of the rest in the F1 standings with so much optimism. They need to work on their reliability, but this has so far been a very positive 2019 campaign for McLaren.
Will they eventually challenge the top three? It is way too early to tell, but for now they will go as far as their engine will take them, and from the looks of F1’s state today, you need to have either a works engine manufacturer like Ferrari or Mercedes or outsource an engine from a provider that is only providing engines to your car and have that engine be quick to become a championship contender. Renault will only look out for Renault, and McLaren needs to beware of that like Red Bull was, especially since the two teams are fighting for best of the rest.
Renault: Building Confidence But Looking Forward
Renault knew what they were in for in 2019, a midfield fight for best of the rest. Acquiring Daniel Ricciardo and putting more attention towards building engine power is all a play for the 2021 regulation change. But for now, it has to be said that Renault has worked their way back from a tough start where they could not get the car to finish a race and now is coming off of a sixth and seventh place finish ahead of Red Bull in Canada.
It may appear that Renault is figuring things out while Riccardo is finding the pace, as evidenced by his fourth-place qualifying effort in Canada, while Nico Hulkenberg is doing just what he needs to match his teammate. They will need more consistency out of their car as the cars around them break down and they are a strong contender for fourth in the title. McLaren is their biggest threat at the moment with Racing Point showing strength. One could only imagine how far in fourth they would be if they could bring the double points-paying finishes home in Bahrain.
The French Grand Prix approaches this weekend as Mercedes looks to keep the winning streak going for the eighth straight race.