They may not have won either title, but Mercedes have nonetheless progressed perhaps more than any other team on the grid from 2012 to 2013. There are still two races remaining in the 2013 season, but with 17 races done this year it’s a good time to assess just how well the team from Brackley has done.
In 2012, Mercedes finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 142 points. The team recorded one victory (Rosberg won in China), one pole position (again, Rosberg in China. It’s worth remembering that Schumacher qualified fastest in Monaco but had a grid penalty from the previous race) and three podium finishes. Although 2012 saw the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to the grid in 2010, it was their least successful season in terms of the Constructors’ Championship in the same period.
At the end of 2012, Mercedes were considered to be about 1.5 seconds off the pace. That’s a long, long way. It seemed impossible that Mercedes could make up that deficit in just one off-season. But that’s precisely what they did.
Mercedes came out fighting in 2013, immediately challenging strongly in qualifying and delivering the sort of race pace that had been unimaginable in 2012. They struggled a bit with tyre management, which had been a problem for the team ever since Pirelli arrived on the scene in 2011. But those issues were generally manageable and were eventually sorted out.
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have dominated the last seven races. But before that, the season was quite open, and Mercedes were strong challengers. In the first 11 races of the season, a Mercedes driver qualified on pole position 8 times – 5 for Hamilton, including 4 in a row, and 3 in succession for Rosberg – and the Silver Arrows recorded three wins – 2 for Rosberg and 1 for Hamilton.
Between them, Hamilton and Rosberg have stood on the podium 9 times so far in 2013 – 5 times for Hamilton and 4 for Rosberg. They’ve each scored more points than the team as a whole managed in 2012 and both are in the top six in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton has a chance (albeit a small one) of finishing second in the championship. It’s more likely that he will overhaul Kimi Raikkonen for third place, as the Finn is just 8 points ahead of Hamilton with two races to go.
The Mercedes team of 2013 has stood out as the most improved outfit on the grid. This season the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships proved out of reach, but not by nearly as much as before. The amount of performance gained in the last off-season bodes well for next year, when massive regulation changes make pre-season development perhaps more crucial than ever.
Where Mercedes have perhaps fallen behind this year has been their in-season development. Winning championships is not just about producing a competitive car. The car must continually be improved and updated throughout the season or the competitive edge will be lost to other teams who are able to develop faster. This year it’s been Red Bull who have impressed most in their ability to improve their car through the season, and they have been rewarded with both championships for the fourth year in succession.
It could turn out that Mercedes are more capable of in-season development than they revealed this season. Next year’s major regulation changes – new power units and various aerodynamic changes – have meant that all teams have had to allocate some resources to next year’s car quite early in the season or perhaps even before this year started. Next year there will not be such a need to split resources early on, and as a result the true development potential of the Mercedes team should be seen in on-track performance in 2014.
Based on their massive progress from 2012 to 2013, Mercedes can be counted on to produce a competitive car for 2014. It will almost certainly be a race-winning car and, if they continue to improve as they’ve done over the last year or so, there’s a chance it could be a championship-winning car.
Lewis Hamilton has long been considered perhaps the most talented driver in Formula One, even above the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Today in qualifying for the British Grand Prix, he showed why. Hamilton took pole position for tomorrow’s race by almost half a second from his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton’s been struggling this season at Mercedes. It’s not obvious to the casual observer, because Hamilton has finished on the podium three times and is currently fourth in the Drivers’ Championship. But he has been struggling to get comfortable in the car, particularly under braking, where confidence is so crucial for a good lap time. This weekend, he has complained publicly of not being comfortable in the car, but has nonetheless been quick in every session.
Today, however, everything finally came together for the 2008 World Champion, and he showed his speed, taking pole position with a stunning lap that included fastest times in each of the three sectors of the lap. He was faster than everyone else, everywhere. That is unusual. Normally the pole-sitter will be quickest in at least one sector, and perhaps two, but to be fastest all the way round the lap is rare.
Unfortunately for Hamilton, tomorrow’s race is likely to go rather differently to qualifying. Mercedes have been struggling with tyre degradation all season, and there is no particular reason to believe that their problems will magically disappear by tomorrow. Close behind are the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who have also had tyre-wear issues but not to nearly the extent of Mercedes.
If his tyres hold together, there is no doubt that Hamilton can challenge for victory at Silverstone tomorrow. He has shown his speed today and he’s demonstrated before that he knows how to win. The deciding factor will be the tyres. But even if he doesn’t win tomorrow, Hamilton has given the F1 community a special treat today: a qualifying lap worthy of the special talent that he is.
Lewis Hamilton has a dog. Gasp. Such drama. How supremely irresponsible. The rest of his life is so sensible, it’s appalling that he would do something as risky as keep a dog as a pet. At least that’s what some of the world’s media would have us believe.
Hamilton’s bulldog, Roscoe, has become a feature of the F1 paddock this season. It’s been considered newsworthy that a dog could receive a paddock pass from Bernie Ecclestone – such is the general public’s apparent appetite for meaningless column inches.
More recently, however, the dog has been blamed for Hamilton’s supposed lack of performance on the track. Former driver turned commentator, John Watson, reckons Roscoe is distracting Hamilton from the business of delivering results. Watson told the Daily Express, “Lewis has to decide if he wants to be an F1 driver or a hip-hop star.”
Watson claims to know an awful lot about being a successful F1 driver, but in this context it is worth comparing his F1 record to that of Lewis Hamilton. Watson won 5 out of his 154 races and finished a career-best 3rd in the 1982 World Championship for McLaren. Hamilton has won 21 out of his 116 races thus far and won the World Championship in 2008 at just his second attempt. If either man is to take advice from the other on how to be successful in F1, it should be Watson who gets the lecture.
Who cares that Hamilton has a dog at the track? And frankly, what difference does it make? Having a dog at the track is to Hamilton much the same as having plants and photos in an office is to an accountant. He’s just making himself more comfortable in his working environment.
With all the completely unnecessary press coverage of his pet, Hamilton has reason to be secretly satisfied. There is clearly nothing much to write about in his personal life, and that is invariably a good thing for a professional sportsman.
Lewis Hamilton is in a particularly enviable position in 2013: he has moved to a team in which he is not expected to win the World Championship, at least not this year. Therefore, there is almost zero external pressure to perform. If he wins the title, he’ll be hailed as a hero. If he doesn’t, then nobody will criticise him – he’s not expected to have the car to deliver a title this year anyway.
In many respects, Hamilton is in a similar position to that of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996. Schumacher had left a top team and gone to Italy to rescue the struggling Ferrari team. It was clear that Schumacher would not challenge for the title that year, and he didn’t, but he also put in some inspired and brilliant performances, particularly in Spain where he dominated a sodden Grand Prix and made the other drivers look like amateurs. Schumacher may not have won the title, but his stock certainly went up as he was recognised for his supreme skill in a difficult car.
Hamilton has similarly moved from a top team (McLaren) to one that was not a title challenger last season (Mercedes). In the last three seasons, the works Mercedes team has won just a single race and never looked like producing a title-winning car. Hamilton has arrived at the team as part of a shake-up intended to deliver championship glory to Mercedes. At the earliest, he and the team are expected to challenge at the front in 2014, when new engine regulations are likely to benefit teams like Mercedes that manufacture their own engines. So this season is dedicated to development, to making sure the pieces are in place for a title challenge next year.
But Hamilton, much like Schumacher back in 1996, is a racer. He is acknowledged as perhaps the quickest driver in Formula One today, and can always be counted on to give his all on the track in pursuit of results. Hamilton does not like coming second. So we can expect him to push with everything he has for victory in 2013.
If Hamilton and Mercedes to triumph against the odds in 2013, it will be a great story for Formula One: the return of one of the great names of motoring to the top of the racing ladder, along with the second title that seems inevitable in Hamilton’s career. On the other hand, if as expected Hamilton and Mercedes have a strong but ultimately unsuccessful season, it will all be accepted as part of the development plan.
Lewis Hamilton believes that newly crowned triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel is likely to make it four in a row with another championship win in 2013, and cited the skills of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey as a major factor in that expected success.
Vettel is only 25 years old, and yet his stats are already staggeringly impressive: Three championships, 26 wins and 36 pole positions from only 101 races. At the rate he is going, Vettel could even challenge the achievements of recently retired legend Michael Schumacher.
Formula One is an extremely technical sport, which places massive emphasis on car competitiveness. Schumacher’s three difficult years with Mercedes have shown just how difficult it is to achieve success in an under-performing car. Vettel has had the quickest car, or close to it, for his three championship-winning seasons, and much of that advantage is down to Adrian Newey.
Newey has been designing winning cars for over 20 years, at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull. His input at Red Bull has transformed the team into a powerhouse with dominance similar to that of Ferrari ten years ago. And Newey has shown no signs of leaving, which bodes well for Red Bull.
When asked by Sky Sports News about next year’s championship, Hamilton was clear about his expectations for Vettel and Red Bull:
“It’s going to be hard to beat Sebastian next year,” Hamilton said. “I think Sebastian’s going to have another amazing car.
“The car he had this year was fantastic. It’s going to be an evolution of that next year.
“Adrian only seems to get better with age; I think he’s going to do something pretty special next year as well.”
While Newey is likely to produce a good car again, he has acknowledged that it will be difficult to find aerodynamic gains with the current stable regulations:
“It is increasingly difficult because there are no real regulations changes compared to this year and it will be the fifth season since the 2009 rule changes… The field is converging and you can see how competitive it is in the fact that we had eight different winners this year,” Newey told Autosport.
Hamilton has not talked up his own title chances, largely due to the lack of pace shown by his new team, Mercedes, in the 2012 season. Mercedes won only won race, in China, and had a thoroughly uncompetitive end to the season. So it comes as no real surprise that Hamilton would deflect attention from himself by predicting more success for Vettel. Better to be the surprise winner than to forecast glory and then taste defeat.