When Mercedes celebrated 125 years in motorsport back in July last year at the German Formula One Grand Prix, the crowd reaction upon seeing Valtteri Bottas aquaplane into the Mercedes emblazoned advertising hoarding and even before that, Lewis Hamilton’s 60 second pit stop, was one of disbelief for those looking on. The disbelief was due to hearing such a cacophony from those in the grandstands – the majority of which appeared to be cheering at seeing despair befall the German team at their home race of all places. Now, the problem here is that any fandom when a team is dominant is nearly always waiting for the next challenger to come along. As proven by 6 consecutive F1 Constructors’ Championships, no one has come close to the Silver Arrows. However, for a neutral race fan, one would probably not mind the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team claiming a 7th consecutive Constructors’ Championship just as long as the battle to get there was a close one.
To be clear, this is not an analysis of the chasm of points between the teams at the top in 2019, which was vast, instead it is a discussion on how fine the margins of a Formula 1 Grand Prix victory were last season.
During the 2019 F1 season, over the course of 21 races, there were only two occasions when the gap between first and second place was less than a second.
In Belgium, Charles Leclerc claimed his first F1 victory in muted celebrations due to the tragedy of the day before by finishing 0.981 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Then, at the very next race in Italy, the Monegasque racer was met with the acclaim of the Tifosi, as Leclerc was on top of the podium once again having edged out a 0.835 second gap over Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. As the saying goes, ‘a second is a lifetime in Formula One’ and for only 2 races out of 21 to have had the victory competed for at such close margins - is dire straits for F1.
Beyond this, several Grand Prix in 2019 resulted in the victor taking the chequered flag over their closest challenger by a margin of more than 10 seconds – six times to be precise. The most dominant victory coming from Lewis Hamilton after yet another Silverstone masterclass which created a margin to second placed Valtteri Bottas of a staggering 24.928 seconds.
Formula 1 is regarded and advertised as ‘the pinnacle of motorsport’ but a motorsport, nonetheless. As such, comparisons are drawn, whether rightly or wrongly, with other categories. In Moto GP it is very rare to see victory claimed by a margin of more than 2 to 5 seconds even with the dominance of Marc Marquez. As for World Endurance Championship racing, the 2019 victors of the 24 Hours Le Mans, in the LMP1 category, only had a gap of 16.972 seconds over second place (albeit 6 laps ahead of third place) such was the dominance of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team.
So, due to being in a 2020 Formula 1 ‘race week’ at long last, what can we predict for this weekend?
Valtteri Bottas 2.0 was the victor last time out and he did so by amassing a gap of 20.886 seconds to Lewis Hamilton. As a result of the dominance shown by Mercedes-AMG Petronas in pre-season testing, it would be a brave man to predict anyone other than Mercedes on top but what we need are much closer margins to decide such victories.
In the future, if the German Grand Prix is back on the F1 calendar, the time may come when Mercedes is celebrating 150 years in motorsport – which would indeed be quite a feat. However, I predict that should they no longer be the team at the top, the crowd reaction at their home race would be far more supportive than what was witnessed last year. Not that I would go so far as to predict that Mercedes Benz would fall down the pecking order so far as to become an underdog though.
However, that is the future, for now we are at the dawn of the 2020 F1 season.
Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport; these are the best racers in the world and this has to be a closely fought season.