As a consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak, Formula One opted for a technical regulation freeze; this implied that the huge performance gap between the leading teams and the rest of the grid has dropped significantly this year.
Last season, only seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was capable of qualifying within half a second of teammate Valtteri Bottas’ pole position time. The remaining top eight drivers were covered by more than one second.
Six months later, the top eight drivers in qualifying for last weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, were all in less than half a second.
Many fear that the overhaul of technical regulations – which will come into force at the beginning of the 2022 season – will significantly reduce the competitiveness of the field.
According to Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff, it is “quite logical” to observe a convergence of performances on the grid when rules do not change.
“If you keep the rules, the field converges,” Wolff commented. “For those in front, the gains get smaller and smaller, even with more effort. And at some point, the teams that are behind will also continue this steep form curve, and then there's the convergence.”
However, he firmly believes that a greater gap between the front running teams and the rest of the grid will emerge again in 2022.
“I promise you that next year, we’ll have another situation where we'll have a totally disjointed field. Maybe not with Mercedes in front, but certainly back to square one.”
After the Emilia Romagna GP last weekend, Wolff said that Mercedes is still missing something compared to Red Bull, especially when it comes to outright pace, implying that the defending champion team has a lot of work to do to catch up.
“We are behind Red Bull at the moment, in all areas of the car,” Wolff said.
“We have to catch up first. I think the racing gods were kind to us in Bahrain, that we got the most out of the car [to win the race]. That was good in the race.
“If everything runs cleanly and everyone stays faultless [in qualifying], we are two-tenths behind Max [Verstappen] on the grid, and not in front. But in sport, everything always turns out differently, and Lewis really conjured up a super lap. That's why he was in front.
“We're stretching with everything we've got against what we think is a better Red Bull package”, Wolff concluded.