The Mercedes onslaught continues with a fifth one-two finish for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in Spain last weekend.
Without a doubt this is a team at the very top of its game in every aspect – design, development, innovation, operational expertise and strategy.
They lead the F1 world. Of course it is early days yet, but five out of 21 races is a very impressive start to the season and you have to question whether any other team can close the gap. Hats off to Red Bull last Sunday with a solid third place finish for Max Verstappen and sixth for Pierre Gasly. It showed that the Bull’s chassis is as good as ever and the much-maligned Honda power unit is finally beginning to prove that it has the reliability and enough energy to keep the Ferraris at bay.
What can you say about the Scuderia? Once more the scarlet cars were totally outclassed by the Silver Arrows and are now facing serious competition from Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel took third during qualifying, but his first corner challenge came to naught after a brake lock up flat-spotted his left front tyre and created a serious vibration.
You cannot blame Vettel for trying to move early as he knew that he would struggle to match the speed of the Mercedes and would have great difficulty passing since Barcelona is not the greatest track for overtaking attempts. But to me the debacle – referred to as strategy by the Maranello pit wall – has to be really suspect. After his lock up Vettel constantly requested an urgent pit stop and tyre change – in fact he was almost pleading. Team-mate Charles Leclerc was behind and obviously quicker, but the pit wall were happy to hold station.
It occurred later when Leclerc was leading Vettel and was finally instructed to allow the German, on fresher rubber, through. However, the timing of the change was ridiculous and far too late to benefit either driver. Meanwhile, the leaders and Verstappen were out on their own and experienced no real challenge from either of the Ferraris. Sadly this reflects on Mattia Binotto the current team principal and technical chief, who faces responsibility for the current poor performances and decisions.
In an interview, he is reported as saying: “Should we have swapped earlier? I think it is never an easy decision, but we as a team are trying to optimise our performance and team result at the end.
“We’ve swapped in the past and tried to swap again today as they were on a different strategy at this stage. Should we have done it early? I think by the time you do it you need to know if the driver behind has the faster pace otherwise you are swapping and not having any result. It may take a few laps to assess that.” He continued.
“On the other side Charles was fighting for third place with Verstappen because he was on a different strategy with the hard tyres, a single pit stop, so it was important for him not to lose any lap time at that stage of the race. “We simply waited for the right moment and should we do it again, I am not sure if we should have done it earlier,” he concluded. So what lies ahead?
They brought aerodynamic and engine upgrades to Spain but somehow this did not come together on the day. There will be a lot of work going on back in Maranello before the next race in Monaco and perhaps, more importantly, Canada, as Monaco is rather a unique event. We have to hope that there will be a major revitalisation of the team before Mercedes becomes the first team to win every race in one season.
That sounds crazy perhaps, but to be five races into 2019 leading the Constructors’ championship by a staggering 96 points is not a bad start. Once again we are hearing more about Liberty’s plans to improve F1, if you consider one step forward and two back planning.
Contractual agreement to host a Formula One event is very much an ongoing topic. I will not go into detail here – enough to say that there are a significant number of traditional circuits still involved in negotiations and going nowhere fast.
Constant news that other tracks are being considered is continuing to destabilise the current European F1 circuits and certainly alienating the fans in those countries. I am amazed that the much-vaunted F1TV and Live Timing App are still failing to perform.
Once again a refund had to be made to F1TV subscribers following the failure in Baku – incredible, as Liberty is a top media organisation. Already in its second year of existence, surely such systems should have ousted all the gremlins.
After F1TV’s failure following the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix, Liberty’s Chase Carey admittied that the app remained a “work in progress”. Strange, as it still does not work and there is a distinct lack of progress.