Lewis Hamilton cut short his celebrations after winning the Spanish Grand Prix to warn that Mercedes’ dominance could be a menace to Formula One’s box office appeal.
The defending five-time world champion seized the initiative at the start of Sunday’s race and then cruised to his 76th career victory ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who had started in pole position.
It was the Mercedes pairing’s fifth consecutive one-two finish and left rivals Ferrari floundering in pursuit.
The two Mercedes drivers are competing against each other … and it’s not much fun for outsiders, admits Hamilton, especially for spectators.
Having hoped to see a Ferrari renaissance at the Circuit de Catalunya, where they were so dominant in pre-season testing, Hamilton was disappointed again at their lack of pace, which, almost incredibly, prompted paddock talk of the Silver Arrows winning all 21 races.
Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid and then took a stranglehold on the race in such fashion that some observers talked of them being ‘the invincibles’ with 16 races remaining including the classic Monaco Grand Prix later this month.
That street circuit challenge will be very different to all that has gone before, but rivals have already installed Mercedes as favourites and the drivers’ championship as a two-man race.
Hamilton is hopeful that for the sake of the sport, any such scenario never happens.
“The biggest threat is always the person that’s closest to you,” he said. “And that person is Valtteri, but it still feels too early …
“It’s not as much fun, for sure, as when you are competing against another team. That’s what F1 is about.
“That’s the exciting part, when you arrive and you’re competing against one or two other teams who are also bringing their A-game. Naturally in those teams, that’s another two drivers.
“That puts another spanner in the works and often when the cars are close, there’s strengths and weaknesses of either team and how you play those and benefit from those, it’s awesome.
“But when that’s not there it’s definitely not as exciting from a competition point of view. Racing within a team, it’s not really how F1 should be in my opinion, but it is how it is right now.”
No team has won every race in a season, but McLaren came close in 1988 when they triumphed in 15 of the 16 races — beaten only when Ferrari took advantage of a late collision at Monza — and Mercedes, in 2016, won 19 of 21.
Team chief Toto Wolff, like Hamilton, is wary of any premature assessments or forecasts, but said he recognised the conundrum he and his team faced as they reduced the sport’s spectacle with their metronomic excellence and supremacy.
“If I take myself out of the Mercedes standpoint, of course, as a fan you want variability and unpredictability,” he said. “We all enjoyed Liverpool coming back strong as they did and Spurs making it against all odds.
“I had my laptop on my knees watching the game when we saw they were beating Barcelona! But, where we are now, it cannot be our objective.
“And, I feel, it’s also bad karma if we were to think that we are now really walking on water – then, the next week, you are going to get one in the face for sure …
“We have had five fantastic performances, but we’re not taking it for granted. Next week is going to be a tremendous challenge for us. We’ve not performed well in Monaco these last years.”