Formula 1: Are Mercedes the greatest constructor of all time?
What makes Mercedes’ period of dominance unique is the sheer gap they’ve opened up to the rest of the field - on an average, their qualifying advantage was about 0.7 seconds over their closest rivals.
The season-ending 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix boasted of a rather unique statistic: It was the first time in 40 races that Mercedes did not lead a single lap of the race. The last time this happened was over two years ago at the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix. This statistic is telling of Mercedes’ dominance through the V6 turbo era starting 2014.
The team has won every Constructors’ and Drivers’ championship since then - an impressive tally of seven consecutive titles apiece. As Mercedes Team Principal Toto explained, “It feels surreal because it almost hasn’t been done in any other sport.” They’ve stamped their authority all over the era by winning nearly three-fourths of all races held, and sealing records such as most wins in a season (19 out of 21 races in 2016) among several others. They’ve redefined the benchmark for success in the sport. This begs the all-pertinent question: Are Mercedes the Greatest Constructor of All Time?
To our Mercedes family… * pic.twitter.com/Ro8ZoDju4n
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 19, 2020
The Greatest of All Time?
When it comes to sport, the ‘Greatest of All Time’ is a rather special title. It indicates that the sporting entity has convincingly surpassed competitors in terms of achievement - both contemporaries and those from different eras. This achievement isn’t only about winning - it is also about bringing about progress in the sport and being an all-round benchmark.
Interestingly, Mercedes’ presence in F1 has been sporadic. The team raced as Daimler-Benz AG in 1954-55 before withdrawing from the sport in response to the 1955 Le Mans disaster. Mercedes then returned as an engine manufacturer, through a partnership with Mclaren from 1995. In 2010, they returned to the sport as a Constructor with world champion Michael Schumacher at the helm.
Formula 1 has always been marked by periods of dominance by Constructor teams. In recent history, Ferrari had a strong run in the 2000s, Renault held fort in 2005-06 and Red Bull Racing was unstoppable from 2010-2013. What makes Mercedes’ period of dominance unique is the sheer gap they’ve opened up to the rest of the field - on an average, their qualifying advantage was about 0.7 seconds over their closest rivals. A gap they only used to their advantage on Sundays.
They’re the team with the highest number of one-two finishes in a season. They have seldom been beaten on track, and nearest rivals Ferrari and Red Bull Racing have largely relied on the team making mistakes to beat them. Two out of the three races Mercedes lost in 2020 were down to the team’s rare pit stop errors than lack of competitiveness.
Longevity without complacency
Mercedes have been dominant for seven seasons and counting - a feat in itself. As revealed by Wolff, “Seven championships in a row was not done before, and there are many reasons for that. How you stay motivated, how you stay full of energy. How you allow the people to come up to the surface without creating a bottleneck, while maintaining the seniority in the structure. Seven titles in a row means you get used to winning. What we have absolutely tackled is that no sense of entitlement or complacency creeps into the system."
Mercedes' technical director James Allison further explained that the team had drawn on experiences of previously dominant teams to extend their run for as long as possible - by refusing to get complacent. As he shared with ESPN Podcast, "It's rare that another team simply makes some giant leap forward and leapfrogs the previously brilliant and undimmed-in-their-brilliance former champs. It's normal that the former champ backs off from the loud pedal a bit and takes for granted the success that they've enjoyed and starts to feel like they are due that success and the back off in putting in the effort that they previously put in to earn it.”
And of course, a fair share of the previous dominant eras ended after a change in the sport’s regulations. For Mercedes, they have continued dominating despite evolutions in the regulations through the hybrid-turbo era.
* "It’s beyond my wildest dreams, to think I now stand here as a seven-time World Champion. I couldn’t have done it without such an incredible group of people behind me." - @LewisHamilton ** pic.twitter.com/4SSwxwQvYb
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 18, 2020
What makes Mercedes work?
Mercedes’ dominance through the era has been eclipsed by the dominance of Lewis Hamilton. It’s easy to see why: The genius of Hamilton has been a story of humble roots, raw talent, heroics, and a larger-than-life personality. In contrast, Mercedes’ supremacy has been precise, clinical and so perfect that it is borderline boring - which makes for great records, but not always a great story.
Toto Wolff has often shared that relationships form the backbone of Mercedes’ success. As he shared as the 2020 season drew to a close, “Achieving seven consecutive titles feels so good, because we did it with the right mindset and the right values within our team. A camaraderie that goes beyond the professional relationships and helped us stick together, in the tough days and on the tough weekends, and has made this team what it is today.” He added, “it’s not a team but a summary of all people that work in this project.”
The partnership between Wolff and Niki Lauda at Mercedes was legendary. As the story goes, Wolff reportedly fined Lauda every time he used the word 'I' instead of 'we,' which formed the foundation for their success together. The team's relationship with Hamilton has been defining; Hamilton has done justice to the team’s unique package of machinery and strategy with his outstanding race craft.
In recent times, Mercedes’ continued dominance at the hands of Hamiton has led to an obvious question - is it the car or is it the driver? Hamilton’s brilliance notwithstanding, as a Constructor, Mercedes would be flattered with what a majority of their rival drivers believe - that 90 percent of the current grid would win in Mercedes machinery. George Russell, Hamilton’s stand-in at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, almost proved this theory correct when he comfortably established himself as the class of the field in his one-off chance to race a Mercedes car.
14 @F1 World Championships in one picture *
Proud ❤️ pic.twitter.com/hyWj48j0vH
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 18, 2020
Mercedes’ claim to the Greatest of All Time is bolstered by the team’s dedication to innovation and development, which has pushed the sport forward - and raised the overall performance bar.
For example, the Mercedes unit was the only one that significantly increased in power despite the stricter technical directives of 2020 (source: Formula 1). The W11, their 2020 racing car, has been hailed as the greatest racing machinery of all time with an outstanding chassis and power unit. The Double Axis Steering (DAS) system on the W11 is revolutionary, as is their upgraded rear suspension - which Allison described as “extremely adventurous.”
Mercedes’ leadership extends to scripting history off the track as well. Their recently-launched Accelerate 25 initiative works towards making the team and sport more inclusive and diverse. "Our legacy off the track is just as important to this team as the success that we have achieved with our historic seventh consecutive world championship this year,” said Wolff. Mercedes achieved the coveted Three-Star Environmental Accreditation in November 2020, dedicated to enhanced environmental performance. And of course, their unflinching support of Hamilton’s continued use of the platform of Formula 1 for his activism.
2022 and beyond
As FIA president Jean Todt said earlier this year, Mercedes’ dominance is not great for the sport. He shared, “I admire the competitiveness, the reliability, the durability, the effort...but for the sport, I think like all the people who like things a bit more unpredictable, they would like to see more change. But more change are more teams being able to compete.”
New radical regulations from 2022 could shake up things - with a newly levelled field thanks to the budget cap. That said, Mercedes’ sheer might and momentum as a team could allow them to pull away, smashing their own benchmarks of success yet again.
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