5 factors responsible for Mercedes' domination of the turbo hybrid era
Mercedes' current dominance in Formula 1 began in 2014, the year that marked a dramatic change in engine regulations. Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, who've racked up four consecutive titles between 2010-13, and nine wins on the trot in 2013 alone, would have to make way for the new contenders.
Mercedes were pre-season favorites and seemed like the only team to have cracked the new engine regulations. With an aerodynamically-efficient package to compliment an engine that was the class of the field, the Silver Arrows went on to win their first race of the season in Australia in comfortable fashion, with Nico Rosberg behind the wheel.
The team hasn't looked back since, winning every driver and constructor title till date, stitching together the most dominant run by a single team in Formula 1 history.
A by-product of their domination has resulted in one of the greatest individual careers in Formula 1 as Lewis Hamilton rewrote the record book.
The question, though, is how Mercedes, despite entering the sport in 2010, was able to take over the world of Formula 1 by 2014 so convincingly.
In this article, we talk about some of the key factors behind Mercedes dominance and why giants like Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren were unable to pose much of a challenge.
#1 Mercedes hired one of the best drivers on the grid
By 2012, Mercedes had begun taking steps towards the front of the grid. Nico Rosberg won the Chinese Grand Prix while Michael Schumacher put the Mercedes on pole at Monaco. There were clear signs of progress within the team.
What was lacking, however, was a driver who could take the team forward, and even in a championship battle where he may not have the fastest car outright but could still make a difference.
In Michael Schumacher, Mercedes had a driver who was close to retirement. Nico Rosberg, although a strong and consistent contributor, was not a potential world champion at first glance.
When it came to the Formula 1 grid in 2012, three drivers stood out as the ones you needed to fight for the title: Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
Sebastian Vettel, for his part, was the reigning world champion at Red Bull and it was going to be hard to poach him from the team that was delivering the best cars on the grid at the time.
Fernando Alonso was heavily involved with Ferrari in fighting for the championship, coming agonizingly close in 2010 and 2012.
Lewis Hamilton was in the last year of his contract at McLaren. Reliability issues and consistent goof-ups in the pits resulted in the British superstar being nothing more than an outside player in the championship.
Consequently, Hamilton was not happy and Mercedes, with the help of Niki Lauda, were able to secure his services. The Brit's brilliance has been on display in multiple races since then, like at the 2020 Turkish GP, where Hamilton dragged a woefully off-pace car to an unlikely win.
#2 The regulations have remained relatively stable in the turbo hybrid era
Formula 1 has, more often than not, seen a change in regulations be the primary catalyst behind a change of guard. In 2006, Ferrari’s dominance finally came to an end when only a single set of tires were mandated for the entire duration of the Grand Prix. Then, in 2009, a major aerodynamic overhaul was one of the primary reasons behind upstarts Brawn Racing claiming the title with their innovative blown diffuser.
Similarly, the 2014 engine regulations shook up the pecking order and gave Mercedes an extraordinary headstart on the field. That year, Mercedes were around a second quicker per lap than their nearest competitors on most tracks. They gained this advantage not only through the engine but also due to an aerodynamic package superior to the rest of the field.
With development opportunities limited during the season, it was always going to be impossible for their competitors to make up such a massive deficit.
While there have been minor changes to the regulations since 2014, such as the cars and tires getting wider, the core formula has remained the same for the most part. This relative stability of regulations has also helped Mercedes maintain their advantage over the rest of the field.
#3 Mercedes ticks all the boxes
When people talk about Mercedes, they speak of a team that has been, more or less, perfect. They have had the gold-standard engine on the grid since 2014. The chassis and aerodynamic department have produced cars that have the class of the field every time.
The combination of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas is one of the best on the grid in terms of bringing home the results that the team expects.
To add to this, Mercedes' strategic department has always been on the ball. In races like the 2019 Hungarian GP or the 2021 Spanish GP, it was timely strategic calls that helped Lewis Hamilton reach the top of the podium.
To top it all off, Mercedes is led by Toto Wolff and the buck stops with him. A clear leader to whom everyone reports and who has been able to keep the Mercedes ship sailing smoothly since 2014. He knows just how to make the different pieces fit just perfectly and keep the juggernaut in motion.
Mercedes always have the basics covered, letting them focus more on the next piece of the puzzle while the rest of the grid keeps playing catch-up.
#4 Rosberg's retirement was the best thing to happen to Mercedes
The 2016 season was a horror season for Mercedes. Though the team had the fastest package on the grid and would cruise to both driver and constructor titles, the internal tension between the two drivers blew through the roof. Nico Rosberg finally posed a realistic challenge for Lewis Hamilton in the title battle.
Sure, in 2014, Rosberg did take the championship battle to the last race of the season, but throughout the year, it was evident that the German was not on par with Hamilton.
The 2016 season was a different story. Rosberg, after getting dominated in 2015, came through with an entirely different mindset and would not back down to his childhood rival. Inevitably, tensions within the team hit a boiling point when the pair collided at the Spanish GP.
Mercedes were faced with a situation where Hamilton blatantly disobeyed team orders at the last race of the season. Rosberg's championship win and consequent retirement gave the team the opportunity to right the only wrong in the team. The team realized the potential repercussions of having two similarly-paced drivers in the team.
To not induce such a situation again, Mercedes opted to hire Valtteri Bottas as a replacement for Rosberg. Bottas' arrival meant that the entire team rallied around Hamilton as he became the de facto No. 1 driver in the squad while Bottas settled into a supporting role.
If it wasn't for Rosberg's retirement in 2016, Mercedes was a ticking timebomb waiting to explode. They would likely not have had the kind of harmonious relationship that they were able to forge between Hamilton and Bottas.
#5 The opposition was never stable enough to put up a challenge
When Mercedes joined the grid in 2010, teams like Ferrari, Red Bull, and McLaren were the frontrunners. They had the best drivers, the best personnel and more often than not, they contested amongst themselves for the podiums, wins, and even the championship.
Ever since the new regulations were put in place in 2014, each of these teams has faced an extensive struggle internally to put their best foot forward. Ferrari has gone through multiple leadership changes and been neck-deep in politics that have compounded their issues even further.
McLaren's competitiveness nosedived in 2015 when the team decided to partner with Honda, a marriage that was anything but successful.
Red Bull struggled for most of the hybrid era with an uncompetitive Renault power. It wasn't until they paired up with Honda that they hit upon the desired harmony between chassis efficiency and engine power to contend for victory on a regular basis.
Ferrari did manage to put up a fight against Mercedes in 2018. But with the power struggle between Mattia Binotto and Maurizio Arrivabene, the team was never stable enough to fight the Mercedes juggernaut.
Sure, Mercedes has been relentless in its pursuit of championships and wins but not having a single competitor with their own house in order surely played a part.
With another major shake-up in regulations on the cards for 2022, there is light at the end of the tunnel for both fans and competitors praying for an end to Mercedes' dominant run. Already, Max Verstappen and Red Bull are in the process of mounting a realistic title challenge this season. But regardless, it is safe to say that no other team will match what the Silver Arrows have achieved over the past seven years, any time soon.