Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: Big Decision at Mercedes, Pirelli Failures, Williams Shake-Up

The Formula 1 silly season is beginning to gain more energy and attention, which seems kind of funny for a market that appears rather limited this year.  While last year brought on many changes, both expected and surprising, there does not appear to be the same kind of movement.

Last year, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, and Carlos Sainz switched teams.  In addition, Haas jettisoned both its drivers, Red Bull said goodbye to Alex Albon, and Alpha Tauri wished Daniil Kvyat dasvidaniya.

For 2022, many of the seats are locked down.  Esteban Ocon could be a question mark but looks to be set with Alpine.  Perhaps Alfa Romeo will shake things up as Kimi Raikkonen may retire, and perhaps Ferrari wants to place a development driver in the seat.  And then there is Mercedes.

The team has dominated the sport for the past nine years.  Since 2013, the Arrows have finished no lower than second and have won seven constructor’s titles with the accompanying seven driver’s titles.

If that is not domination, then it is hard to tell what is.  Such command over the field rarely endures for so long, and Mercedes has truly been in rare form.  But change is coming.

Just as NFL teams must replace a franchise quarterback or football (soccer) teams must find the next star to lead the club, thinking of Ronaldo and Messi, so too must teams begin thinking about the future.

Lewis Hamilton has earned seven championships, an obscene 98 wins, 100 poles, and a ridiculous 169 podiums.  His statistical measure of ruling the sport is unheard of in modern sport when parity is supposed to be more common.

But as Hamilton is aged 36, just like most enterprises do, Mercedes must look to the future, and in doing so, it is hard to ignore the presence of George Russell hanging out with Williams at the moment.  As a Mercedes developmental driver, Russell has been groomed to move into the seat that Valtteri Bottas has been keeping warm for the past four years.

The 2021 season has shown all the reason that perhaps the time has come for Mercedes to say näkemiin to the Fin.  Until now, he had been an excellent running mate to Hamilton, sprinkling in wins with podium finishes to keep Hamilton both honest but also to serve as a protective wingman during races.

Bottas this year has three third-place finishes but also two DNFs and one 15th-place finish.  Such results could be easy to write off and still feel confident about bringing him back next year.  That is a pleasant thought were Mercedes not invested in Russell and feeling a need to bring him up from Williams.

Had Russell not jumped into a Mercedes in 2020 at Sakhir (Bahrain) and proceeded to match and surpass Bottas’ performance, this discussion may be put off for another year.  That does not look to be the case and all signs point to Russell taking over the seat at Mercedes for 2022.

The timing is the issue here.  Does Mercedes upset team dynamics that have worked for the past few years by announcing the decision at the summer break in the hopes of keeping peace at the team, or does the decision leak soon?

Not only does Mercedes have to find a way to retaliate to the upstart challenge from Red Bull but it also has to ensure that its team chemistry and future are set in a cohesive manner.  No wonder that Wolff has been snippy this year.

Odds & Sods

Pirelli released their report on the tyre failures that befell the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 6.  The manufacturer stated that both tyres suffered a “circumferential break on the inner sidewall.”  From a first glance, that claim looks pretty bad for Pirelli – however, the company went on to note a few other things.

The first assertion is that “there was no production or quality defect on any of the tyres; nor was there any sign of fatigue or delamination,” indicating that Pirelli brought a perfectly fine product to the track.  If anything, the investigation shows that Pirelli is doing its job.

In conjunction, the manufacturer also noted, surprisingly, that the failures of Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen did not come about because of debris.  At the time, it seemed that debris may have been the culprit and offered an easy explanation for seeing two left rear tyres blow out.

What Pirelli found was that the punctures were “related to the running conditions of the tyre.”  That means that the culprit was not Pirelli but instead the teams, or Aston Martin and Red Bull.

The report, essentially, claims that these two teams, and likely every other one, have found ways to work within the limits that Pirelli sets on the tyres regarding minimum and maximum air pressures to gain whatever advantage can be found.  Put another way, the teams are finding ways to toy with the air pressures to keep the tyres at their best grip level for the car.

In this scenario, it looks like the teams may have kept the air pressure as low as possible causing the sidewalls to give way.

As you might imagine, Pirelli has already worked with the FIA to ensure proper air pressures are set for this weekend’s French GP.

– While Williams Racing may not garner many headlines owing to the fact that their drivers are rarely at the front of the grid, the remaking of the team continues.  Simon Roberts, who came over from McLaren about 12 months ago has been dismissed as team principal in a re-structuring and streamlining effort.

The team, with nine constructors and seven driver’s titles, is a storied franchise that had lost its way over the past decade and a half.  The team may have finished third as recently as 2015, but it has been faltering and losing its clout for a while now.

Jost Capito, with ties to VW, joined Williams at the same time as Roberts and will assume the team principal role.  What Capito found during his time is that the Williams team communicated poorly within itself, with engineering and design not in alignment with the trackside management, and sometimes working at odds.

Capito has focused on bringing Williams into alignment and having both divisions report to one person, a structure that is in place with most F1 teams.  As the team has gained more monetary support when it switched from the hands of the Williams family to Dorilton Capital in 2020, the organization is figuring out the ways to improve performance and has examined all aspects of how the team functions.  The biggest concern now will be whether it is able to keep talented young drivers.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Thanks Ava! Nice mid-year update..

WJW Motorsports

If I’m looking for parody, I can just read the BLM series. So, Pirelli investigated themselves and found no fault of their own – shocking! Perhaps they can aid our Chinese friends investigating themselves over in Wuhan.

David Edwards

Think you really have to be stretching it to find a conspiracy here.

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