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F1 Midweek: Mercedes’ Malaise, Ferrari’s Fortune

After eight consecutive years of utter dominance, the Mercedes AMG-Petronas Formula 1 team has opened the 2022 season with its most mathematically underwhelming start since 2013. Not since 2012 has one of the team’s drivers failed to score a point in the first two rounds of the season, and not since 2018 has the German-backed outfit failed to win one of the first two rounds.

Something’s rotten in Brackley.

The writing was on the wall for Mercedes from the outset of pre-season testing, as the W13 was observed experiencing notable porpoising issues, not unlike many teams. However, for whatever reason, the Mercedes team has not resolved this issue as of yet, which is giving drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell another challenge to tackle on top of adjusting to this year’s new car.

The Mercedes power unit, which kept Red Bull on its heels through the 2022 season, has also lost the distinct advantage it held over its competition – if not having outright fallen behind.

While Hamilton and Russell have managed a single podium and points finishes across the board thus far, their customer teams – McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams – have fared much worse to this point. Red Bull saw three of their four cars (Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Sergio Perez) experience power unit issues in the season opener, but while this fell perfectly into place for Mercedes in Bahrain to gift Hamilton a surprise podium finish, the Mercedes-powered cars look to be stumbling through the races so far.

Two of the teams running Mercedes engines, Aston Martin and Williams, have struggled greatly in qualifying. Lando Norris took a relieving seventh place for McLaren in Saudi Arabia, and Lance Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg managed 12th-place finishes for Aston Martin in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

For perspective, the speed traps in Bahrain qualifying showed Hamilton and Russell being five miles an hour slower than Red Bull, and Williams – the fastest Mercedes-powered car through the speed trap – almost two and a half miles per hour slower.

Fortunately for Mercedes, the 2022 season calendar doesn’t get particularly dense until after the summer break. There’s still time to turn things around, but the odds of a ninth consecutive constructors’ title are shrinking with each passing round and are already likely out of the question.

Given that Mercedes has made a habit of underplaying their pace through testing, only to show up at the season opener and take a comfortable victory, the team’s apparent issues weren’t widely taken with concern through the paddock.

And some assumed another team was employing a similar tactic when Ferrari insisted they were a championship outsider after the Bahrain test.

Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz showed impressive pace through preseason testing, and Leclerc topped the charts on day two in Bahrain. Team boss Mattia Binotto remained adamant that Ferrari were not to be seen as the favorites heading into the season opener.

What ensued was a dominant win by Leclerc with Sainz finishing second, with Leclerc earning an extra point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Perhaps this could be a fluke. The grid tends to shake up for the start of each year, just not always at the upper end.

Just a week later in Jeddah, Leclerc looked set to take his second set of back-to-back wins but could not keep Verstappen at bay. Verstappen overtaking Leclerc in the closing laps was surprising to many, but Ferrari took a double podium for the second week in a row either way.

The Scuderia has not won a world championship since taking the constructor’s title in 2008, and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen remains the last person to win the drivers’ title wearing red. Sebastian Vettel mounted valiant charges for the title in 2017 and 2018, and Leclerc had a glimpse of hope for the top prize in 2019 before Ferrari’s controversial engine fell out of circulation in the latter half of the year.

Despite these impressive streaks, strategy and management were often seen as being the fatal flaw in Ferrari’s title challenges.

As of now, fortune may have swung back to Maranello. Time will tell how well, or whether, they can capitalize on it.

A quick reminder in case you missed it!

It’s official: F1 is coming to Las Vegas.

See also
Formula 1 in Las Vegas: Yikes!

The 2023 season will feature a Saturday night race on the streets of Las Vegas, set to take place in November. This will mark the third and presumably final time that F1 will visit the United States next year, with dates in Austin, Texas and Miami, Fla., set to remain on the calendar as well.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix will be held on a temporary street circuit incorporating the famous Las Vegas Strip.

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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