Lewis Hamilton, Alexander Albon, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Why Mercedes are braced for a Red Bull resurgence

2020 F1 season

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Mercedes have begun the 2020 season strongly, winning all three of the races held so far.

In Hungary the black cars’ superiority over their rivals was daunting. Mercedes were 1.27% quicker than their closest competitors – their largest such margin since the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.

Back when they last enjoyed this kind of performance advantage, Mercedes won all bar three of the races. Small wonder some are already suggesting they might sweep every race on the schedule this year.

However, as team principal Toto Wolff pointed out, Mercedes have not enjoyed their unprecedented success of recent seasons through being complacent.

“If we will take the 2020 season for granted as a walk in the park, and it’s basically just about picking up the trophy in Paris in December, we wouldn’t have won these past championships,” he said. “So there’s not one fibre in us that thinks that this championship is done. It’s something that can really catch you out.

Mercedes performance advantage
Mercedes had their largest performance advantage for five years in Hungary
“We have one key objective, and it is about finishing every weekend to the best of our abilities, hopefully score many points and challenge for a championship. There’s nothing else we can do.”

Nonetheless, it’s hard to look at their performance so far and not wonder whether they might even outstrip their achievements of 2014-16, when the team was at the peak of its considerable powers.

“We have a very decent points lead,” admits technical director James Allison. “In qualifying, we’ve looked very strong for a couple of races now. The race day, though, is tougher. The margin is not the same size in the race that it has been in qualifying.”

That may be so, but Lewis Hamilton was still on course to win the Hungarian Grand Prix by half a minute before coming in for an extra pit stop to guarantee he bagged the bonus point for fastest lap.

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Allison suspects the team’s significant performance gain since last year is at least partly to do with the difficulties their rivals are experiencing. He believes they’re “a sneak ahead” compared to last year, but “that might be more to do with the competition having a little bit of a tougher time rather than us having done something remarkable.”

Ferrari’s performance has slumped alarmingly since last year, leaving Red Bull as the only likely threat to Mercedes. But having been reasonably close to the black cars in the two Austrian races, the RB16 was surprisingly off-song in Hungary.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes something on the Red Bull is “misbehaving aerodynamically”. Allison is particularly wary of his rivals who he believes have the potential to get on teams with Mercedes quickly once they correct whatever troubled them in Hungary.

“Normally you can fix something that has got a little bit wrong. And so the gap might be big now, but it will close down very quickly if that sort of snappiness that you sometimes see on a Red Bull can be softened,” Allison said.

A similar thing happened last year. Early in the season Red Bull discovered a sensor problem had caused a fundamental set-up error on their cars. Once that was fixed, the RB15 soon delivered, and the team won three races last year.

Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2020
Can Red Bull close the gap before it’s too late?
By then Mercedes had already scored eight straight wins. They were never seriously threatened for the title.

With a more compact schedule this season, and in turn a reduced amount of time to develop upgrades, Mercedes’ rivals are going to have to make big gains in little time to stop them building up an unassailable points lead.

Furthermore, with car development restricted in 2021 through the ‘tokens’ system, the advantage Mercedes enjoy now could continue to pay off well into next year. Whether Red Bull can bounce back from their Hungary setback and establish themselves as credible rivals to the champions will therefore have implications for the next 18 months of racing.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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26 comments on “Why Mercedes are braced for a Red Bull resurgence”

  1. Yaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnn!
    Toto speak is becoming more and more insulting by the day.

  2. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    27th July 2020, 12:45

    Mercedes hyping up their competition is annoying, given we all know they’ll be 1-2 on Saturday by a comfortable margin and lap everyone up to 7th place in the race – barring any untoward dramatics. I realise they like to act like they’re an underdog – for some reason, but they’re not and they have a significant advantage over… well everyone. If they lose, that’s on them or bad luck – not the other teams besting them.

    1. AllTheCoolNamesWereTaken
      27th July 2020, 13:16

      I’m as annoyed by this as you are, @rocketpanda. But then I ask myself, “Would I like it better if Toto came out and said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got this one in the bag’?”

      Honestly, that would probably annoy me even more.

      Still, the real issue here is not what the top brass at Mercedes is saying to the press. The real issue is that the same team has won 92 of the last 124 races, clinching every championship along the way, that they have been totally dominant more often than not, and that they are looking set to repeat the feat for the seventh consecutive year. That really is annoying, unless one happens to be a Mercedes superfan.

      But here’s the thing: We shouldn’t be annoyed with Mercedes. They’re doing what a top team in Formula 1 is supposed to be doing. Instead, we should be annoyed with literally every other team on the grid (well, every other top team, anyway). They’re the ones that haven’t done enough. Part of that may, in some cases, be due to a mentality of, “We’ll win it next year, for sure.” Compared to this, Mercedes’ “We’re the underdogs” spiel – as annoying as it is – does seem more effective.

      1. Adam (@rocketpanda)
        27th July 2020, 13:34

        I wondered the same, and figured actually I’d have a certain respect that they can be loud and proud about their own abilities rather than gas up their competition to make their achievements look better when their rivals needed to go over the limit to get close to them while they’re cruising. Their ‘underdog’ act is annoying because its fake and used only to make themselves look better – which after this unprecedented level of continuous domination is unnecessary.

        Counterpoint: we should be annoyed with Mercedes, and moreso at F1’s structure for allowing this kind of domination. The rules don’t allow much in the way of convergence of performance, hamstring teams on in-season development and the financial disparity has teams at the front going for a sunday drive and teams at the back clinging to survival by their fingertips.

        1. AllTheCoolNamesWereTaken
          27th July 2020, 13:46

          Their ‘underdog’ act is annoying because its fake and used only to make themselves look better

          Again, I agree that it’s annoying (I wish I didn’t, but here we are). But I’m not entirely convinced that their act is fake. I think there’s a genuine “We must never, ever allow ourselves to get complacent” subtext present. Which does seem to be working well for them.

          Counterpoint: we should be annoyed with Mercedes, and moreso at F1’s structure for allowing this kind of domination.

          I completely agree with the second part. I didn’t think to include a comment on F1’s structural problems in my first reply. Probably should have.

          1. Well, more annoying is to watch all the millions that Ferrari got going down to the toilet every year and the only solution at hand is firing Seb … You can’t blame Mercedes or Lewis for being competitive, I wish Bottas had more to offer to counter Lewis ala Rosberg but I think we’re bored of the same team/guy winning everytime. Same think happened with Schumi and I am a Schumi fan, and he had more to inspire losing to Fernando / Mika / Senna / Mansell; that’s where all the hate vs Lewis comes, few good adversaries driving cars made by balance-sheet worried teams. Was Lewis in the right place and time, probably, good for him, however, Ferrari was who missed the chance to dominate.

          2. Best new name

            ATCNWC

        2. Mercedes do not need to make their achievements look better. Check put the stats. It’s there in black and white. Criticise away but everything they are doing is working. Your criticism therfore comes down to envy/bitterness/lack of understanding. I’ve seen your posts for a long time and you do not lack understanding.

  3. Well, I guess there aren’t many F1 fans who do not hope that Red Bull get their act together soon enough to at least make it a fight in 2021, if not this year.

    1. RBR somehow manages to turn into a damp squib in 1st half of season and only in 2nd half of season do they partially manage to get their act together when its too late. Also they seem to overhype Newey designs which dont seem to work to only scrap it every year and start from scratch.

  4. I really want to see Lewis eclipse Michael Schumacher. Mostly because the latter was a cheat, and I do hate to see a cheat holding records.
    So if Red Bulls resurgence is delayed, that’s OK by me.

    1. Ian O'Reilly
      27th July 2020, 17:38

      Schumacher a cheat. At least schumi wasn’t apart of McLaren spygate. At least schumi never bluntly lied to stewards… Don’t get me wrong, since Hamilton left McLaren he has conducted himself so much better and since Rosberg left Hamilton can’t be faulted… But belittling Schmachers achievements in one swoop not only demeans Schumacher but also Hamilton’s achievements…

      1. WHAT?

        If Schumacher was a Cheat ???

        Does that mean Senna was a Very
        Dangerous behind the wheel ???

        1. Considering that he smashed Prost off the road in a move where Brundle suggested Senna probably wouldn’t have cared if he’d killed Prost in the process – yes, Senna was capable of being extremely dangerous behind the wheel.

    2. Schumacher’s ethics may have been questionable, but I don’t think hamilton often had the amount of opponents schumacher had.

      There’s no driver on average that had as good a car as hamilton, and him beating some more of schumacher’s records is basically expected, not an accomplishment.

      It’s also related to the evolution of f1, even as a schumacher fan I think clark was just as good as him, it’s just that there were 7-11 races a year back then, and drivers raced less years.

      When it comes to getting a certain number of wins or titles you can’t really compare fairly drivers who could only get 100 races vs drivers who got 300, or 7 seasons vs 20 seasons.

      Considering how rarely hamilton has showed what he’s able to do in a car that is definitely not top notch I don’t think he has proven anything to be rated better than top 5-10 (lots of drivers very close here) ever, just as an example of how little numbers matter if you don’t consider the other circumstances, I don’t believe alonso has anything to envy to hamilton performance wise, he just didn’t start with a top car the first year, made a bad choice (2007 blackmail) and was generally unlucky with the choice of cars since then.

      1. I dont agree at all. Schumi had Mika as best opponent during his Ferrari years. That was hardly a competitive field. I would argue Schumi had an even easier playfield than Lewis. But hey, good for them, just saying they had their share of luck as well.

      2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        28th July 2020, 12:13

        Why did he make the so called “bad choice” in ’07? Cos this rookie who joined the team was kicking his ass and coalescing the team around him better than Alonso. Beaten by a rookie both on and off the track? If Alonso was that good, that kid must have been something special.

  5. True, Albon was faster than Bottas in Styria when they were both pushing (Bottas to catch up to Verstappen and Albon to stay ahead of Perez). Verstappen could easily follow Hamilton there too. Until he broke his front wing and ruined his tyres too early. Neither of them were pushing but still.

    Mercedes does seem to have 2 or 3 tenths extra in Q3, but on race pace there didn’t seem to be that much difference on the Austrian track.

    Red Bull just completely dropped the ball in Hungary. They clearly went the wrong way with development. Not an uncommon thing for Red Bull really. Happened in 2019 a few times too. Although never this bad.

    Silverstone would be more like Austria than like Hungary. So Red Bull should be able to get a lot closer.

  6. I see. Toto and co. still hyping up the competition. But Redbull 2020 are not Ferrari 2017,2018 and 2019 thinking their car is faster than Merc only because of Mercedes hyping rivals up.

  7. G (@unklegsif)
    27th July 2020, 16:52

    Jeez, Mercedes cant seem to catch a break with commentators on the internet, can they?!

    If they lord it up and say how great they are, they would be cut to ribbons on forums and comments sections, but when they display the correct level of humility and are humble with their success, they get cut to ribbons on forums and comments sections

    I think people need to have a bit more respect

    G

  8. Mercedes will sandbag at some point when the championship looks like a foregone conclusion.

  9. It would be best to bring both Merc and RB back to the rest of the field. Have the rule changes banning their hydraulic suspensions been implemented yet?

  10. Make a believer out of me.
    No matter what, the RedBull still can’t get it all together so what are you doing Mercedes By rubbing their noses in it? Psych job? RedBull like all the other teams, just aren’t able to get the job done. Even with a miracle from the Gods the RedBull, the Ferrari, the Racing Point, the Renault and the McLaren are all second fiddles to the black cars. Mercedes will up their own game at some point, so
    no matter how good other teams get, there will always be somebody better and they changed their color to Black and certainly appear to be ready to defend the team/driver championships again, repeat five more times or is it six ?
    Hard to see a Mercedes lose at all in this most unusual season.

  11. No. They will be banned beginning next season. Although, for the life of me, I dont know why the hydraulic system should be banned at all. If it’s good enough now, leave it be and see how Mercedes responds with the rest of the car.

  12. Dave (@davewillisporter)
    28th July 2020, 12:35

    Quote from Marco last week went along the lines of “at Redbull in our dominant years, we hid our true pace or Bernie would have slowed us down.” Doesn’t make any sense to beat your chest and display dominance overtly. Merc have been the most effective team the last few years because they get all the little things right, including talking up the competition when necessary. It’s total competition, both on and off the track. Everything from production to politics is how you win in F1 consistently. And as for Lewis, he used to drive like Senna but with a better sense of danger. Now he drives like Prost with Senna’s ability for speed when needed. He also has Michael’s ability to rally and motivate a team and keep them at the top of their game. Michael was very good at ragging the last 10th out of a car in sprint stages or driving 30 seconds into the lead. He had to dominate his competition which was in itself a weakness that caused a few rash moves and left him a bit lost when he couldn’t but he was an expert at getting a team around him. Lewis always does just enough and no more because more would be pointless, an unnecessary risk. And, he has Alonso’s tenacity and fight, never giving up. Anyone who doesn’t get how the Merc / Hamilton package is so successful, and just complains about it or bemoans false “humbleness” does not really understand F1 and needs to read a few books as well as watch the fast shiny things go round.

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