Formula 1 is only one grand prix away from the middle of the season, and the intrigue over the championship result has never been greater. At least in recent years. Mercedes has not been challenged since the best years of Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, and now he returns to the fight.
Of course, what happened at Silverstone put the leadership of Red Bull and Max Verstappen in serious jeopardy: the difference in the Drivers ‘and Constructors’ championships was reduced by 40 points, but the Austrians are still ahead in both world championships.
Now there is no doubt that the battle will continue to be fierce until the end of the season. But it can happen that the two teams fight differently. And they are fighting, first of all, for different titles. And while some want to win the drivers ‘competition, others have decided to focus on the constructors’ championship.
Mercedes prioritizes, for her part, the interests of the team.
The German team is perceived by everyone as Lewis Hamilton’s team, and all things being equal, the Bavarians give preference to their pupil. But this year, Toto Wolff made several decisions that benefited the team itself to the detriment of Lewis.
The most notable episode occurred in Austria, where Hamilton began to have problems and was asked to allow himself to be overtaken by Valtteri Bottas. At the time, Lewis was running second, and even with problems, the team could at least have tried to maintain their position. For example, using Bottas as a kind of bodyguard, a mobile barrier between Hamilton and the rest. Or let Valtteri go ahead and ask him to keep Lewis within range of DRS.
But no, they simply told Hamilton to let his partner pass, leaving Lewis himself to be ripped apart by Lando Norris. The seven-time champion finally finished fourth. What was the goal of Mercedes’ actions? A quick Norris rolled from behind, and if Bottas had been behind Lewis, Lando could have passed them both. And when in doubt, they decided to take 30 points for the team instead of 27, sacrificing a couple of points for Hamilton.
A less visible episode occurred at the French GP. There Bottas fell off Verstappen and Pérez due to tire problems. The team was able to ask Valtteri for an extra pit stop, to take a point from Max with the fastest lap. Instead, the Finn stayed on the track in the hope that Perez’s penalty would return Bottas to third place. In other words, Mercedes preferred to score more points in the constructors ‘competition, and not deprive its rivals of a point in the drivers’ competition.
In France, other actions by Mercedes would have taken one point away from Verstappen, and in Austria they could have saved six. And the gap is now only eight points. But those of Brackley are clearly betting on the constructors’ world championship, not on the individual. That’s more important to Daimler head office, and brings in prize money, in contrast to the personal title you might win. Lewis Hamilton.
At Red Bull, everyone is betting on Verstappen
At Milton Keynes, the situation is completely reversed. Not that they are willing to give up the team championship for a personal title, but they see the main goal in Verstappen’s victory. The team failed to make him the youngest world champion in history, as they wanted; but now they have the opportunity to finally give the title to their star driver.
An example of the fact that Red Bull is willing to sacrifice itself for Max’s sake was shown in Britain. Shortly before the end of the race, Checo Pérez was in the top 10 and could contribute at least two points to the constructors’ championship. However, he was sent for new tires to steal the best lap from Hamilton. Red Bull gave up two points in the constructors ‘competition in exchange for one in the drivers’ competition. Also, that point did not even go to Max, it was simply taken away from the rival.
Whose strategy is the best?
Red Bull is desperate for an individual title. Do not forget that Dietrich Mateschitz came to F1 to promote the brand, and winning in the individual competition clearly attracts more attention. At Mercedes they have already taken enough titles and attention, and now they rather want to consolidate their status as an infallible brand.
But losing the 2021 Constructors’ Championship might not be such a bad idea. Yes, in terms of money, the runner-up will lose. But you will get 2.5% more time in the wind tunnel. And when you switch to a new regulation (like in 2022), that can be extremely useful for next year.
The two strongest F1 teams took different approaches to their duel. Who will finally succeed? Most likely, we will find out only in December.