Continuing our team reviews for the 2021 season. Going in reverse Constructor’s Championship order and to coincide with their 2022 challenger launching, it is Mercedes F1. View the previous teams here:
10. Haas Ferrari
As has been normal for every single turbo-hybrid era year, Mercedes came into the season a strong favourite.
They might have lost the last race of the 2020 season but the team admitted they’d moved focus onto 2021 by that time.
Pre-season testing seemed to show that the Mercedes was now only the second fastest car. Or at least was level with the Red Bull, but far more temperamental.
Throughout pre-season testing, both drivers complained that they didn’t quite have the confidence in the car they previously had. Any gust of wind or crosswinds seemed to upset the balance of the car and caused a lot of spins for the drivers.
The noise was also growing about whether George Russell should be replacing Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes seat for the 2022 season. The pressure was on Bottas to show why he deserved that seat.
The Season – Mercedes
Following testing, the first race was also in Bahrain. The performance of the Mercedes was still there but without the confidence in the car the drivers could not beat Verstappen to pole.
Only an incredibly aggressive strategy and some great tyre management from Hamilton kept them ahead of the charging Red Bull. Verstappen did go off track trying to pass and overheated his tyres which let Hamilton take the first win of the season.
Mercedes knew right here they were going to have a fight this season!
For the second race in Imola, again it was Verstappen and Hamilton fighting at the front. An aggressive pass from Verstappen had Hamilton in second place but he began to gain time back through the race. That was until a mistake from Hamilton saw him slide off track, tapping the wall. Hamilton ended up over a lap behind Verstappen and out of the points by time he got back on track.
The race looked lost for Hamilton.
That was until a very timely red flag occurred. Bottas was having a dreadful race down in 10th place when George Russell attempted an overtake in the damp conditions. One tyre on the grass and Russell was put into a spin taking both cars out in a huge crash.
There were a lot of words said after the race about who was to blame, but this died down soon after. Both drivers are effectively Mercedes drivers anyway.
The red flag allowed Mercedes to repair the damage and wipe out the lap Hamilton was behind. At the restart, some great driving got him all the way back into second place behind Verstappen.
Mercedes looked to be getting back on top of things with wins at Portugal and Spain. The win in Spain came after another aggressive strategy. Mercedes pitted Hamilton a second time and let him chase down Verstappen who couldn’t defend on his old tyres.
In Monaco, Hamilton struggled far more than Bottas in firing up his tyres and qualified in 7th. The longer wheel based Mercedes is not as strong on the tighter and cooler Monaco track. Hamilton’s problems carried on into the race with him being over cut in the race and not managing to make up any positions.
Bottas had a better qualifying, but at his pitstop, the tyre gun couldn’t get the tyre nut off. Eventually the nut was machined down completely smooth making it impossible to get off. Bottas had to retire as they couldn’t change it.
Mercedes have had a few troubled pitstops over the years (Sakir in 2020) and they put in place new processes to stop future mistakes like this from happening again.
Baku was a big tyre blowout for Verstappen, sending him into the wall down the main straight and ended his race there.
Hamilton wasn’t able to capitalise on this, making a mistake on the restart. The Mercedes is able to ‘switch off’ its front or rear brakes to allow the others to warm up on the way to the grid. Unfortunately Hamilton hit this switch on the restart and had no front brakes into the first corner. He had no time to make the ground back up from the back and left Baku with no points in his pocket.
Mercedes have since made changes to Hamilton’s steering wheel by filing down the button so it’s harder to press by mistake.
It is something that has never happened before and seems like pressure was building on both drivers this season.
In France, Mercedes were on the receiving end of what they did to Red Bull in Spain. Hamilton took the lead in turn 1 but a slower pit stop put him back into second place. The teams noticed higher than expected tyre degradation and were thinking of another pitstop.
Red Bull beat Mercedes to it and pitted Verstappen from the lead, then chased down and passed both Mercedes on track to win. Another poor race by Bottas led him to being overtaken by Perez on the last lap.
The next 2 races in Austria, Mercedes had no answer to the Red Bull’s pace and the signs looked ominous for the rest of the season.
Coming into Silverstone it looked like Red Bull’s title to lose, but Mercedes weren’t finished yet….
Mercedes had a big upgrade package at Silverstone and were quicker from the start. Max managed to win the sprint race, but on lap 1 of the race Hamilton knew he had to get past to win.
Coming into Copse Corner, Lewis was just along on the inside but didn’t pull out like Max expected. This sent Verstappen into the wall in a huge crash but didn’t take out Hamilton. The red flag allowed Mercedes to repair the damage, which would have ended his race, he served his penalty at the pitstop.
With only a few laps to go, Hamilton had closed up on Leclerc who was leading and made the pass into Copse Corner. Taking the lead and the race win at his home GP.
Hungary and the Mercedes was the quickest car, qualifying ahead of the Red Bull’s. On lap one, Max got a good start falling into second behind Lewis. However, following the early rain shower before the race, Bottas got his braking point wrong.
The Mercedes came barrelling into turn 1 far too quick, taking out both Red Bulls via other cars. This also set off another major accident with Lance Stroll finishing off many others.
The race was restarted but all the other teams had decided to pit and change to dry tyres. Mercedes didn’t think to do this and so were the only car on the grid when the race went green!
Hamilton pitted at the end of the first lap but was at the back of the grid and started charging. Some great defence from Fernando Alonso managed to hold him up for 10 laps. However, at times he was 3 seconds a lap quicker. Hamilton eventually finished 3rd and was promoted to 2nd after Sebastian Vettel was disqualified.
Alonso’s defensive masterclass held the Brit up for long enough. He ran out of laps at the end with catching Vettel and Esteban Ocon looking a matter of when not it given the pace difference.
Zandvoort was the first track for a while where the Red Bull was quicker than the Mercedes. The track layout just worked better for the Red Bull and the Mercedes wasn’t on the pace, finishing 2nd and 3rd.
Monza has always been a strong race for Mercedes and their efficient car concept and so it was again. Bottas won the sprint race, but engine penalties sent him to the back. A great race from the Finn saw him finish on the podium.
Hamilton had a bad start in the sprint falling to fourth but went for an alternative strategy in the race.
A slow pitstop for Verstappen and Hamilton running a different strategy brought them back out on track at the same time. Into turn one, Max went to the outside and attempt to brake later to carry the speed around the outside into turn two. The gap wasn’t there for the Dutchman’s aggressive attempted pass. Both drivers ended up out of the race and Verstappen’s car came to rest on top of Hamilton’s. The result was a penalty for Verstappen at the next GP. A hammer blow to Mercedes as it looked like Hamilton was going to win the race.
The pressure of the season was ramping up more and more, but Mercedes now had the faster car on average.
Monza is also where Mercedes announced that Bottas would be leaving the team and George Russell would be joining for 2022.
In Russia, a cautious Hamilton into turn 1 ended up in fourth place before fighting back to second. He spent most of the race behind Norris and couldn’t get past. Until the rain came and Mercedes overruled their driver to pit him. McLaren didn’t see more rain coming and left Norris out, ultimately losing the race to Hamilton.
In Turkey, a Hamilton engine penalty meant he was never really in the race. A very strong drive from Bottas out front to win still meant the team were ahead in the Constructor’s.
Mexico hasn’t been too strong for Mercedes whose engine and car concept struggles more than others with the altitude. However, they managed to take a surprise front row lockout and looked good for the race.
A poor bit of team management left a gap for Verstappen to take the lead and Bottas was taken out by Daniel Ricciardo. Bottas was no where for the rest of the race but Hamilton managed to keep hold of second place from a quicker Perez behind.
In Brazil qualifying, the FIA checked the DRS flap on Hamilton’s car and deemed it to open wider than allowed. This disqualified him from the session to start at the back for the sprint race!
In the short sprint race, Hamilton managed to climb from the back of the grid all the way to fifth with some very strong driving. Another engine penalty put Hamilton back to tenth for the race.
His back against the wall and Hamilton drove another incredible race to take the Grand Prix victory.
In Qatar, the Mercedes was dominant in Hamilton’s hands and he was never challenged.
Saudi Arabia again suited the Mercedes and was far quicker. Hamilton went on to win the race from Verstappen but with a fair amount of controversy which you can read here.
The last race of the season in Abu Dhabi brought the title protagonists in level on points. Max was ahead by virtue of more race wins but, it was likely to be winner takes all.
Again, another race full of controversies and you can read what happened here.
But since this is about Mercedes then all that needs to be said is that Max won the Driver’s Title in circumstances that made Mercedes very angry who felt it was Hamilton’s.
They even began the process of protesting the result before pulling back from the brink when the FIA agreed to investigate.
Mercedes did manage to retain the Constructor’s Title. Mainly because in the battle of the second drivers, Bottas was superior over Perez. The team were so incensed by what happened in the Driver’s battle that the Constructor’s Title really didn’t mean too much to them. This was of course in the initial aftermath, they did celebrate the win in style afterwards!
Winning an unprecedented eighth Constructor’s Championship in a row is obviously the high point for the team. Even in adversity, Toto Wolff’s team were able to adapt and overcome to once again set the benchmark for the sport.
Another would be the upgrade package they brought to Silverstone. Before Silverstone, the Red Bull was generally the fastest car. The Mercedes was too temperamental and got caught out by sudden gusts of wind.
After they brought the upgrade the car was the fastest for the second part of the season by a long way. Effectively, Mercedes managed to solve all the issues the car had with one upgrade package.
That is a fantastic achievement for any team.
The events of Abu Dhabi. Mercedes were incredibly angry about what happened at the end of the race.
For the team there is nothing else in the season that would be such a low point.
Although being key to winning the Constructor’s Championship, Bottas was too inconsistent.
Races at Monza and Turkey were strong for him. However, there were too many races he went missing and couldn’t help Hamilton’s strategy in the title fight.
We now know that Hamilton will be back for the 2022 season and George Russell will be alongside him.
The team will be gunning for both titles and for Hamilton to earn that eighth Driver’s Title. A team like Mercedes cannot really aim for anything less than winning races and winning the Championship.
No team has won the Championship in two concurrent seasons when there has been a significant regulation change. Mercedes will be hoping to break that trend and retain their title.
The only issue could be how focussed the team were on 2021, did they take their eyes off the prize for 2022?
A lot of the more genius solutions to the new regulations will have taken time to design and develop. Could Mercedes have missed any with their title fight. Or did they start development much earlier than others in 2020 when their title was wrapped up?
Now their 2022 challenger has been released, you can have a look for yourself.
If you’ve seen the new Mercedes challenger for 2022, what did you think and will they break the convention by challenging for the title? Let us know below…
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