Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel may take a lot of hits for saying it and as a Ferrari driver, you’d expect it, but I’m not sure it is that easy. Commenting on the fourth Mercedes one, two finish in as many races in 2019, Vettel told the BBC:
“Boring, isn’t it?” Vettel said. “So boring. It’s not just four races. It has been four years, more or less.”
Sure, if you’re a Ferrari driver and your team hasn’t been able to give you a car to beat Mercedes , it may seem a bit boring. But…I’ve said it since the 2014 season blowout by Mercedes and, like Vettel, I took a lot of heat for saying it. Mercedes was instrumental in defining the current hybrid power unit regulations and they have had a baked-in advantage since 2014.
This year, heading for a 6th world title, Mercedes have tried to turn it down a notch and give the impression Ferrari are the team to beat. It’s manufactured drama that has been parroted by the media and F1. It’s been patronizing to fans who see reality for exactly what it is. Someone gets close to Mercedes, they turn the engine up a tad and walk away with it. It’s almost as if they purposefully run slower on Friday to create this narrative and then blow everyone away on Saturday and Sunday.
Having such a powerful engine allows them to run their engines with lower demand on mechanical elements meaning reliability has been bullet-proof too. In 2019, the four wins have come despite the faux teeth-gnashing about how they can’t run with Ferrari and when they pummel the field, they almost sound apologetic about it if not downright sheepish.
This brings me back to Vettel’s comment. I don’t think it’s a case of sour grapes. I think his comment is relatively removed from his Ferrari bias because he knows the situation and he knows it’s boring and the FIA and F1 have done nothing to balance the field—like they used to when Ferrari or Red Bull dominated—in fear of Mercedes leaving the sport. Mercedes is running F1 these days and if you are still beating Ferrari up about their lording over the series, you may be missing the Mercedes foot on the neck of the sport.
I’ve said many times, I’m fine with domination. Didn’t have an issue with Ferrari or Red Bull or McLaren. Thing is, the FIA and F1 made changes to the regulations to balance the grid when domination occurred and the really good teams overcame it so the FIA and F1 would work harder at it and ultimately balanced the field. In this case, they have done nothing and to be fair to them, there may be very little they can do because the magic is in the hybrid engine and no one wants to dare change the power unit and change the narrative that they aren’t sustainable or relevant to the car industry because “all cars are heading towards electric”.
I have patience with that issue, I really do, because they’ve tried to starve the ICE of fuel and that didn’t have a good impact on the sport with lift and coast. They tried to open up development of the engine instead of limiting it through the token system. That didn’t work because the advantage was already baked in the design and within the framework of the regulations, Mercedes has a clear advantage. It’s incredibly complex, look at Honda still struggling to find the power.
I take nothing away from what Mercedes has done by framing the regulations to their technology advantage and then pummeling the field. It’s a cunning move and they’ve worked very, very hard to achieve what they have. It’s not like it’s a cakewalk to have the performance and attention to detail that Mercedes have. It should be envied by every team on that grid.
I do, however, get a little wobbly when Lewis Hamilton fans denounce Vettel or Schumacher by saying they have all those title because they had the best car and team orders. Have you been watching the last 3 or 4 titles Lewis won? He’s had the best car for six years folks. Schumacher and Vettel were never that lucky because the FIA would change the regulations and hobble their advantage.
I understand that Sky Sports, F1 press, F1, the FIA and Mercedes have to sell the series and play down the negatives of another Mercedes domination but I would rather they just own their domination and not try to frame the narrative that they are behind Ferrari and teeth-gnash every weekend about how Mercedes can’t hang with Ferrari. It’s patronizing and it is doing more damage than just owning your awesomeness. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they threw a race or two just to keep this silly narrative alive and keep people watching the races.
In response to Sebastian, if you are finding it boring, then Ferrari need to get on top of it and beat Mercedes because the FIA and F1 aren’t doing anything about it until 2020 and even then, Mercedes has convinced them to stay with the hybrid power unit. If they keep it through 2025, this engine will have been around for 12 years. That’s a long time to have an engine regulation static in F1 but it keeps Mercedes on top—they spend a lot of money in F1—and it keeps F1’s most marketable driver—Lewis Hamilton—winning titles. I understand that but I think Ricciardo, Leclerc, Norris, Verstappen, Russell and even Hulkenberg would be very marketable if they had the remotest of chances at winning a title.
Alas, probably just best to keep things static until Lewis can beat Schumacher’s title count and that will really increase viewership, right? I think you’ll find it has the opposite effect if fans feel it has been contrived and right now, it’s really feeling contrived. Nothing against Lewis, I think he’s awesome and driving better than he ever has but if you have to sandbag on Friday to make a story for Sunday, that’s a bit cheeky to me but that’s just my opinion, what do I REALLY know? Nothing, of course.
Hat Tip: BBC