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Summer Break Analysis: Will Mercedes Return To Their Winning Ways?

If you told any Formula 1 fan at the end of 2021 that Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team would be winless by the mid-point of the 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season, they would likely not believe you. With an on-going record of eight consecutive Constructors’ Championship titles, Mercedes have secured their status as one of the greatest ever teams to compete in Formula 1. However, a difficult W13 car has seen the British-based manufacturer struggle to keep up with their rivals so far in the 2022 season, much to the disbelief of the entire paddock.

What went wrong?

The 2022 Formula 1 season is the first of the new era, where regulation changes have been implemented in an attempt to bring the field closer together and overcome the overtaking difficulty that was caused by turbulent air.

The new generation of F1 car features simplified front and rear wings as the most notable change, as well as some floor changes, larger tyres, wheel covers and over-wheel winglets that will lower the amount of turbulent air that is sent in the direction of a following car. These changes have worked very well so far, as we often see closer racing, and drivers consistently following around half-a-second behind another driver for most of a lap – something that was uncommon in the previous generation.

While these changes have brought a lot of good to the quality of racing, a side-effect of these regulations is a phenomenon the paddock calls ‘porpoising’ – where the car violently bounces on the straight as a result of the new aerodynamic regulations on the floor of the cars. Some teams were able to fix their porpoising issues relatively quickly, while other teams took a bit longer to overcome the issue – and one of those teams is Mercedes.

The silver arrows were finding themselves to be several tenths of a second behind Oracle Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari as a result of the bouncing. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton even suffered back pains when climbing out of his car due to the car’s violent bouncing at high speeds. Mercedes’ performance got so bad to the point where Toto Wolff described the car as a “s**t box”.

“The car has no porpoising anymore. But, having said that, we are missing a few months of development – and this is really where we are playing a catchup game with the guys in front.”

– Toto Wolff in his mid season review video, via Mercedes’ YouTube channel.

Are Mercedes still in the hunt?

Even though the first half of the season was not one Mercedes will be particularly happy with, recent race performance seems to suggest that Mercedes have managed to solve quite a lot of their porpoising issue, though the gap to their rivals is still a significant one to close. Hamilton has managed to finish on the podium in the last five races, for a total of six podiums, while George Russell has finished in the top five in every race he has finished so far this season. Furthermore, Mercedes have scored a two-three finish in the last two races, which suggests a win is very much within their reach in the second half of the season.

Although Mercedes has suffered a lot with their W13 car this year, reliability has certainly been excellent for the German-powered manufacturer. Red Bull have retired five cars so far this year (four of those being a result of mechanical issues), and Ferrari have retired seven cars this year (four of which were also mechanical failures), while Mercedes have only retired once as a result of a first lap accident.

While a lot of Mercedes’ podiums have been assisted by the retirements of their competitors, reliability has always been just as important as performance in Formula 1, and the Mercedes team is undoubtedly the king of reliability this year – taking advantage of other teams’ misfortunes.

But, even with Mercedes’ weaker performance in qualifying (besides the surprise pole position that Russell took in Hungary), the race pace of the W13 has started to hold up against the Red Bull cars specifically. In Canada, the Ferrari cars were way too fast for Hamilton to compete with, but in France, Hamilton was able to keep Sergio Pérez behind for most of the race while Russell would chase him down. Furthermore, Hamilton was battling with Carlos Sainz and Pérez during the final stint at Silverstone, something that would have been unrealistic in March.

With their current form, it certainly seems like a win is on the way for Mercedes. Whether it is Russell scoring his first ever Formula 1 victory, or Hamilton continuing his record streak of winning a race in every season he has competed in, a few positive upgrades could certainly put Mercedes in the mix.

Image: Steve Etherington.

How are Mercedes’ title chances?

There are currently nine races remaining in the Formula 1 season, and Mercedes aren’t actually as far behind in the Constructors’ Championship as you may think; with the team being just thirty points away from Ferrari, but a huge one-hundred and twenty-seven points away from Red Bull.

Mathematically, Mercedes are still within a chance of winning the Constructors’ Championship, but they would have to score a one-two in most races in order to close the gap. For instance, if Mercedes scored a one-two in every race, and Red Bull came third and fourth in every race (as well as scoring the fastest lap each time), Mercedes would win the championship by eight points. If Mercedes were to take the fastest lap in each race, Mercedes would win by twenty-six points.

With the current form of Red Bull, and considering the pace of Ferrari, it is safe to say that this probably will not happen – though challenging for second is very much on the cards. A Mercedes Drivers’ Championship victory is also not impossible, but very unlikely with Russell being exactly one-hundred points behind Verstappen, and Hamilton being one-hundred and twelve points behind.

Final thoughts

While this isn’t the start to the newest Formula 1 era that Mercedes would have been hoping for, their comeback to take on Ferrari in the second half of the season has been impressive. While a win is definitely possible for Mercedes based on their current performance, upgrades will be vital if the silver arrows want to make this a reality.

Belgium is going to be a tough weekend for Mercedes, with a big emphasis on straight-line speed (which used to be their advantage over Red Bull) – but with nine races remaining, you never know what will happen…

Image: Steve Etherington.

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