Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s preview of the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship! We have reached the final team in our 11-day journey through the field just hours before the first qualifying session of the season! We take a look at Mercedes AMG Petronas before Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix! Make sure to keep it tuned to Race Chaser Online all season long for all of your stateside-based news from the Formula One world!
March 14, 2014 — Story by RaceChaser open wheel correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Photo Credit AP/Miguel Angel Morenatti — Plenty of time may pass and the names and places may change, but history has a way of repeating itself, even in Formula One.
2014’s switch to V6 turbocharged engines and sporting regulations overhaul has rattled the status quo, resulting in the largest shake up since 2009. Five years ago, a vast array of new aerodynamic mandates and the introduction of energy recovery systems turned once dominant leaders into followers, as newcomers Brawn GP miraculously outlasted the competition and won six of the first seven Grands Prix before the opposition eventually caught up.
Fast forward to 2014, and history seems to be repeating itself once more after preseason testing. Mercedes has proven to be superior to rival manufacturers Ferrari and Renault, and works team Mercedes AMG Petronas has the in-house advantage. Although former namesake Ross Brawn departed from his role of team principal in favor of Paddy Lowe and Toto Wolff and is now retired from F1 for good, foresight and innovation regarding sweeping changes in the sport have once again positioned Mercedes to the top of the pecking order.
After four years of domination by Red Bull Racing and world champion Sebastian Vettel, a radical shift in the sport’s consolidation of power might come as a surprise to some. But, with one eye focused on the future and the other glancing towards the past, the present shouldn’t be shocking.
The Drivers: For the first time since the days of Brawn GP, Mercedes notched multiple victories in 2013, and the tandem of former world champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lead the team once again.
Hamilton is the team’s number one driver, wooed over from McLaren to begin his quest for a second title last season. The Brit finished on the podium five times, capturing the checkered flag just once at the Hungarian Grand Prix. His personality has rubbed individuals the wrong way and has led some pundits to perceive teammate Nico Rosberg as having a better brain, but with 22 career victories and over 1000 total points scored, Hamilton’s driving talent is unquestionably among the best on the F1 grid.
Nico Rosberg will roll out of the adjacent garage, driving in his ninth season in F1 and fifth with Mercedes. It may not seem like the 28-year-old has been around for that long (he has more starts than Lewis Hamilton), but it was not until 2012 that the son of 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg began to ease into his prime.
Rosberg started that year by securing his first career Grand Prix victory in China and became the first German to win in a German car in F1 history. The German followed that up with one more podium en route to ninth place in the Drivers’ Championship, but 2013 highlighted his ability even more. Victories in Monaco and Great Britain cemented Rosberg’s improvement to the sixth slot in points, and if there’s any more breaking out to do, 2014 seemed poised to be the year we’ll know for sure just what he is made of.
The Car: Right from the start, the Mercedes F1 W05 set the benchmark for Formula One performance in 2014. Although it was one of the final cars to be revealed, it soon became one of the fastest and most frequently spotted on track. Strengthened by the Mercedes PU106A Hybrid engine, the team was able to hit the track for valuable time without their closest rivals, who spent much of the testing in Jerez and Bahrain scratching their heads in bewilderment and frustration at the unreliability of their machinery.
For the most part, testing went without any major hitches, enabling Nico Rosberg to set the most combined laps of any driver in F1. Lewis Hamilton hit the track for slightly less time, but still settled in the top five in terms of laps logged. Both the manufacturer and works team logged the most laps of anyone, respectively, with Mercedes AMG Petronas circling a high of 4973km.
Executive technical director Paddy Lowe is pleased with the exceptional job the team has done thus far.
“The team has done a fantastic job on each aspect of the project. We have hit our milestones and also our own internal targets,” Lowe told Formula1.com. “The car is an elegant response to the new regulations but also an aggressive design and, as is often the way, its beauty is much more than skin deep; the internal engineering is extremely innovative and intelligent. I am very proud of the work that has gone into the project so far.”
Aesthetically, the F1 W05 features an anteater lilt at the front, but the slope is not as drastic as seen elsewhere and the wretched finger nose is absent, leading many fans to hail it as one of the better constructed chassis visually this season.
The Challenges: Mercedes has been hyped as the frontrunner for the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, and with good reason. However, predictions anointing Mercedes as an emerging dynasty are overzealous. They are far from a lock for either title, and nobody involved with the team in any capacity can afford to buy into the overconfidence.
While announcers worldwide began the first free practice session in Australia invariably discussing the perceived strengths and invincible reliability of the F1 W05, it was title favorite Lewis Hamilton who began the first car to stall on track, prompting a two within the first five minutes of the new season. Even prior to the Grand Prix weekend, Hamilton has given the right answers to the pesky questions, opting to err on the side of caution when asked to prognosticate the year ahead.
“All the media are talking us up—favorite driver, favorite team. I just don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend. A lot of people are asking that, but we’ll have better understanding after this first race,” the 2008 champion told BBC.
“So it appears we have one of the strongest packages but you don’t know who is going to go the distance and who is going to come out with the better strategy. It is going to be really tough.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner fears Mercedes could lap the field in Melbourne, acknowledging the team is far ahead of its counterparts. It appears as though Mercedes is taking their strong preseason in stride and not letting the attention convince them the series title is sewn up. They hold a clear advantage, but if they back off the metaphorical throttle and make lapses in judgment, they can just as quickly lose the lead they’ve built.
The Strengths: As previously mentioned, Mercedes has been the most reliable of all outlets so far this year. With so many teams having difficulty getting up to speed, it is expected that works teams will have an even greater boost this season, giving Mercedes AMG Petronas another leg up on its foes—especially those with Mercedes power that are not directly affiliated with the manufacturer.
Although the fascinating partnership of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari has stolen all of the headlines and has been anointed as F1’s latest “dream team,” the driver duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have proven their merit both in qualifying as well as in race trim. Combined, their résumés aren’t quite as jaw-dropping as the accomplished Scuderia teammates, but this pairing can’t be far behind.
Projected Result: Just as history has shown to replicate results through the years, auto racing’s law of unpredictability stipulates that just when you think you’ve got something figured out, something will happen to alter it all. We don’t know for sure who will stand above the rest when the 19 race season is complete, but when the lights go out in Australia for the first in 2014, it will be Mercedes AMG Petronas leading the way. Final Position: 1st.