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ANALYSIS – F1 2014 THE STORY SO FAR: Mercedes

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ANALYSIS – F1 2014 THE STORY SO FAR: Mercedes
May 7, 2014, 10:20 AM

With the first four ‘flyaway’ Grands Prix out of the way, it's a good time to assess the start each team has made to the season and look at how...

With the first four ‘flyaway’ Grands Prix out of the way, it's a good time to assess the start each team has made to the season and look at how each team has fared so far with the new hybrid turbo technology.

This time we look at 2014’s runaway leaders, Mercedes, who after a clean sweep in the first four races, look unstoppable.

Mercedes

Best result: P1 (Rosberg, Australia; Hamilton, Malaysia, Bahrain, China)

Best grid slot: P1 (Hamilton, Australia, Malaysia, China; Rosberg, Bahrain)

Average grid slot: 1st.

Retirements: 1
(Hamilton, Australia)

Constructors Championship: 1st

Drivers' Championship: P1 Rosberg, 79pts; P2 Hamilton 75pts

Fastest race lap, gap to pace setter

Australia: +0.000s (Rosberg fastest lap 1:32.478)

Malaysia: +0.000s (Hamilton fastest lap 1:43.066)

Bahrain: +0.000s (Rosberg fastest lap 1:37.020)

China: +0.000 (Rosberg fastest lap 1:40.402)

What's gone right?

Just about everything. From the moment Mercedes W05 hit the track in Jerez it was abundantly clear that the Brackley squad, in partnership with their Brixworth power unit developers, were well ahead of the game on reliability, performance and potential. By the time the team had completed its pre-season programme it had logged 4972.644 km of testing. Williams, also powered by the company’s PU106A hybrid power unit, were their closest rival with 4893.432 km and the closest non-Mercedes powered team were third-placed Ferrari with 4488.516 km. Taking the chassis out of the equation, the four Mercedes-powered teams had put in a total of 17994.408 km, whereas the four Renault-supplied teams had managed just under half that with 8743.332 km. Williams’ Felipe Massa set the fastest time of testing but Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton finished pre-season with the second and third-fastest times.

And their dominance of testing has been repeated in the heat of battle. Rosberg and Hamilton have been quickest in all but two sessions this season so far (Fernando Alonso in FP1 in Australia and Daniel Ricciardo in FP3 in China, in which neither Mercedes driver set a time). In the sessions that matter the pair have been imperious, with the only real pressure coming from each other.

After the opening ‘flyaway’ remains streets ahead of the competition. Mercedes has a 97-point lead in the Constructors’ Championship and that battle looks as good as won now. Rosberg heads the Drivers’ standings on 79 points with one win and three second places and Hamilton is four points adrift with three wins and one retirement. What’s not to like.

What's gone wrong?

You would have to say hardly anything. Hamilton’s retirement in Australia after just two laps due to a misfiring cylinder slightly took the shine off Rosberg’s excellent win in Melbourne (he led every lap and won by 24 seconds) but since then the team have hardly put a foot wrong. Hamilton’s hat-trick of victories have been superb, with the 2008 champion in blistering form in Malaysia and China and both Mercedes men offering up some enthralling racing in Bahrain.

If there is anything to go wrong it will come in this next, European phase of the season. Traditionally the period when teams crank up development, it is key to Mercedes’ season that they repel any challenges from rivals as the development cycle spins up, as team boss Toto Wolff admitted this week. "We know our rivals are going to be relentless in their effort to close the gap on us so our aim is to increase the advantage we enjoyed at the last race, in China," he said.

Technical chief Paddy Lowe added: “The objective is to not only match, but to better the development rate of our rivals”.

Strong points of the team and car

At the heart of Mercedes’ dominance so far has been a mix of ingenuity and good old-fashioned preparedness. As mentioned elsewhere on this site the team had Geoff Willis leading an inner group solely focused on the integration of chassis and power unit for the past two years and it began investing heavily in energy recovery expertise at Brixworth as long as six years ago.

The result is an exceptionally clever power unit that benefits from having the turbo's compressor at one end of the engine and the turbine at the other, linked by a long shaft through the vee of the engine. The benefit apparently comes from less turbo lag meanin that less of the energy from the ERS is required to keep the turbo spooled up off throttle. With more energy available from ERS, the ICE is needed less and less fuel is burned.

The innovation helps on the chassis side too with the positioning of components leading to better weight distribution and a better centre of gravity as it has enable the team to move the gearbox further forward.

Elsewhere, the team has one of the strongest driver pairings on the grid, with both showing they are capable of allying outstanding pace to the complex demands of race management made by F1’s new technologies.

Weak points of the team and the car

Few. The car appears to have few real flaws, though of course refinements will occur across the season. The only issue could be the developing rift between Hamilton and Rosberg. The pair have already demonstrated that losing to the other is a painful business, with a stoney-faced Rosberg admitted on the Bahrain podium that “I strongly dislike coming second to Lewis, that’s really not something I enjoy”. There may come a moment during the season that one is required by the team to give way to the other and how that situation is managed will be interesting. It is, it must be said, a nice dilemma to have.

Where do they go from here?

The short answer is forwards. This weekend in Barcelona is likely to be telling. The Circuit de Catalunya is famously something of an F1 bellwether. If a car goes well there it will go well anywhere. If Mercedes see of challenges from redeveloped rivals this weekend, and if their own technical progress, maintains or stretches the gap then the only questions remaining will surely be at which race the teams’ title is taken and which of Mercedes’ drivers is eventually crowned champion.

Overall Marks out of 10

Mercedes – 9/10

Nico Rosberg – 8/10

Lewis Hamilton – 9/10

How many marks out of ten do you give Mercedes so far? Leave us your comments on this post in the comments section below.

* Interesting to note, as we went live with this post, Mercedes announced a new partnership with a sponsor, new to F1, which they say is the first major partner to enter Formula One as a direct consequence of the new efficiency-based rules, with hybrid turbo engines.

The deal is a relatively small one, but they hope significant and the start of a trend, with leading fan and motor provider ebm-papst. The company provides external cooling for the cars in the garage and on the grid, bearing in mind that the temperatures inside the side pods can each 120 degrees. They also have an innovation for improving the conditions for the mechanics in the garages in hot countries, all based on more sustainable technologies.

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