When Mercedes decided to return to Formula 1 as a works team for the 2010 season, it took the paddock by surprise " after all, the German manufacturer had pulled out of motor racing over half a century ago, and then only returned to Formula 1 as engine suppliers after the 1990s. Exactly a decade after they first announced their decision to rejoin the Formula 1 grid, Mercedes have made history in the most extraordinary way possible. The team has clinched a record-equalling sixth Constructors' Championship in a row " coupled with six Drivers' Championships for good measure. Put bluntly, Mercedes has decisively won every title in Formula 1 since 2014. The team dedicated this title win to their late non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, who passed away during the season. Lauda had been a major contributor to the success of the team, and fortunately losing him did not derail Mercedes' championship bid.
Reflected Mercedes' Team Principal Toto Wolff, "When we embarked on the journey six or seven years ago we wanted to win races more regularly and fight for the championship and, six years later, it's the sixth championship in a row."
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who has won five Drivers' Championships with the team, added: "Joining them in 2013, with just the utter belief that we will do something special, it's kind of crazy to see it coming to fruition, all the hard work."
- Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) October 13, 2019
The only other team to have ever dominated Formula 1 in this manner was Ferrari " who won the Constructors' Championship six times consecutively between 1999 and 2004 (their perfect record was marred by the fact that the missed winning the Drivers' title in 1999). After this golden period of Ferrari's dominance, nobody actually believed it could ever be repeated " until Mercedes burst onto the scene at the turn of the hybrid turbo era. But even then, one wasn't wrong in expecting another team to catch up and eventually beat Mercedes. Six seasons in, Mercedes remain unbeaten in the hybrid turbo era of Formula 1 and a definite benchmark for everyone to follow.
The official Formula 1 communication compared Mercedes' feat to other sporting greats globally " such as Italian football club Juventus and basketball team Boston Celtics, both of who won eight straight titles. This is an interesting perspective " to show that Mercedes' victory is great in an overall sense " and not just in the context of Formula 1. It also makes their win more achievable and comparable, especially for casual fans of the sport. It is without doubt that their period of dominance could also be discussed as one of the most successful comebacks in the history of sport altogether.
An era of dominance
To actually understand just how dominant Mercedes have been in this era, let's look at the numbers.
They have won 74 percent of races, which is staggeringly high even for a 'dominant' era. To compare, Ferrari won 67 percent of the races during their dominant era. The numbers for Mercedes get even higher when we consider podiums (87 percent) and poles (79 percent). Incredible, right? As Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas declared, "We don't really realise it yet what we have done. We are making history in this sport " that's very cool." Bottas' words ring true " as viewers of the sport, we often tend to downplay the achievements of modern-day drivers and teams, while loftily praising the champions of the bygone eras.
We are 6 times World Champions, wow it's still not sunk in. You can't imagine how hard it's been for us all, we lost our dear friend Niki this year, it's been a tough battle but this one is definitely for him. I am so privileged to be a part of this team. pic.twitter.com/aj4IIDtrOY
- Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) October 13, 2019
What these numbers don't reveal, however, is that Mercedes have not always had the fastest car or best technical package, especially when one considers Ferrari's package in 2017 and 2018. Ferrari and Red Bull Racing have made significant progress, but neither have been able to mount a season-long championship attack against the might of Mercedes. At the start of 2019, the Ferrari package seemed markedly racier than Mercedes " and still, the German team still somehow managed to pull off a record-making ten victories on the trot. Mercedes' 'always in the fight' attitude has added a different angle to their dominance " one that has helped them pick up wins and points when their often faster rivals have squandered opportunities. It would be hard to argue that Mercedes' last three titles came in the season when they weren't often the fastest car on-track.
What makes Mercedes so unique?
But Mercedes' success hasn't only come from the cars they have built. This is an opportune point to talk about just what makes the team so unique. As we know, winning the Constructors' Championship is a collective effort of the highest level " and it takes a truly special lot of people to repeat that feat six times on the trot. Every cog in the wheel needs to fire. Wolff paid tribute to team's staff, saying, "...If I were to sum it up, it's the people: the group of people that are working on the project each giving it all, playing the best game in their respective positions and the strength of the pack that has made us win these championships." In fact, the paddock abounds with anecdotal stories of the extent to which the team takes care of its people, including flying special pillows all around the world to ensure them a good sleep!
The ideal of German precision has been a long-standing legend in automobiles " and Mercedes has not disappointed on that front, despite the team actually being based in England. They have been relentless in their pursuit of perfection. This is exactly what Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel also applauded about Mercedes, saying, "From outside, they are very close to perfection every time they go out on track, so very consistent, very little mistakes."
Even when the team made mistakes " albeit few and far between " they were able to pick themselves up, something Ferrari has consistently struggled to do so. Wolff spoke about this candidly, saying, "Lots of hard work behind the scenes, lots of painful moments also, but the team was always able to pick themselves up." The better part about Mercedes has been succession planning. In their nine seasons in Formula 1, the team has seen a churn in team personnel and World Champion drivers " Michael Schumacher followed by Nico Rosberg. However, the ability to still deliver flawless races has been retained almost naturally.
In the fast-paced world of Formula 1, resting on laurels is simply out of the question. Teams need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay ahead of their rivals. Mercedes has done that with steely resolve " coupled with a heart of seemingly boundless passion. It's an invincible combination of heart and head, brought together by the sheer will of an ambitious team. This is also what deeply connects with Hamilton. "Even though we have the success each year, they're hungry, they're driven, they're excited that they have Valtteri and I in the car and they give absolutely everything. And I love that, and it really inspires me to go out there and drive the way that I do, the way that we do throughout the weekend," he said.
Congratulations from all of us for nailing another well-deserved Constructors' Championship today 🏆! @MercedesAMGF1
- Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) October 13, 2019
Where does Mercedes go from here? After six title doubles, there's no doubt that the team would be gunning for their 7th title double in 2020 " especially since this would include equalling Schumacher's record of seven titles for Lewis Hamilton. Along the way, one should expect Hamilton to overtake Schumacher's tally of 91 race wins too.
The last of Michael Schumacher's 91 F1 wins came on his 246th start 🏆@LewisHamilton reached start number 246 on Sunday - and he's not too far behind as he closes in on the record 👀#JapaneseGP 🇯🇵 #F1 pic.twitter.com/GMsqLbrmzd
- Formula 1 (@F1) October 15, 2019
However, Ferrari's post-summer break resurgence in 2019 offers one strong indication " that the 2020 Formula 1 season could be one of the toughest title battles Mercedes has faced since the start of their dominance. Ferrari may turn up with a faster car, but Mercedes will be a force to reckon with given their robust race management. So pick sides at your own risk.