Mercedes are most dominant F1 team since 1998

2014 F1 season

Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes MP4-13, Monte-Carlo, 1998Mercedes are currently enjoying a greater margin of superiority over their F1 rivals than any team has done in almost 16 years.

They are further ahead of the chasing pack than Red Bull were during their period of supremacy in recent seasons, and have a more comfortable lead than Ferrari had in the early 2000s.

Not since McLaren made a crushing start to the 1998 season with their MP4-13 has a team shown up with a car that’s as competitive as the Mercedes W05. Mercedes had a hand in that success as well, supplying McLaren with their V10 engines.

Over the first five races of 2014 Mercedes were 0.82% quicker than their closest competitors on average, based on the lap times from all the sessions at each race weekend. That’s worth more than seven-tenths of a second over a typical 90-second lap.

To put that into perspective, it’s more than 50% higher than Red Bull’s margin of superiority at the end of last year, during the spell which saw Sebastian Vettel win nine races in a row.

Here’s how Mercedes’ advantage over the first five races of the year compares to similar averages achieved by the most dominant teams in recent F1 history (race numbers in brackets):

Start, Bahrain Grand Prix, 2014It’s possible Mercedes are actually even further ahead than they look. Wet conditions on Saturday at Australia, Malaysia and China probably served to mask some of their advantage.

Spain was the first time this year the drivers qualified in dry conditions on a high downforce track typical of much of the rest of the calendar – and Mercedes were further ahead than ever. Their nearest rivals – Red Bull – were 1.053s slower around the Circuit de Catalunya.

So far Mercedes have done a near-flawless job of converting their performance advantage into points. None of their rivals have managed to finish a race in front of a Mercedes so far.

They have won five out of five races and four of those were one-twos – only Lewis Hamilton’s engine failure in Australia prevented them from achieving a clean sweep. Compare that to McLaren’s form in 1998:

1998 First Second Third
Australian Grand Prix Mika Hakkinen, McLaren David Coulthard, McLaren, +0.702 Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Williams, +1 lap
Brazilian Grand Prix Mika Hakkinen, McLaren David Coulthard, McLaren, +1.102 Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, +1’00.550
Argentinian Grand Prix Michael Schumacher, Ferrari Mika Hakkinen, McLaren, +22.898 Eddie Irvine, Ferrari, +57.745
San Marino Grand Prix David Coulthard, McLaren Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, +4.554 Eddie Irvine, Ferrari, +51.775
Spanish Grand Prix Mika Hakkinen, McLaren David Coulthard, McLaren, +9.439 Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, +47.095
2014 First Second Third
Australian Grand Prix Nico Rosberg, Mercedes Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, +26.777 Jenson Button, McLaren, +30.027
Malaysian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +17.313 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, +24.534
Bahrain Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +1.085 Sergio Perez, Force India, +24.067
Chinese Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +18.062 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, +23.604
Spanish Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 0.636 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +49.014

Another one-two for Mercedes in Monaco would make them the first team to do win five-in-a-row since Ferrari in 2002. Mercedes have also led every lap of the first five races of the year, something which last happened in 1992.

History gives some encouragement to Mercedes’ rivals as Ferrari were able to catch up with McLaren in terms of performance and both championship battles went down to the final race.

However even if they do get on terms with Mercedes’ pace soon they will find it much harder to catch them in the championship than it was 16 years ago, as points finishes are worth much more than they used to be. Third place, for example, is worth 50% more relative to a win than it used to be (60% instead of 40%). Though of course we do have the super bonus double points season finale bonanza this year.

But if the prospect of a threat to Mercedes coming from outside the team seems remote, we have at least enjoyed some close races between Hamilton and Rosberg in Bahrain and Spain. That’s more than can be said for many of the other occasions in recent history when one team has found itself with a massive performance advantage.

2014 F1 season

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Images © Bridgestone, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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67 comments on Mercedes are most dominant F1 team since 1998

  1. Spencer Ward (@sward28) said on 16th May 2014, 19:49

    Let’s say that the double points finale bonanza is next weekend. It’s the last race of the of the year. Despite utterly dominating and lapping other leading teams in the last race, Lewis and Nico crash going into the first corner. Alonso goes on to win. The fact that Alonso could possibly finish higher than Rosberg and only one point away from Hamilton, is baffling. Now this is all theoretical of course, until one day…..

  2. Lias said on 16th May 2014, 21:23

    well 1998 was all down to tyres…as was every year from 1998 to 2006.
    In 1998 Mercedes switched to Bridgestone while Ferrari stayed with Goodyear….As soon as Goodyear changed their compound, Ferrari was competitive again and able to win races….that’s the reason why f1 will never have a second tyre supplier again

  3. Alejandro lanza said on 17th May 2014, 0:48

    I wonder what Vettel would have if he had had a teammate

  4. kpcart said on 17th May 2014, 5:34

    This years tyres have definitely helped mercedes also, and especially hamilton. Merc cars have never been great with tyre wear. Hamilton was probably the worst of top 4 drivers at tyre management during his f1 career, but exels when the tyres are durable, this year tyre wear is hardly a factor, pirelli have gone too conservative.

  5. krtekf1 (@krtekf1) said on 17th May 2014, 15:35

    Its interesting to see that f2002 and f2004 had obviously smaller advantage to other cars in their season than other so called “dominated cars” in the table above. But all the time we just hear people talking about Ferrari domination in 00-04 with the best ever car….Schumacher made the difference and thats it ;)

  6. What I dont understand is that over the last few years, I’ve heard many people complaining about the red bulls dominating and the sport being boring since we always know that Vettel will win. Now, we have exactly the same situation with Hamilton and the Mercedes, yet its suddenly so much more exciting? This may not be entirely the case here, since I only found this website in January, but in general with people I talk to about the sport, and actually BBC News especially. With this news that Mercedes are the most dominant team since 1998(!!) I’m struggling to understand why this is. While this isn’t really a concern for me, I’ll watch it regardless, I’m curious as to how long this apparent fallacy that this year is more competitive will last.

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