Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2017

Off-season shake-up is Mercedes’ biggest threat yet

2017 F1 season preview: MercedesPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

No team has dominated Formula One over a three-year spell the way Mercedes did between 2014 and 2016.

Ferrari’s emphatic wins in 2001, 2002 and 2004 were interrupted by a less dominant 2003 campaign. Red Bull’s four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013 included two down-to-the-wire drivers’ title fights with rival teams.

Mercedes have won 51 of the last 59 races and the drivers’ championships has been exclusively contested by their drivers during that time. Small wonder they weren’t keen on changing a set of rules they have indisputably mastered.

But the change has come anyway. Mercedes might have anticipated this, but what they and no one else saw coming was Nico Rosberg’s decision to hang up his helmet after clinching the championship last year.

However good his replacement Valtteri Bottas proves to be, the loss of consistency in their driver line-up at a time of major change in the regulations will be a distraction. In a similar vein, having lost Paddy Lowe to Williams the team has pulled off a coup by landing James Allison, but it doesn’t make up for the loss of institutional memory.

Taken together these changes, plus the introduction of rules which should play into their rivals’ hands, represents the biggest threat to Mercedes’ dominance since the V6 hybrid turbo rules arrived in 2014. But they still hold some very strong cards.

Their power unit has been unrivalled for three years and according to the team they have made even greater gains with it for the new season. A key weapon in their armour has been the ability to tap vast reserves of extra power during qualifying runs, which is part of why they’ve only missed pole position once per season for the last three years.

All that power could prove even more valuable this year as increased downforce means an accompanying rise in drag. Another Mercedes strength has been fuel economy, a factor which some expect will be significant in the early races under the new rules.

Mercedes clocked a formidable mileage during pre-season testing. But as last year showed, this is no guarantee of reliability in a race weekend – just ask Lewis Hamilton. As for them being out-paced by Ferrari to the tune of six-tenths of a second, Sebastian Vettel is certain the silver team is yet to show its hand.

Drivers

44. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2017

Despite ending last season with four wins in a row, the title escaped Hamilton by a slender margin. Much of this was down to the car but he had off-days too – or at least off-starts. Getting off the line will be trickier this year so Hamilton will need to do his homework. He’s said in the past he would relish a closer title fight with Mercedes’ rivals and this could be the year he gets one. But he shouldn’t underestimate the battle within his own team.

77. Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2017

Bottas fits the bill as a short-term replacement for Rosberg. But it’s down to him to prove he deserves the seat next year and beyond, when some of F1’s biggest names will be on the market. Unruffled by Hamilton’s comments about data-sharing he’s vowed to keep a close eye on his team mate as he makes up for lost time in his new surroundings. Can he surprise his new team mate with the great one-lap pace he had last year?

Poll: Which Mercedes driver will finish ahead in the championship?

Which Mercedes driver will finish ahead in the championship?

  • Lewis Hamilton (77%)
  • Valtteri Bottas (23%)

Total Voters: 149

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22 comments on “Off-season shake-up is Mercedes’ biggest threat yet”

  1. Not so sure Bottas will be as fast on one lap pace as Lewis (few are) but I think over a season of racing he can push him very far, and lets hope so, we need a good year with lots of drivers throwing the elbows out.

    I think Lewis had Nico covered on the mind games except for last year, Nico was much stronger last year. After Spa 2014 Lewis got into his head and I think Nico lost that WDC title that day. He wont do that with Bottas as I think it just wont work, Bottas doesn’t work that way! Lets see.

  2. Went for Hamilton on this one. joining the team as late in the off season as Bottas did wouldn’t have helped him very much! still think Bottas is good for a few wins though!

  3. Andrew Purkis
    17th March 2017, 14:53

    cant see bottas mastering ham

    I think hes just a steady no2 not making many mistakes couple of wins when circumstance allows but thats about it

    a button

    1. He can be a 2011 Button.

      1. 2011 Hamilton put himself behind, not a 2011 Button getting in front…

      2. @omarr-pepper …but would need Hamilton to be a 2011 Hamilton.

        1. @altitude2k @ninjenius At least it wouldn’t be unprecedented

  4. I’m begging for a proper Hamilton vs. Vettel showdown from race one to the finale. If Bull boys manage to be in the mix, I’ll welcome that too.

    I’m fighting myself not to put my expectations very high but I’m feeling that Ferrari and Mercedes will be close this year.

    1. Fukobayashi (@offdutyrockstar)
      17th March 2017, 19:42

      +1. Vettel Vs Hamilton would be epic. Bottas and Kimi are support players nothing more.

  5. My brain says Hamilton, while my heart says Bottas and I voted the Finn.

    I sense Bottas hasn’t reached his prime yet. Some drivers take a while to reach that stage. Yes over the last couple of years (except maybe 2014) Bottas seemed to be out of the radar. But we did get to see some his talent especially during the 2014 season where Williams had a car capable of fighting the mid field and we did see him fight for podiums. We knew this guy would reach somewhere in the future.

    Come 2015 and 2016 Williams struggled to get to the level where they once were. Both drivers were forgotten. For all we know, past 3 years could have been more about who was the king in saving tires and hacking their way on to the podium (bar Mercedes).

    I have a feeling Bottas will show his magic somewhere after his 3rd or 4th race with Mercedes, once he gets a full feel of the car. He has what it takes, we’ve seen that and maybe not all races but he will surely give Hamilton a fight along the season.

  6. Hamilton is an exceptionally good driver, but, based on what he has said, he prefers not to do his homework before arriving at a race track. Bottas seems to me as the type of guy who likes to arrive at a race track thoroughly prepared. Of course, with the new rules Hamilton is going to have to spend some time in the simulator getting used to the capabilities of the car.
    I voted for Bottas because I’m sure he will do very well, but as we saw with the Rosberg – Hamilton battle, the gloves will come off if Hamilton thinks his grip on the title is slipping, but then we haven’t seen how Bottas will react when he sees the WDC cup is truly within his grasp and someone is trying to steal it. I don’t recall anything of the Prost – Senna battle, but this could be an interesting season.

    1. “Hamilton is an exceptionally good driver, but, based on what he has said, he prefers not to do his homework before arriving at a race track.”

      Can you provide some evidence to this claim? Because from what I’ve read and written on this topic, he’s one of the most well prepared drivers on the grid.

  7. Not a fan of Hamilton by any stretch, but with a rules shake up, the more talented driver gets on top of things earlier, and by jolly that boy has some talent!

    The rational choice is for Hamilton to school Bottas until the summer break, at least.

  8. How anyone can think Bottas will end up ahead of Lewis on the basis of sheer talent alone (based on the comments so far), is beyond me.

    Lewis has only been beaten twice in his F1 career – once by Button (read Lewis), and once by Rosberg (read Mercedes). On both occasions, no one could claim it was down to inferior skill, talent or speed in comparison to his teammate. In his first year at Mercedes, he beat Rosberg who had been bedded in the team for the past 3 years.

    So yes, Bottas can end up ahead, but ONLY if Lewis suffered the kind of issues he suffered in 2016 and 2011. Somehow, i do not see either scenario happening.

    1. It will happen and it will send chills down every F1 fan

      Bottas is going to be the next Kimi

      1. Bottas is going to be the next Kimi

        What overly disappointing? Seems harsh on Bottas

  9. While the Mercedes domination has been remarkable and phenomenal, as mentioned in the article, I feel there is a bit of difference with it and the teams that have dominated before the freeze rules enter into play, and other rules to reduce costs.
    Mercedes has given us the best of engineering on the engine side. I am truly amused by their achievement in the technology. But because of the rules, you know that once a team is ahead at the first race of the season, there is no way others can catch up.
    On the other hand, before this era this was not a given, teams would do everything to develop and catch up the leader. Remember 98 season for example? McLaren was like a couple of seconds ahead, but the season wasn’t over and was fought hard till the end.

  10. I think at a bare minimum VB starts off in his hind foot as the newbie on the team. Advantage LH.

    But beyond that obviously LH is the proven WDCer and simply put VB has never had nearly this level of car at his disposal, so everything is new for him in a way. He’ll now have a chance to compete for wins and that will be new to his psyche. So everything is there to play for for him.

    So I think we can’t know how VB will do…that’s a work in progress and will be a fascinating one to watch. But LH, at this particular moment, shouldn’t have too much on his hands with VB.

    That said, I also think though that if Merc aren’t dominant, VB might shadow LH moreso than if they are pulling off 1-2’s on the grid which I envision would have LH running away with it.

    I just know VB must be absolutely stoked to have this opportunity, and drivers are coloured by their cars, so he has a real chance to shine and enhance his value in F1 immensely going forward. If LH beats him, nobody is surprised, but if VB can beat him the odd time, or even take a win if LH’s car has an issue, that’s gravy. VB shouldn’t feel too much pressure because he can practically do no wrong this year. Just enjoy being in the best situation he has ever been in.

  11. I wouldn’t be surprized if Bottas does a lot better than a lot of people think. If Bottas comes out swinging that might affect Hamilton more than you might think. He’s allready shaken up by Rosberg winning the WDC last year, and lost out to Button in 11′.

    That doesn’t fit into Hamiltons perception of himself, he knows he has to dominate Bottas or lose some of his bragging rights in F1. Furthermore Hamilton needs a great season as the subject of a new contract will come up. Hamilton is 32 now and should be in his prime, he’s got one last big contract coming up. He’s no longer among the hot young property in F1, he’s closer to the twilight years. He really needs to dominate Bottas otherwise Mercedes will go looking for younger and possibly cheaper talent (Ves, Ric, Vet ?).

    A big year for Hamilton indeed!

    1. No, having “just” lost out on the championship, expect to see Hamilton come back, very, very focused, and very driven.

      Bottas, while very good, has yet to win a race, and has rarely stood on the podium– Now he has a car that allows him to fight for podiums and wins, instead of just maximizing points. It’s a different mindset, and it may take Bottas a few races to get into it.

      Hamilton by contrast, has never had a season where he wasn’t winning races.

      Underestimating Hamilton is a mistake pretty much every driver on the grid (except Nico Rosberg) has made– and I single out Nico, because until 2016, he’d never beaten Lewis over a single season.

  12. Major changes in regulations usually mix the order up in F1, but if testing is to be believed, if Mercedes are not the quickest at the moment then they are not far off it.

    It is always hard to maintain the level of success that Mercedes have enjoyed and even without the changes in the team I would be surprised if they continued to dominate F1.

    I expect, or at least hope, that while Mercedes are currently favourites to retains both titles that they will face a strong challenge from at least one if not both Ferrari and Red Bull.

    A lot of people seem to dismiss Bottas, while I don’t think he will beat Hamilton over the course of the season I think he will be closer than many predict, if Mercedes had the performance advantage they had in the recent seasons I would expect him to win at least a few races.

    It will not be easy for Bottas to replace Rosberg, the reigning World Champion, and go up against Hamilton, but I don’t think it will be the walkover for Hamilton some seem to suggest it will.

    Both Rosberg and Bottas left Williams after four years racing to join Mercedes, and if I had to compare them at that point in their careers I would probably rate Bottas the higher of the two.

    However I don’t think Bottas is as good as Rosberg was when he went up against Hamilton, Rosberg had an additional three more years of experience and a race win before he became teammates with Hamilton and he was also the established driver at Mercedes before Hamilton joined whereas Bottas has the disadvantage of being the one joining the team where Hamilton is the established driver.

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