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How did Mercedes get so dominant?


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Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the US Grand Prix may not have been enough to officially name him the 2017 Formula 1 World Champion, but his win earned his team, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport, enough points to claim their fourth constructors’ championship in as many years.

Since major rule changes to Formula 1 in 2014, Mercedes have won all but 14 of the previous 76 races. Their rise to the top is as extraordinary as it is unexpected, in the last four seasons the Silver Arrows seem to be quicker, more powerful, more efficient, and more reliable than all the other cars on the grid. So, just how did Mercedes get so dominant?

A racing pedigree

Mercedes-Benz boast an exquisite Formula 1 history. Their debut race in the 1954 French Grand Prix concluded in a dominant one-two victory and former world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, added three more victories across the season en-route to the world championship.

The second year of Mercedes in F1 was just as successful, with the team winning all but two of the races across the 1955 season. The Argentine Fangio added another championship title but a horrific crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June later that year, led to the withdrawal of all Mercedes motor sports teams, including its Formula 1 outfit. 

And so, Mercedes remained outside of the sport they had once dominated until, in 1994, the sleeping giant finally awoke as Mercedes reappeared as an engine supplier for Sauber. In 1995 it switched to supplying McLaren spawning a highly successful 20-year partnership. And, in 2010 the Silver Arrows finally fully returned to F1 after buying out 2009 Constructors’ Champions Brawn GP.

Led by team principle Ross Brawn, Brawn GP’s success came in no small part through the team’s decision in early 2008 to start designing a car that was the perfect answer to the raft of new regulations introduced for 2009. And this forward thinking is central to Mercedes current dominance.

The plan

In 2011 the FIA established plans for F1 to adopt hybrid 1.6-litre turbocharged engines for the 2014 season. From the moment the new rules were announced, Ross Brawn (the former Mercedes team’s principle) was laying the foundations for success. Former Redbull and Hispania racing technical director Geoff Willis was hired to lead an entire division dedicated to perfecting the 2014 puzzle.

The team were ruthlessly focused on the new regulations, sacrificing any hope of mounting a title challenge against Redbull between 2010 and 2013. When new changes eventually arrived, they were handsomely rewarded. Mercedes logged twice as many test laps as their nearest rival, tweaking when other constructors were still assembling.

Engineers radically reimagined the car’s layout splitting the turbocharger in half, putting the intake turbine and the compressor at opposite ends of the engine and connecting them with a long shaft. The effect was extraordinary, the new set up required significantly less cooling, allowing for a more responsive engine, greater power from the Energy Recovery Systems, better fuel efficiency, and boosting horsepower.

Three-time world champion Niki Lauda became non-executive chairman and was instrumental in convincing Lewis Hamilton to join alongside Nico Rosberg for the 2013 season. Though 2013 would be a mixed bag for Mercedes, winning just three races, most of the team could be forgiven for dreaming about the future rather than concentrating on the present.

And when the future did come, it was magnificent. Across all 19 races of the 2014 championship, the Mercedes cars were on average six-tenths of a second faster than anyone else in qualifying, and almost 19 seconds faster over a race distance. They received 18 pole positions, 16 wins and 11 one-twos.

Looking forward

Their relentless groundwork and dedication to creating the ideal car post rule change is the focal point for Mercedes’ success.  Yet once they reached the top, the engineers didn’t stand still. The car was consistently enhanced and upgraded, in 2015 the chassis was improved, in 2016 weight was reduced.

Mercedes have been rewarded for their methods, they haven't just won the constructors' championship every year since 2014, they've won with a margin of victory always greater than 250 points.

Lewis Hamilton’s current car, the W08 EQ Power+, is worlds apart from Juan Manuel Fangio’s W196 of 1955, but ingrained in the silver arrows is a desire to win.

Mercedes are not in F1 to make up the numbers, they’re here to win championships. The team has won 75 races from the 165 they started, a win percentage unmatched by any team racing for more than three seasons.

Currently, team Mercedes continue to dominate Formula 1 aided by a bedrock of forward thinking and ingenious engineering. Right now, it’s difficult to choose any team but Mercedes when predicting the constructors champion for 2018.

Image Credit - Flickr Commons, Andrew Locking. Pixabay, MikesPhotos.

Main image shows Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton, en-route to victory in the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

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