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Hippo’s Season Review – Part 1/1o Mercedes.

Bored Hippo is still bored

Bored Hippo is still bored

The Team

Normally, if a team dominates the whole season the way Mercedes have done, you’d be inclined to praise them for the great job they’ve done, if it wasn’t for the fact that by now it is well known, where that large gap comes from. Even people close to Mercedes do admit that they massively out-spent their competitors, both financially and in terms of how many people they threw at the problem. If it was really more than Ferrari and Renault combined, as claimed by many sources, remains speculation, but even if it was just 50% more than the others, it was – though legitimate – a direct perversion of what the rulechange had been introduced for – reducing development costs.

Nobody would remember that much if they gave us Bahrain 2014 style races whenever both their drivers brought their A game, but after accidentally revealing at that very venue last year just how large their gap really is, they started their unholy habit of stage-managing and micro-managing everything. For that alone, and subsequently making the season as dire as it was, I would rather chop a leg off than daring to declare them my team of the year, because they still remote-controlled their drivers in the last race where they couldn’t have possibly lost much, even if both cars would have nommed their engines. Yes, they gave Lewis more freedom in matters of strategy, but that cannot be more than a token gesture, when Lewis has long lost his edge and the artificially useless Pirelli tyres dictate that there is only one strategy that actually works. And besides, they still nannied the drivers as to how far they had to dumb down their engines.

What Merc are afraid off is re-enacting 2007, when Lewis and Fernando stole points off each other and subsequently put a ribbon and a bow around the drivers title and gave it to Kimi Räikkönen. Does it matter? Barely anyone remembers that. What people remember is a fight to the bitter end between the reigning world champion and a rookie who delivered despite the hype around him from day one. That’s what we want to see, but probably never will, because by now so much money is dependent on championship position that no team will ever put two such strong drivers in the same car again. The #1/#2 concept has proven way too effective for that to happen in a top team any time soon again.

While it is not Mercedes’ fault that Renault and Honda have made a complete dog’s dinner of a job that a large multi-national manufacturer can be expected to get done, and Ferrari only start to catch up, they have to face the reality that they can’t continue their suffocating dominance forever. Granted, the largest fanbase is happy as a clam at high tide, but there is no PR value in whooping a bunch of hapless opponents, who can’t really hit back because the rules say they’re not allowed to. Red Bull can sing a song about the backlash of negativity that results from winning too often, and that was at a time when they were not put under puppy protection by the rule book.

With another likely season of effortless dominance, some people at Mercedes need to sit down if it wouldn’t make sense to let their third consequtive title be decided on Sunday, not on Saturday. They missed their golden opportunity by not supplying Red Bull. That might have cost a few wins here and there, but they could have proven their worth against proper opposition. Unfortunately they were too afraid to play on a level playing field, something that will taint their wins, no matter how many records they smash next year.

The Drivers

Lewis Hamilton (Driver World Champion, #44)

He was completely untouchable until he accidentally donned his helmet back to front before the Hungarian GP. Not even a face-palm inducing blunder from the team at Monaco could unsettle him in his relentless punishment of the only competitor he had – his team mate. There was only a very remote chance that he would not defend his title, unless Rosberg got a miraculous mojo infusion, which he didn’t. It is of course nitpicking at the highest level, but as someone, who describes Ayrton Senna as the one he aspires to match, even Lewis himself has to admit that his big hero would not be awfully impressed by his sloppiness after the title was in the bag. When Senna relinquished pole position to a team mate once, it was prime-time news and even a man of Alain Prosts caliber could not beat him more than twice in a row. If he really wants to reach the heights to which the great Brazilian has risen, he needs to postpone his partying benders until after the season.

Apart from that there is nothing to criticise though. Not even a double-points finish would have kept this season open until the last race, such was Lewis’ authority over Rosberg. In that regard he was even more convincing than last year.

Nico Rosberg (Runner-up, #6)

It says a lot about Nico Rosberg that he has almost three times as many wins as his father, but one less world title. In the same sense it says actually nothing. Good ol’ Keke had no understanding of the concept of car handling. If his car handled like crap, he just drove it at break-neck speed until it spun, at which point he attempted to make a three-sixty and soldier on as if nothing happened, and he meant to do that. He once famously succeeded in 1983.

Working around problems was another concept that Keke never really got the hang of. Followers of the old DTM will remember a particularly memorable race during which Keke’s brakes packed in entirely at the fastest point of the Norisring. Faced with a problem that can hardly have hit him completely unprepared, he rammed the Alfa-Romeo of Michael Bartels sending both cars into the wall, which redecorated both of them so substantially, both chassis were write-offs. Asked about what the heck he was doing out there, Keke replied completely unmoved: “Had no brakes, so I used Bartels for brakes.” Apologies were another concept that Keke never fully grasped.

In that regard you may wonder why he’s never demanded a fatherhood test to make sure that Nico is really his. They couldn’t be more different if they were members of different species. That Nico has inherited at least a good portion of his dad’s talent becomes obvious if you remember that he clinched the fastest lap in his first F1 race ever in a car that was no match for the Ferraris and Renaults at the time and before Lewis he was only outscore by a team mate once – in his rookie season, by a single point, by Mark Webber, who then had not yet inexplicably decided to become useless. And even though Lewis outscored him in their first year as team mates in F1, Nico managed two wins to Lewis’ one. So, writing him off as mediocre is a grave lack of respect. However, he doesn’t have the luxury of the sort of natural speed that makes Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso stand out from the crowd and even hard work can only make up for so much. The more respect is due for how relatively well he’s taken the drubbing that Hamilton has administered ever since the Merc stopped being hopeless. He never gave up and whenever Lewis was not bringing his A game, he almost never failed to seize his chance.

By the time Austin came around, I was prepared to say that he’ll never come close, but the hattrick at the end of the season might finally offset the mental crack in his shell from the unfair treatment from Lauda and Wolff at Spa in 2014. I am keen to see if that motivation boost together with his feeling of ‘enough is enough’ after Lewis ran him out of road yet again at Austin, is just about enough to give him enough spunk to challenge Lewis harder than he’s done before. 2016 will be his last chance, because the powers that be would be stark raving mad not to have a plan B to make sure the new rules in 2017 properly nerf the Merc. Because that’s what they’ve always done to teams who became too dominant.

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Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Reviews and Comments