It feels like Mercedes have been winning in Formula One for a generation. Okay, sure, it’s only been seven years of three pointed star dominance, but in the world of racing, seven years is a very long time. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher era was comparatively only five seasons, and Red Bull’s time at the front with Seb Vettel lasted just four (and it lucked into half of those). After seven seasons, it looks like Mercedes have finally been caught up by the Austrian fizzy drinks manufacturer. And the Germans are pretty much throwing in the towel.
Following this weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix, which Red Bull and Max Verstappen won handily, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted that the team was done developing its 2021 chassis. Merc will instead focus on 2022 in an effort to get a leg up on the next-generation of F1 regulations. The new rules will introduce an entirely new concept for the F1 grid, and with the teams now subject to budget caps, any time and money spent developing the 2021 car will come directly out of the 2022 car budget.
After the last few weeks, it’s pretty obvious that Mercedes have lost their early season advantage, and Red Bull has caught and passed the silver arrows. Lewis Hamilton still has the talent advantage on Verstappen, but a mix of car struggles and bad luck for HAM have meant big gains for VER since Monaco. Considering that next weekend’s GP will again be at the Red Bull Ring for the second week in a row, it’s unlikely Hamilton and Mercedes will be able to find the deficit to Red Bull by the weekend.
Red Bull, meanwhile, are spending time and effort on the 2021 season. Even if it costs a slight advantage in 2022, there is the draw of winning a World Championship on the line. RBR boss Christian Horner has called Wolff’s bluff, saying on the record that he doesn’t believe Mercedes will sit out the rest of the year without developing its 2021 chassis. “We know that Toto likes to throw the light somewhere else, so I can’t believe that they’ll go through the rest of this year without putting a single component on the car,” he explained.
Red Bull put new components on the car as recently as this weekend, and doesn’t seem to have any intention of stopping any time soon. “What we can do is focus on our own job. Of course it is a balancing act between this year and next year, but if that means we’ve all got to work a bit harder than the other teams, we are fully up for it,” Horner continued.
We already knew that Ferrari, Williams, and Haas have decided to shift their focus to the 2022 season, so with Mercedes joining the fold, nearly half of the grid has already given up on 2021. At least from an engineering and development standpoint.
With Max playing the easy role of the rabbit out front, and teammate Checo Perez being in a position to manipulate the pit strategy for the team, Red Bull has a significant advantage going forward, not least of which is a large points gap in the manufacturers championship. Mercedes, meanwhile, has one driver running point and one Valtteri Bottas doing everything he can to stab himself in the back, to great effect.
There is still a lot of season left in the 2021 year, with fifteen Grands Prix remaining on the provisional calendar, and admittedly anything could happen between now and late December, but if Mercedes is already done developing its chassis, Red Bull has a real opportunity to pounce here. Then again, nobody should ever take Toto Wolff at his word.