This weekend in Bahrain, the Mercedes-AMG F1 team proved a couple of things. Chief among them was that the team is composed of humans, and humans occasionally make mistakes. It also proved that Valtteri Bottas is never going to be a champion-caliber driver, but George Russell definitely has the potential. More important for the point at hand, however, the team proved that the W11 chassis isn’t just the fastest Formula 1 car in history, but the greatest racing car of all time.
Mercedes had a Sunday in Bahrain that it likely hopes to forget immediately, possibly through drinking heavily. The team’s race result of eighth and ninth belies how great the car actually performed. Team newcomer George Russell, seconded from Williams, stepped into Lewis Hamilton’s seat and even though his feet were too big for the god danged car, he got up to speed pretty quickly, setting the pace in Friday’s practice sessions, qualifying within 0.03 seconds of Mercedes veteran Bottas, popping into the lead at turn one and holding control through the first three quarters of the race.
Even after everything went to shit for Russell when the team fitted his car with tires that weren’t assigned to him, he charged through the field and was within minutes of challenging for the lead again when he got a puncture. After fitting a new set of softs and rejoining the field in 14th, Russell then had a dozen laps to race his way back into the points paying positions, which he did handily by setting a new track record of 55.404 seconds, just 2 seconds shy of his fastest qualifying time.
An unprepared Williams driver stepped up into the fastest car on the grid, a car that he didn’t fit in, and was instantly at the top of the time sheets. If that doesn’t scream greatest racecar of all time...
With the aero changes coming for the 2021 season and a new set of sporting regulations changing the game in 2022, plus tires that are a second a lap slower than the current spec, F1 won’t see a faster car than this for the foreseeable future. The Mercedes team has set new in-race lap records at eight different tracks this year, with five falling to Lewis Hamilton, two to Valtteri Bottas, and one to George Russell. Records that have held since the V10 era of 15 years ago are dropping like flies.
The 2020 season has been a wild ride, but the one consistent thing about this year has been the W11 at the front. With the exception of a rain-soaked quali in Turkey, the Merc has been on pole for every race this season. And while the team hasn’t converted every single pole into a victory, 13 wins from 16 races is pretty dominant. There’s one race left in the season, but the Mercedes team is already 258 points clear of Red Bull, which holds second place in the constructors’ standings.
The W11 is the culmination of everything that Mercedes has learned across the seven totally dominant seasons it has enjoyed at the front in the current V6 hybrid era. Each of the cars that Mercedes has built since 2014 have been head and shoulders above the competition, and each new model has been a gradual improvement on the car that came before. More power, more traction, more grip, and more trick shit like DAS.
Mercedes rejoined Formula 1 by hiring Michael Schumacher out of retirement. When it felt that it had a handle on what made a car fast using Schumi’s expert setup skills, the team hired Lewis Hamilton to start racking up wins. From 11 seasons, the Mercedes team has won seven constructors championships, and each subsequent car has stood on the shoulders of great cars that came before it.
Mercedes’ M11 1.6-liter turbocharged hybrid powertrain is allegedly the only in the sport to have actually gained horsepower over the 2019-spec mill, pumping out as much as 1022 horsepower in qualifying trim, according to Motorsport.com. Outside of NHRA, very few racing cars in history have broken the magic four-digit horsepower number. That stands alone as one of the great indicators of a truly special car.
Porsche built a four-digit engine in the early 1970s with the 917/30 Can Am car, and it was dominant enough to kill the series. The W11 zooms down those same hallowed halls of racing history. It was so strong, so dominant, so all-conquering, that it broke Formula 1. Without the W11, the 2022 regulations would look quite different. Without the W11, perhaps budget cuts wouldn’t be entering the sport next season.
Never before has there been such a mix of outright speed, domination over the competition, qualifying prowess, lap record capability and — as Russell proved this weekend — ease of use. And it’s entirely possible that there never will be again.