What makes Mercedes work differently in F1

What makes Mercedes work differently in F1

Maybe young fans and occasional F1 viewers hardly remember a time where Lewis Hamilton and the AMG Mercedes Team were not winning races and commanding championships. Tune in on a Formula One weekend anytime in the past eight years and there’s a chance you’ll see a Silver Arrow at the front of the pack. At 7 back-to-back constructors’ championships since 2013 and more than a hundred wins in the hybrid era, the Brackley outfit surely are en-route to become not only F1’s greatest team of all time, but also one of the most inspiring sports teams to ever exist.

While dynasties are a thing in sports, think the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls in basketball or the Marquez-Honda dominance in MotoGP, this Mercedes thing might just be slightly different from any other successful long-runs we may have witnessed in global sport. This is largely because Formula 1 is a sport like no other, with thousands and thousands of variables and elements to take into account, with teams composed of hundreds of men and women who -in most cases- are but the on-track dept of huge car manufacturers.

Long story short, and as any sports marketing consultancy firm can confirm, winning in Formula 1 is much more than just driving a car faster than the competition. Even if, of course, that helps.

A decade of dominance

Although hard to believe, Mercedes’ history in the pinnacle of four-wheel racing is not a tale of longevity. Taking into account both drivers’ and constructors’ titles, a proper works Mercedes Team has only competed in 22 championships in the history of the sport.

Mercedes first took to the track in 1954, when Manuel Fangio drove the W196 to world dominance after dropping the original Maserati challenger. More sporting success came in 1955 when the Fangio-Mercedes pair once again clinched the title, albeit a joyless one: the LeMans disaster, with more than 80 casualties among drivers and spectators, persuaded the German manufacturer it was about time to quit with the racing.

The Mercedes F1 Team we know today springs from the 1998 Tyrrell (whose company number the squad still has today), which was taken over by British American Racing in 1999 and subsequently became Honda in the early 2000’s. Before officially becoming Mercedes in 2010, the Team had also a successful, although much discussed, stunt as Brawn in 2009. The British outfit led by..erm, Ross Brawn of course, nailed a loophole in the regulations, pretty much designed a rocket with 4 wheels, put Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello behind the wheel, won the title and decided that was enough and called it a day. Mercedes, who were supplying the engines, bought Brawn for $170 Million and started afresh.

It took until 2014, however, before the silver arrows could reach global dominance, thanks to a carefully planned series of pieces gently going into place to shape the superpower we know today. From 2014 up until today, Mercedes have largely dominated the F1 competition, setting a bar so high that most of the times the only real fight would come from within the garage, with team-mates Hamilton and Rosberg-then-Bottas battling for the first spot.

It’s not that the rest of the pack was not trying to put up a fight. Red Bull and Ferrari in primis were designing decent cars and employing excellent drivers, from Raikkonen to Vettel, from Verstappen to Ricciardo. It was just that the whole Mercedes package -largely backed by Petronas as anyone vaguely interested in Motorsport Sponsorship knows- was too far ahead to even pose a threat.

And, therefore, the obvious question: what makes Mercedes work differently in Formula 1? How do you build such a sporting fortress, and how is the anglo-german outfit constantly pushing the boundaries forwards and keeping their winning streak?

Reasons for Success

We believe the reason behind the stellar success of the Silver Arrows and the whole Mercedes F1 organization can be tracked down to four major areas: culture, car, people and, ultimately, drivers.

Culture

Everyone from journos to insiders, from paddock people to former staff are always quick to address just how good the Mercedes culture is. Culture here is of course a very broad term and one that becomes more and more used in sports to portray that mix of environment, attitude, general feeling, mission, vision and how things are done. It is something that is not built overnight and that cannot be taught.

It’s fair to say that maybe some of this positive culture has originated directly in the Mercedes-Benz Stuttgart factory. After all, not only Mercedes are a large and historic maker in the auto industry, but also one that has been associated with top-shelf German engineering. As much a stereotype as this might sound, there’s something that makes the German car industry different from the others: it might be the attention to the detail, the robustness of their design, the quality of their engines or the meticulousness of their finishes.

At its very heart, Formula 1 has a lot to do with car making. It’s a very long term process, with years of designing involved and where, somewhere in the factory, somebody is already drafting a car that will take to the track in 2025. It’s a fascinating process, but also one that you can’t just come up with.

Culture reflects everywhere and in everything. It’s how your team dress and move, always impeccable and efficient, it’s how your staff talk to the press or how you communicate on social media and on print. It’s how you deal with social matters and how you address bigger issues. It’s how modern you are without even compromising your tradition.

The winning Mercedes culture is, ultimately, what fascinated Lewis Hamilton in the first place, when he was prospected a move from the then-winning McLaren to a midfield anonymous one-seater. It’s what made everything possible.

Car

Mercedes made a tremendous leap forward in 2013, when Formula 1 introduced a massive change in the regulation: the top series of car racing abandoned their famous 8-cylinder for a brand new powertrain configuration.

It’s an earth-shattering revolution. The new 1.6-litre, 90° V6 is a totally different beast and one that is hard to tame. Forced induction, which was prohibited since 1988, was now possible, allowing for the return of turbocharged engines while MGUs    systems for kinetic and heat energy recovery were all given a green light. The FIA also imposed a fuel flow restriction (100Kgs per hour) and a lower rev limit, 3000 rpms less than the previous.

While most teams and engineers, including Red Bull’s design maestro Adrian Newey, were less than happy with such a decision, Mercedes were ready to play a card they had been hiding in their sleeve for some years. Propelled by the sumptuous new powertrain, the W05 proceeded to win the 2014 World Championship, opening a competitive gap that allowed the Brackley factor to focus on other areas of the car.

Aerodynamics, chassis and suspensions all underwent major redesigning and clever small introductions were made along the years to shape a car that was not only unbeatable, but also always ahead of the pack tech-wise. The last bit of smart engineering was possibly the Dual Axis Steering (DAS), introduced in 2020, that allowed the driver to adjust the toe of the front wheel optimizing mechanical grip and therefore warming up the tires more efficiently.

People

Smart people put in smart positions under a smart management usually do the trick, and that’s exactly the case with the AMG Mercedes F1 team.

Team Principal Toto Wolff leads a strong and experienced staff, with James Allison as Technical Director and Hywel Thomas as director of powertrains. But it’s the whole team that looks robust and focused even from the outside: Mercedes can count on one of the fastest pit crews in the circus, while Senior Race Engineer Peter Bonnington (Bono) is almost a global superstar thanks to his trademark aplomb and catchphrases.

Niki Lauda was always an important part of the puzzle, until he passed away in the spring of 2019. Lauda was a non-executive chairman for the Team and played an important part in signing Lewis Hamilton in 2013 while also being an important consultant for Wolff and the senior management.

Drivers

Last, but not least, Mercedes can count on the services of one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers ever: Lewis Hamilton. The man from Stevenage has won 7 world Titles (one with McLaren and 6 with Mercedes), 97 Formula 1 races, scored 99 pole positions and totaled a mouth-watering 3847 career points in the sport.

More than that, Hamilton has always been more than just a driver: his rock and roll attitude, his passion for bigger social issues and his off-the-track extravaganza made him the perfect testimonial for the Stuttgart maker. And while it’s up for debate whether Lewis is the greatest Formula One driver of all time, there can be little doubt he is the stronger car racer of the past decade.

From 2014 until today, only one driver could beat Hamilton at his own game and, ironically, that role was landed by best friend and team mate Nico Rosberg. Rosbger won the World Title in 2016 after a season-long fight with Hamilton (and one that apparently compromised their friendship) before calling it quits and leaving the circus as a winner.

Mercedes appointed Valtteri Bottas as second driver for the following seasons but the Finn never threatened Lewis’ leadership as Nico did in the past. Nonetheless, Bottas, after five excellent seasons at Williams, took nine Grand Prix wins and 17 pole positions. New sensations George Russel, Nyck de Vries and Stoffel Vendoorne complete an impressive lineup

Author Bio – Riccardo Tafà was born in Gulianova, graduated in Law at the University of Bologna and then decided to follow his deep passion for sport. After attending the ISFORP (public relations training institute) in Milan he moved to England, where he began his career in PR, first at MSP Communication and then at Counsel Limited in London. Soon after that, he moved to SDC, a Belgian outfit headed by Jean Paul Libert and started working with motorsport: the year is 1991. Following a brief transition to Monaco, where he flanked the owner of Pro COM, a sports marketing agency founded by Nelson Piquet, he returned to Italy and began working in first person as RTR, first consulting firm and then sports marketing company. In 2001 RTR wins the ESCA award for the implementation of the best MKTG sports project in Italy in the year 2000. RTR also obtains the highest score among all the categories and represents Italy in the European Esca Contest. Over the years he gets some satisfactions and swallows some bitter pills. But he is still here, he writes in a disillusioned and simple way, with the goal of providing practical advice and food for thought .