Mercedes on the back foot – just don’t call it a crisis

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By Bayden Westerweller, Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    Lewis Hamilton. (Photo: GEPA pictures/Daniel Goetzhaber)

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    For the first time in the hybrid era, Mercedes has ceded three consecutive races, and Lewis Hamilton’s dry spell now stands at six, though it’d be folly to describe the situation as a crisis.

    Mercedes could have claimed victory at each of the opening three events with a little fortune, while the notion that Hamilton is at his most dangerous with his back against the wall is almost an oxymoron.

    The Brackley outfit had no answer to Ferrari’s turn of pace in qualifying at China, which marked the first time the German manufacturer has surrendered pole position at consecutive races since 2013, yet Valtteri Bottas appeared destined for victory on Sunday until the safety car intervened.

    An inspired decision to call the Finn in prior to Sebastian Vettel propelled the 28-year-old into the lead, though as in Australia with Hamilton under the virtual safety car, its competitors – Ferrari on that occasion, and this time, Red Bull, exploited the appearance of the AMG GT R to cruel its charge.

    The irony isn’t lost that Vettel, having profited in the former, criticised the safety car’s physical presence at Shanghai, the German claiming that it “was bad for Valtteri and myself, because we had no chance to react.”

    “The safety car was caught almost straight away, so basically we were taken out of the race there”, the 30-year-old affirming “in my point of view it’s not right to send it when you actively change the race.”

    It can be argued that Vettel’s subsequent collision with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was a direct consequence, though it was the sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo – the Australian on soft shod rubber, having stopped as the safety car was deployed, which denied a helpless Bottas, the Finn a sitting duck on an older set of mediums.

    He was roundly, and fairly criticised for his timidness at Bahrain, an inexplicable unwillingness to execute an overtaking attempt when Vettel’s tyres were on their canvass in the dying laps.

    It evoked a lack of desperation which wouldn’t be displayed by Ricciardo, who stated as much “at the first opportunity you have to take it… I wouldn’t be content, if it’s for a win, you just can’t”, but China was his and Mercedes’ to lose, alas, for a second time this season, fate prevailed.

    As for Hamilton, the Briton endured another of his now synonymous ‘listless’ weekends where the four-time champion’s attention appears to lie elsewhere, and departing the weekend with fourth – a net eight-point gain on Vettel, must be treated as a victory of sorts.

    Lewis Hamilton celebrates in front of a sell-out Mexican crowd. (Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

    (Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

    Since likely triumph from another pole at Albert Park was snatched from his grasp, the 33-year-old has cut a sullen figure, and despite fighting from ninth following a grid penalty to third at Sakhir, hasn’t held a candle to the vigour of his successful campaigns in recent seasons.

    Which is why, just as sceptics prepare to draw a line through Hamilton’s prospects, he’s every chance of blowing his competition away in a fortnight at Azerbaijan, serving reminder to all that he remains a lethal, unstoppable force when he’s in the optimal mindset.

    Another anonymous weekend at Baku will invite legitimate questions regarding his title defence, but don’t count on it, and the return to Europe from next month will provide more definitive answers.

    Let’s not forget that a subdued Hamilton lies just nine points adrift of Vettel, while Mercedes indeed leads the constructors’ standings, albeit by a single point from Ferrari. Both team and driver are in unfamiliar territory, though it’s premature to be deemed a crisis and they’re owed a right of reply.

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    The Crowd Says (4)

    • Roar Guru

      April 19th 2018 @ 10:25am
      Jawad Yaqub said | April 19th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      It’ll take a lot to win this title, but not much to lose it and with 19 races to go, it isn’t a done and dusted affair for Ferrari yet either. Last year as well, its arguable as to whether the Scuderia had the superior all-round car and would have perhaps won the title, if it wasn’t for the string of poor races following the disaster in Singapore.

      They’ve already achieved a lot and have proved that they can win between two sets of regulations, though it would be hollow if Hamilton gives in this early. Though as you say, this is where he’ll be at his most dangerous and could be party mode in Baku.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2018 @ 1:24pm
        Bayden Westerweller said | April 20th 2018 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

        All Mercedes has to do for now is remain in touch, it’ll be most telling in the back half of the season if Ferrari again implodes. If its current results can be described as a slump, they’re not doing too poorly, so once Hamilton is back on his game, and with some more luck for both drivers, regular victories can’t be far away.

    • Roar Pro

      April 19th 2018 @ 3:40pm
      anon said | April 19th 2018 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

      The Mercedes was quicker than Ferrari in Melbourne. They got unlucky with the VSC, but at the same time, Hamilton could have built a lead early with his car advantage rather than just go through the motions out front.

      Debatable how much quicker the Ferrari was in Bahrain. I think it was quicker but not by a whole lot. Ferrari won simply due to Vettel’s brilliance.

      Fairly even in Shanghai. Bottas had more speed in the second stint. Was able to stay consistently 2-2.5 seconds behind Vettel in the first stint.

      You have to look at how much Hamilton has underperformed this season as well. Been outqualified by his teammate in 2/3 races.

      Hamilton should be 3 to 5-tenths quicker than Bottas if his head’s on right.

      There’s a fair bit of speed left in the Mercedes that Hamilton is failing to extract right now.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2018 @ 1:21pm
        Bayden Westerweller said | April 20th 2018 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

        I think you’re right when you say it’s more down to Hamilton since Australia particularly, and Bottas at Bahrain, than Mercedes itself, that it has failed to register a victory. If Hamilton rediscovers the zone, he’ll be close to unstoppable once more, though for now, Bottas appears more comfortable with some of the W09’s sensitivities which are more pronounced than its predecessor.

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