The Silver Arrows are not ready to take on “the Bulls”. Or that’s my takeaway from last weekend’s United States Grand Prix.
Mercedes have performed admirably in so many respects this year, delivering a level of consistency that would be the envy of the rest of the grid and perfect for where they will finish in the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship. That place is second of course, and there lies the problem.
To use a well-worn, but appropriate cliché, Mercedes snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at COTA. I’m not citing the disqualification here. Fifty per cent of the F1 teams would probably have failed if tested too. Unfortunately, it’s a random check, and whilst it feels unjust, them’s the agreed rules.
What should be hurting them is the poor strategy and even poorer pit stops. Not something you would normally associate with Team Toto. It’s been a while, but for the first time in two years, the car looked like it could snatch a cheeky win. Unfortunately, the team were not in winning mode.
Red Bull, of course, were. Christian Horner was not wearing his normal confident face this weekend, and despite the convincing victory in the Sprint race, he seemed to carry a sense that the main event was not going to fall into their lap as usual.
This was further evidenced by the radio transmissions of Max Verstappen. The Dutchman repeatedly complained about the quality of his brakes and the interruption of his engineer whilst doing it. However, this didn’t seem to stop him from winning of course, but this time by an abnormally narrow margin.
Unsurprisingly, both Mercedes drivers raced with full commitment to winning. Lewis Hamilton was breathless during his interview at the end of the race. Obviously having given it 110 per cent to try and overhaul Verstappen. Unfortunately for him, the team did not believe the car and the driver could do the job racing wheel to wheel and erred on the tyre wear and pit box delta cards — a first-loser strategy.
Plan: Win anyone?
The Silver Arrows now need a mental reset. Finishing first has always been the objective, but the unconscious acknowledgement that Max and Co. are not beatable has pushed them into a competitive rut. The car may not be as quick as the RB19, but it doesn’t have to be.
Max’s apparent invulnerability is partly rooted in his belief that no one can get close. Mercedes and Hamilton proved they could. Play for the win, pick up the pace on the pit stops and the Silver Arrows can stand on that elusive top step again. Maybe the thin air of Mexico will play into their hands this weekend?