Formula One: A game of roulette
The think-tank at Mercedes AMG PETRONAS F1 has a lot of brainstorming to do. After sealing off the front row successfully in Bahrain on Saturday, they lost the race to an aggressive strategy by Ferrari on Sunday. And with it, the championship lead.
Scuderia Ferrari has historically focused all their efforts towards their lead driver in order to win. Be it Mansell, Prost, Schumacher, Alonso or Vettel. Is it time then for the team from Brackley to concentrate their efforts wholly on Lewis Hamilton? Give Valterri Bottas his debut season to settle in maybe?
Starting from pole position, Bottas struggled on the super-softs right from the opening lap. Holding up a train of new-generation Ferraris, Red Bulls and his own teammate in the other Mercedes. Vettel was the first to dive into the pits for fresh rubber knowing he could leapfrog the pole-sitter. Mercedes double stacked their cars even though they knew by then that Hamilton was faster and could probably take the fight to Ferrari. The consequences of that strategy call led to Hamilton being penalised for crawling in the pit lane holding up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who was following close behind. That five-second penalty buffered the gap between P1 and P2 to 6.7 seconds at the finish line. It could’ve been 1.7 seconds or much less.
Until a few races ago, Toto Wolff, the team boss of Mercedes, made decisions that favoured either of his drivers; almost always. Since his team were miles ahead of the field in the technology game of Formula One, it didn’t matter who won. As long as it was a Mercedes driver. But now, the desert sands of Sakhir proved how close or ahead Ferrari really are in their quest for supremacy this season. Wolff will have to craft out a transparent yet subtle team order to save his team! Even better for the sport would be if Mercedes aggressively split their race plans to win, instead of maintaining their philosophy of equal treatment to their drivers for the fans.
The ‘tifosi’ or die-hard Ferrari fans aren’t complaining though. They’re enjoying the renaissance of the mighty Scuderia in the hands of four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, much like they did in the Schumacher era. Meanwhile, another German driver has begun the resurgence of another legendary team by finishing in the points for the first time this season. Nico Hulkenberg brought home his Renault RS17 in P9 albeit 80 seconds adrift. His team, Renault Sport Formula One, showcased their radical RS2027 F1 concept elsewhere as a reminder of what the future holds for rev heads. In the immediate future though, it’s going to be a mighty gamble of strategies as we head to Russia this Sunday. For a game of pit stop roulette!
The writer is a motorsports enthusiast who will cover the 2017 FIA Formula One™ season
exclusively for INDULGE