After Mercedes’ fifth consecutive victory of the season in the Spanish Grand Prix, the title fight has already become a two-horse race between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the new championship leader.
The Silver Arrows’ dominance over the rest of the field has almost made a mockery of the 2014 regulation changes, which were introduced with the secondary aim of ending the winning run of another irresistible combination.
Formula One’s long-awaited season of change seems increasingly like a continuation of the same old story, with one team setting pole position, galloping into the distance and winning the race.
The fall (well, stumble) of Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel has coincided with the astronomical rise of Mercedes, who rather depressingly already appear to have both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in the bag barely two months into a 19-race season.
In an ideal world, we would like to see several different drivers from a range of teams in the hunt for the title, as we saw most recently in 2010.
The sheer depth of quality in F1 has been evident this year, with five of the sport’s 11 teams securing at least one podium finish in the opening four races—which makes it all the more frustrating that those pesky Mercedes cars won’t give anyone else a go at this winning business.
Despite trying their best to take the fun out of Formula One in terms of competition, it would be wrong to suggest that Mercedes are destroying the 2014 season due to the compelling inter-team battle between Rosberg and Hamilton.
Wow, fantastic to get my first win here! This team is really special! So happy to be leading the championship!!— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) May 11, 2014
Because the title battle is exclusive to the German manufacturer’s drivers, the early rounds of the season have carried much more intensity than usual. In previous years, the cat and mouse thrillers in Bahrain and Spain would still have been exciting, but taken in isolation as both drivers and team would have focused on getting points on the board with the long game in mind.
In 2014, however, every race has been and will be driven in the knowledge that every single point gained is a crucial one and could prove decisive when the chequered flag falls for the final time in Abu Dhabi in November.
This has understandably led to both Rosberg and Hamilton experiencing high levels of pressure, introducing a human element to proceedings and reinforcing the idea that F1 is centred on the idea of man meeting machine.
It is common knowledge that both drivers take alternative approaches to their racing, with Hamilton driving with his heart while Rosberg drives with his head, but as every weekend passes we are learning more and more about their differences in application.
It was curious that, prior to the weekend, the Spanish Grand Prix was widely considered a pivotal event for Rosberg.
The consensus seemed to be that if the German failed to stop the rot and put an end Hamilton’s career record winning streak at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the British driver would be uncatchable for the remainder of the season.
Rosberg had, after all, showed signs of strain and frustration at the end of every grand prix since his season-opening victory in Australia, appearing rattled by his long-term friend’s success.
Yet, like all great sporting battles, the momentum shifted dramatically in Spain as Rosberg led the way in qualifying until the dying minutes of the third segment of qualifying before subjecting his teammate to intense pressure in the latter half of the race.
Hamilton’s agitated radio messages and lock-up on Lap 64 as Rosberg closed in suggested a return to the counterproductive habits of his late McLaren days, when a lack of maturity prevented him from fulfilling his potential.
thanks for all the support in Barcelona. the race was one lap too short unfortunately!! see you next year! pic.twitter.com/hGpzdSlTFx— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) May 12, 2014
That’s the beauty of this season: Hamilton and Rosberg are fighting themselves as well as each other. The former is eager to finally confirm his transition from boy to man, while the latter must prove that he is worthy to compete for the world championship.
For the Mercedes drivers, 2014 is as much a personal voyage as it is an opportunity to cement their places in F1 history.
That we have been able to learn so much from Rosberg and Hamilton in only five race weekends is a credit to the team, who have openly sought to provide a service to fans and onlookers. Mercedes' unwillingness to implement team orders has allowed the 2014 season to provide intrigue despite a shortage of title protagonists.
In putting their own success, harmony and professional pride at risk by allowing their drivers to race, the German manufacturer has treated us to some of the most exciting grand prix endings in recent memory in Bahrain and Spain.
As a consequence, Toto Wolff’s recent admission to Andrew Benson of BBC Sport that Mercedes may be forced into reconsidering their philosophy as the season progresses was met with an understanding nod of the head, rather than accusations of how the team would be spoiling the spectacle if they opted to decide the outcome of the race from the pitwall.
Mercedes’ eagerness to ensure that F1 appeals to the masses has even led to the team planning to test a new exhaust system at this week’s test in Barcelona, as reported by Jonathan Noble of Autosport, which will see them become the first outfit to actively combat the quiet noise produced by the new V6 turbocharged power units.
Although, on the face of it, a season that has seen the same car effortlessly win every race thus far may seem boring, the 2014 F1 campaign carries much more interest than first meets the eye.
It is plausible that Mercedes’ 2014 season could one day be mentioned in the same breath as the 1988 campaign enjoyed by McLaren, which is lovingly remembered as the season which saw two evenly matched but very different men blow away the opposition.
And what’s more? Mercedes are going about their business this year with you, the viewer, in mind.
It’s worth bearing that in mind before you follow the lead of their rivals and write off this season.