Why Meticulous Mercedes Are Beating Rivals on and off Track in 2014 F1 Season

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shakes hands with Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff after his victory in the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

As Mercedes swagger towards double world championship successes, having sealed their fifth victory in five races, it’s worth sparing a thought for the remaining 10 teams in Formula One.

The grumpy sound, ugly noses and skinny wings of 2014 were supposed to represent a fresh start for the majority of those outfits.

Even Red Bull Racing, who having secured their fourth consecutive world title at the end of 2013, seemingly had fewer reasons than most to change and underwent a makeover ahead of F1’s new era, promoting Daniel Ricciardo to partner Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari, meanwhile, pulled the plug on Felipe Massa’s stint as Fernando Alonso’s doormat to sign Kimi Raikkonen, thus creating a “dream team” partnership. Then they replaced team principal Stefano Domenicali with the unexperienced Marco Mattiacci.

McLaren, in contrast, sought to recreate history by appointing a rookie, Kevin Magnussen, to partner a world champion in the shape of Jenson Button. Then they removed team principal Martin Whitmarsh, employing Eric Boullier as McLaren’s racing director.  

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leads the field during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Lotus looked to compensate for their financial troubles by partnering two of the most spectacular but crash-prone drivers in F1, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, after being persuaded by the wad of cash stuffed into the latter’s back pocket.

Williams and Force India marked the new start by attracting high-profile sponsors as well as a new driver or two, with the former effectively rearranging their technical department for good measure.

But Mercedes?

They signed Lewis Hamilton to replace Michael Schumacher in September 2012, with Niki Lauda joining the team on the very same day.

Norbert Haug departed the team that December before they lured Toto Wolff from Williams in January 2013, with Paddy Lowe’s appointment confirmed the following month.

Ross Brawn left the team last November.

And the car that finished almost 50 seconds ahead of its nearest challenger at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday? Well, that had been in the pipeline several years before it hit the track.

That’s why the 2014 season has failed to live up to the expectations of several teams thus far and why—after only five rounds—the only battles worth fighting for are for second and third place in the constructors’ standings.

Mercedes got their transition year out of the way last year, while transition has suddenly crept up out of nowhere on some of their closest rivals and left teams fighting with one hand tied behind their back in some cases.

The Silver Arrows have benefitted from having a clear vision in their bid to win the championship with their recruitment process—which was considered excessive when the German manufacturer appeared to have more staff than positions—ultimately paying dividends.

Although Red Bull, having suffered something of a hangover due to their constant success over the last four years, are almost certain to finish as runners up in 2014. Thanks to the aerodynamic craft of Adrian Newey, the ever-improving Renault power unit and a strong driver line-up, the battle for third should be more hotly contested.

Unfortunately, however, whoever does finish third will be best of a fairly average bunch.

Ferrari, who currently hold that spot and are favourites to cement their position at the end of the season, are the anti-Mercedes. While the Brackley-based team have achieved their success through meticulous planning and creation of structure, the Prancing Horse operates on feeling and emotion.

Like Real Madrid, the football club who pride themselves on creating a team of “Galacticos,” Ferrari have sought to align themselves with the most famous names with the most iconic team in the blind, hollow hope that success will be inevitable.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 09:  Infiniti Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey works in the garage during practice ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Image
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The reports over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, as told by Paul Weaver of The Guardian, are that the Italian team had made steps to sign Newey from Red Bull were the latest developments in Ferrari’s obsession with superstars, which will ensure that Marco Mattiacci’s tenure as team principal will be a short one.

Ferrari’s move for Newey smacked of desperation and, more interestingly, suggested an apparent lack of pedigree in terms of talent-spotting.

Perhaps that should not come as a surprise, however, given Luca di Montezemolo’s role as Ferrari president seems to require him to wave his arms and complain about either his own team or the general health of Formula One.

After all, Mercedes signed Toto Wolff from Williams, who had ended the 2012 season in eighth in the constructors’ standings prior to his departure, while Paddy Lowe was an understated figure at McLaren.

Mercedes’ loyalty to Nico Rosberg, despite the German having only one grand prix win to his name prior to 2013, also deserves credit and reflects their eagerness to unearth their own talent.

McLaren, meanwhile, re-signed Peter Prodromou, who was an underrated figure under Newey at Red Bull, and you would suspect that Shaun Whitehead and Craig Wilson—just two of the men who Williams have lured from Mercedes and Red Bull respectively in recent months—have never even registered on Ferrari’s radar.

Such a lack of attention to detail means that, despite the obvious talent which graces the cockpits of their cars, Ferrari will finish third by default in the 2014 constructors’ standings, should they maintain their current position.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his victory with Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and the rest of the Mercedes team after the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 20
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Mercedes have set the standard both on and off track in 2014, creating an innovative and pace-setting piece of engineering with their new power unit, while their progressive organisational techniques have signalled the beginning of the end of the traditional team principal’s role and rewritten F1’s rulebook.

Forget the constructors’ championship—Mercedes are in a league of their own this season.