Mercedes are looking like a shell of its past self after not recording a single victory in their last five races. This winless streak of 5 races has been their longest time away from the top step of the podium since the start of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014.
At the same time, Red Bull have looked like the best team on the grid this year. After winning the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi last year, Red Bull have kept the momentum going forward by winning six out of the nine races this season.
While there is still more than half of the season remaining before a champion is crowned, there is plenty of reason to believe why Mercedes’s streak of championships might be coming to an end.
Regulations changes from last season
One big reason Mercedes is struggling this year is the aerodynamic regulations changes made to the cars this year, which have had a direct impact on teams that have a low-rake design.
Mercedes, which has a low-rake design, has lost a lot of rear-end stability because the rear downforce the car can generate has reduced a lot after the regulation changes.
Teams like Red Bull, who have a high-rake design, haven’t been affected that much by the regulation changes. Ironically, Red Bull’s car last year lacked rear-end stability at the beginning of the season but could make improvements to it throughout the year until it wasn’t an issue anymore.
A shift in development work
After its defeat at the Styrian Grand Prix, Mercedes revealed that it has turned off the development work in its 2021 car and is reallocating all of its resources towards developing the 2022 car.
F1 was supposed to switch to an all-new concept car this season, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic that started last year, F1 decided to postpone it to 2022. Since the regulations that are coming in 2022 are not only for next year but for years to come, teams have to decide whether to keep developing this year’s car or start working on next year’s car. Teams like Red Bull have continued developing and bringing new upgrades during race weekends, which have helped them become the best team on the grid.
At the same time, Mercedes aren’t willing to sacrifice the development of its 2022 car for short term gains in this season. For Mercedes, next year’s car will carry the team’s hopes into the next era of Formula One and sacrificing a head start in that new era so that they can win one more title in 2021 isn’t justifiable.
Red bull will eventually also turn its focus entirely to 2022 at some stage this season, but they have different priorities than Mercedes. Red Bull, unlike Mercedes, haven’t won a championship since 2013, and since this season is their best shot at a title. It’s easy to see why Red Bull would be willing to sacrifice 2022 to some extent.
Red Bull acquisition of Sergio Perez
Ever since Daniel Ricciardo left for Renault after the end of the 2018 season, Red Bull have had only one driver capable of going up against the mighty Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. Even though both Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon are good drivers, they often couldn’t get to grips with the Red Bull Car. That, along with their lack of experience, meant that Red Bull couldn’t challenge Mercedes for the constructors’ championship.
But ever since they signed Sergio Perez after he was let go from Aston Martin, it seems like all those problems have vanished away. After the nine races so far this season, Perez is third on the drivers’ championship, only behind his teammate Max Verstappen and Mercedes frontman Lewis Hamilton and ahead of the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas. Because of this, Red Bull have a 44 point lead over Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. Red Bull will hope that Perez will help them keep this lead over Mercedes to capture their first constructors’ title since 2013.
In form Max Verstappen
Ever since Verstappen won on his debut race for Red Bull in 2016 after a mid-season shift from Toro Rosso, everyone has been waiting for him to get the right piece of machinery to challenge the Championship. Last year even though the RB16 wasn’t quick enough to beat the mighty Mercedes W11, it didn’t stop Verstappen from having a great season in which he had one pole position, 11 podiums and two wins in 2020. On the other hand, his teammate Alex Albon could only manage two podiums all season in the same car. Verstappen even managed to outscore Albon by 100 points that season.
At the end of last season in Abu Dhabi, his victory was a sign of things to come because out of the nine races this season, he has finished on the podium eight times and has won 5 times, including the last three. This season Verstappen looks more matured and focused than he ever has been. And with the help of the Red Bull car, which has looked unstoppable at most tracks this season, everyone around the paddock knows that Verstappen is more than ready to go head-to-head with Hamilton for the championship.
Development of the Honda power unit
Ever since the start of the turbo-hybrid era, Mercedes always had an advantage over everyone else in one department, and that was their engine department. Their revolutionary power unit let them have unmatched straight-line speed over everybody while being one of the most reliable cars on the grid. Ferrari did come close to matching the Mercedes power unit in terms of top speed around 2018-19 but was deemed illegal after an FIA investigation.
Honda made their return to F1 as an engine manufacturer for McLaren. The first few years were a disaster for them as they were at the back of the grid in terms of both top speed and reliability. But ever since 2018, they have made a lot of progress. This year, Red Bull has looked like the most powerful car on the grid, mainly cause of the power that the Honda engine can produce. Not only are the Honda power units the most powerful, but they also look like the most reliable as they can run their engines for more races before having to change them, unlike other teams.
Even though the team were dealt a blow after Honda announced that they would pull out of F1 at the end of 2021, Honda has promised Red Bull that they want to leave the sport on the highest note. And to accomplish that challenge, they will throw everything at it, including bringing their prototype 2020 engine ahead of schedule to race it in 2021. And by the looks of it, it seems like Honda are honoring their promise.