HOCKENHEIMRING, GERMANY - JULY 28: Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, Esteban Ocon, Mercedes AMG F1, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 and Esteban Gutierrez, Mercedes AMG F1 during Mercedes AMG F1 team photographer to celebrate 125th year in motorsport during the German GP at Hockenheimring on July 28, 2019 in Hockenheimring, Germany. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

#TheXtraLap Mercedes: Are they losing their grip?

During pre-season testing at Barcelona, the World Champions, in defence of their crown, hit the track with two different specifications packages for their 2019 campaign.

The car they started with was good and during the second segment, they used a car that looked aero-dynamically, totally different than the first and eyebrows were raised.

Were they sandbagging? Did they find something they could use on different tracks?

The times didn’t mean anything in testing but they weren’t quickest. Both Hamilton and Bottas stayed with the team so consistency was key. Not much data came out but the team looked very confident, even though Ferrari seemed to have the upperhand going into the season.

Australia. While pre-season signs were for Ferrari, it was Mercedes who was 0.6s clear on Saturday when Hamilton took pole position with Bottas next to him in second. On Sunday, Bottas had a better start and didn’t let go. He crossed the finish line in 1st position while teammate Hamilton had a few minor issues but finished 2nd. A 1-2 to start the season.

Bahrain. On Saturday, both Ferrari drivers got the better of Mercedes which meant Hamilton qualified in 3rd with Bottas in 4th. When the race started on Sunday, both Hamilton and Bottas had a better start and it didn’t take long for both drivers to get in the mix for victory. A spin from Vettel after Hamilton passed him and an engine issue for Leclerc, meant that Hamilton took his first victory of the season with Bottas finishing in 2nd. It was the second 1-2 finish for the team in 2019.

China. Bottas took another pole position on Saturday as he emerged fastest and in front of Hamilton, who qualified in 2nd. A front-row lock-out on Sunday and when the lights went out, Hamilton got a better start than Bottas and the order remained that way until the finish when Hamilton crossed the line as winner with teammate Bottas in 2nd. It was the third 1-2 finish in a row for Mercedes in 2019.

Baku. Another front row lock-out and again it was Bottas who was fastest on Saturday during qualifying, leaving Hamilton to qualify in 2nd. No mistakes on Sunday meant that Bottas took the win while Hamilton followed Bottas close when the Brit crossed the finish line in 2nd position. Hard to believe but this was the fourth straight 1-2 finish for both Mercedes drivers in 2019.

Spain. It was a dominant Saturday as Bottas took another pole position with Hamilton starting in 2nd. Yet again, making it a front-row lock-out for Mercedes. When the lights went out on Sunday, it was again Hamilton that made a better start and at turn 1, took the lead. Hamilton won the race with Bottas finishing in 2nd position. You guessed it, this was the fifth straight 1-2 finish of 2019 and it already looked as if Mercedes was walking away with the championship.

Monaco. Like many times before, it was the Mercedes boys who were fastest on Saturday. Hamilton took pole position and Bottas got to start next to him in 2nd, having been just shy of 1 tenth slower than his teammate. It was a hard race on Sunday for Hamilton as RedBull’s Verstappen emerged as a threat to Mercedes. A questionable pitstop, which caused some contact between Verstappen and Bottas, meant that Verstappen would receive a five-second penalty. This lit a fire underneath the Dutchman and for many many many laps, he tried to pass Hamilton for 1st position but the Brit held his ground. At the finish, Hamilton was just 0.5 seconds in front of Verstappen, but due to the Dutchman’s penalty, Bottas (who was in 4th, due to his damage), still came home in 3rd position.

With six races done and what were the signs?

Five! Yes five one-two finishes to start the season with and a one-three at Monaco. The team had been very dominant but it must be said that Ferrari dropped the ball on a few occasions that made it easier for Mercedes to extend the lead in the championship. There isn’t really a team that can match the high level of performance that Mercedes is showing. With a 118 points lead over Ferrari in 2nd, the WCC seems within reach already. If they keep their momentum, the gap can only grow.

Canada. Cracks in the armour started to show on Saturday when Hamilton couldn’t get a better grid position during qualifying then 2nd. Bottas even did a bit worse and had to start from 6th. On Sunday, Vettel would have won but a penalty dropped the Ferrari driver to 2nd, meaning Hamilton taking the victory. Bottas did make up some ground but after starting 6th, he finished 4th, outside the podium.

France. It was back to normal on Saturday when Hamilton took pole position with Bottas in 2nd next to him. On Sunday, it was a pretty boring race and for Mercedes, it ended like it started with Hamilton in 1st position, 18 seconds clear of Bottas, who finished 2nd. It was Mercedes’s sixth 1-2 finish of the season.

Austria. The Red BullRing was coloured red on Saturday when Leclerc was the fastest. Hamilton came close but could only get 2nd. Bottas had to give in a bit more and started in 4th. The race on Sunday was a very excited one which saw the first Honda victory since 2006 but Mercedes weren’t as dominant as they had been during the first six races. Bottas finished 3rd while Hamilton (who had to start from 4th after receiving a penalty for impeding Raikkonen) only managed 5th.

England. A home race for local hero Hamilton and although he was fastest during Q1 on Saturday, he qualified in 2nd, just behind teammate Bottas, who took pole position. On Sunday however, Hamilton showed some extra skill and came home as a winner, he now won the BritishGP for a record sixth time. Bottas just couldn’t match the pace of Hamilton but still ended up 2nd, almost 25 seconds behind Hamilton. Indeed, the seventh 1-2 finish of the Mercedes team in 2019.

Germany. A tough Saturday for all drivers, due to the changing weather conditions. Hamilton however, kept his cool and took another pole position. Bottas would start behind Hamilton in 3rd. A crazy race on Sunday that started out in wet conditions, would turn out to be the worst race for Mercedes. Hamilton had a hard time and sliding off into the barriers didn’t help. returning back on track to enter the pits on the wrong side of the bollard only added to the pain and Hamilton finished the race in 9th (after both Alfa Romeo cars received the 30seconds time penalty) Bottas was doing pretty good and still had a chance on a podium position when on lap 56, after being told by the team to push, he did push but a bit too much and he went off into the wall, damaging the car to the extent that he had to retire. A “lucky” 9th position for Hamilton was all that Mercedes had to show for in Germany.

Hungary. The Saturday in Hungary saw Verstappen taking pole position for the RedBull/Honda combination but both Mercedes boys were on the pace with Bottas qualifying in 2nd and Hamilton in 3rd. The top 3 were the only ones in the 1:14’s. The Sunday would turn out to be another crazy race. After pushing the whole race to pass Verstappen for the lead, Hamilton got a lucky break when both their speed meant that there was a huge gap between them and the 3rd place driver. The team made a strategic master call and pitted Hamilton. This meant that he needed to close an almost 20-second gap to Verstappen but the Dutchman would suffer with his tyres. Slowly but steady, Hamilton closed in and with just a few laps to go, overtook Verstappen to win the race. Bottas didn’t have so much luck as contact in the first lap meant he had to pit and lost out a lot of momentum. At the finish line, Bottas ended up 8th.

After a dozen races what did we learn?

In the first six races, Mercedes was dominant but a few cracks started showing during the second 6 races. RedBull is joining the fun and Ferrari have their moments. Mercedes are still 150 points ahead in the constructors’ championship and if nothing crazy happens, Hamilton will be on his way to another championship for himself.

Bottas however, has had a more difficult time and the “Bottas 2.0” we saw at the start of the season, hasn’t been seen for a while and although he still stands 2nd in the WCC, Verstappen is closing in on him. Mercedes still have a healthy advantage but they want both drivers to end up 1-2 aswell in the drivers’ championship.

Maybe Mercedes is coming up with new updates that give them the edge over the rest but if they continue like the last couple of races before the summer break, the WCC might be safe, but things might change a bit in the WDC. Nine races left and if more teams can join in for victories and podiums, I would be all for it.

#MsportXtra

#TheXtraLap Ferrari: Too many mistakes

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