As the 2021 Formula 1 world championship has progressed, the level of competition between Mercedes and Red Bull has only intensified.
However, it now appears as though Red Bull have taken the competitive ascendency and advantage, and it is the first time that it has been any other team than Mercedes in the turbo-hybrid era.
Although there have often been periods of dominance by certain teams throughout the years, what Mercedes has achieved in the years since 2013 surely has defined them as the most dominant team in the history of the sport.
The constructors’ championship was founded on the intent to promote innovation and technical excellence between the competing teams. The very ethos of any team aspiring to compete in F1 is the endeavour to reach technical perfection.
For seven seasons Mercedes progressively built on this technical advantage that resulted in such an era of dominance that it effectively exceeded and re-set every statistical record in F1 related to success.
The Mercedes advantage was derived but from but not limited to having the best people in the right roles, highly developed management and R&D systems and processes, advanced systems software, mechanical architecture and systems integration such as innovative turbo layouts, effective cooling solutions, mechanical packaging , advanced combustion chamber science, a results driven partnership with Petronas, mesmerizing thermal efficiency, a longer wheel base and lower rake design philosophy that produced a better aerodynamic balance and tyre management capability and DAS.
Competition between manufacturers in F1 has always fundamentally been about finding every single competitive advantage possible, be it through major technical developments through to minor regulation exploitation.
However, the intensity of competition in F1 is so intense that understandably, any technical development of competitive value is a highly guarded secret. We only are ever aware of potential regulation exploitation when another team queries the FIA and seeks clarification with it, or protests.
The sporting spirit in which the Mercedes era of domination was competed was evident by the relative lack of enquiries made by the challengers to the FIA about Mercedes performance while it was clearly obvious that they indeed had a distinct competitive advantage.
As this season has progressed it has become evident that Red Bull have established a competitive ascendency and in contrast to when they had the upper hand, Mercedes have responded with suspicion and innuendo of Red Bull’s advantage.
Even though we are yet to reach the half-way point of the 2021 season, Mercedes have already made enquiries with the FIA in relation to Red Bull’s performance with respect to flexible rear wings, tyre operation and pitstops.
Mercedes reservations in respect to Red Bulls improvement in performance are further demonstrated by their public questioning of whether some of the 2021 technical regulation changes, particularly those which are related to the area of the floor in front of the rear tyre, were indeed a targeted attempt to reduce Mercedes competitive advantage, and towards those with a low rake design philosophy.
More recently, further doubt has been cast due on the recent Honda power unit upgrades that were rolled out in France, not only to Red Bull, but also to its sister team Alpha Tauri.
Casting doubt on the Honda PU seems somewhat malicious in intent.
F1 Insights AWS data telecast during the Styrian Grand Prix clearly demonstrated that even though Red Bull were entering corners with a noticeably smaller rear wing, they were carrying more apex speed and exiting the corner faster than the Mercedes. With a higher exit speed and less drag, it would seem obvious that Red Bull would have a higher terminal speed at the end of a straight.
There are also trends that are obvious to the trained eye that tell the story of Red Bull’s advantage.
Red Bull have obviously found a good front and rear aerodynamic balance, along with good mechanical grip. Obviously, their solutions to the regulation change related to the floor have worked well and it has allowed them to carry less drag on the rear wing.
Yet, if you look closer, there are even more differences in detail.
For example, it is no coincidence that the Red Bull rear upper wishbone is in a much higher set position.
And of course, and critically, Red Bull have found a way to access the small and peaky Pirelli window of opportunity to generate outright speed for qualifying, with manageable degradation during the races.
From 2014 to 2020 Mercedes won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships fair and square and demolished all opposition. They have been celebrated and revered because of it, and rightly so.
But in being defeated by Red Bull in a just as fair a manner, continually casting doubt on the honesty of Red Bull certainly seems like poor sportsmanship and detracts from the integrity of what Mercedes have achieved over the last seven years.
F1 is the relentless pursuit of excellence and success, and success is not the entitlement or domain of one. Success belongs only to those who have earned it by crossing the finish line first.
In the competitive spirit of the sport, those who are defeated should congratulate the winner, shake their hand and retreat to the engineering office to plan the next challenge. Not continually cast doubt on the honesty of the winner.