What’s fascinating is the differing approaches from the two top teams to what is supposedly an interim season before the new technical regs kick in for 2022 – although those clever winter aero tweaks cutting away a chunk of floor have surely served their purpose… Mercedes, one eye on the new era next year and the other seemingly on their newly capped coffers, appear to be in a tight spot. But is Red Bull aggressively chasing performance this year to grab its first titles since 2013 at the expense of development for the new car? Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and their vastly experienced team are surely too long in the tooth to compromise what will be Red Bull’s vital first season as a proper ‘all under one roof’ indie team, in the wake of Honda’s withdrawal. Good timing on that, by the way, Honda – just as you could be about to win your first F1 titles in 30 years… Any regrets or second thoughts?
F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn summed up the Mercedes dilemma in his regular post-race reflections this week. “This year is unusual in that the teams can’t respond in a normal way for several reasons,” he said. “One is that we have the cost cap now, so they can’t just throw resources at the problem. Secondly, we have the new car coming in next year, which they will be pretty committed to, so it’s a bit of a dilemma for the team as they probably can’t afford to deliver a very strong response as they normally would.
“Before the cost cap, you would throw resource at it. These are the elements of the rule changes that have been made, which are significant and slightly unseen and I think will lead to stronger championships in the future.”
But the original architect of this Mercedes super-team knows how fortunes can swerve in a season. “The title is still reachable for Hamilton and Mercedes,” says Brawn. “These races have been pretty much dominated by Red Bull, but I will be amazed if that continues at every track. I think the British GP at Silverstone is going to be fascinating, especially with the new Sprint format on the Saturday.”
Ah, the big joker at Hamilton’s home race. Just how much will the world championship’s first Saturday sprint race shape what happens in the grand prix proper on Sunday? Teams will need to hit the ground running at Silverstone, with a 60-minute practice session scheduled for 2.30pm on Friday (so no morning session) before a usual three-part qualifying at 6pm decides the grid for the Saturday sprint. An hour’s practice between 12pm and 1pm precedes the ‘Sprint Qualifying’ as it’s officially labelled, which amounts to a straight race over 100km, about a third of a grand prix distance, with pitstops absolutely not mandatory. Only the top three score points – three for a win, two for second, one for third – and the order decides the grid for Sunday.