2019 was yet again a year of dominance for the most successful team in Formula 1 since the beginning of the hybrid era in 2014: Mercedes AMG-Motorsport.
One again, their closest rivals and championship challengers Scuderia Ferrari failed to make their mark and had to settle for second place for another year.
Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas felt short to once again playing wingman to his six-time World Championship winning team-mate, Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari had yet another disappointing year, also losing out on the Championship title in 2018 after Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the German Grand Prix in inclement weather conditions. Hamilton, once again, being in the right place at the right time, was able to capitalise on this, adding yet another Championship win to his ever-growing tally.
The 2019 season began just as 2018 had ended: with Mercedes dominance. Bottas set a blisteringly-fast lap in the third qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix, forcing Hamilton to have to pull out all the stops to beat him. Which he did, but only just: he was faster by one-tenth of a second.
The Mercedes team-mates have been pretty evenly matched in terms of qualifying pace this season. Hamilton, more often than not, has come out on top compared to Bottas when it comes to sheer pace, but the Finn has been able to redeem himself on occasion with technical ability.
Fortunes changed for the Brackley-based squad in qualifying for the second race of the season in Bahrain, held at the Sahkir International Circuit – Ferrari new boy Charles Leclerc locked out the front row with his team-mate Vettel, leaving the Mercedes drivers in third and fourth positions respectively.
Both drivers appear to have the skill to be able to be quick over the course of one lap, but Bottas, who although can sometimes be slower compared to his team-mate in qualifying, can make up the difference in the race on Sunday.
As is the case with qualifying, things seem to be pretty evenly matched on race pace this season, with both drivers swapping between finishing on the first and second steps of the podium.
After losing out on the win in Bahrain, the team were able to get back into their winning ways in China. While Hamilton had struggled all weekend with pace, Bottas was able to neutralise the deficit caused by the Briton being further down the grid, keeping the Ferraris at bay. Poor strategy calls meant that Bottas had to settle for second, but the team’s 1-2 finish meant they were able to extend their lead in the Championship.
United States Grand Prix: Bottas’ time to shine
There have been many stand out races for the Mercedes team this season, but the United States Grand Prix, which was held at the Circuit of the Americas, could be considered a particularly special one.
While Hamilton spends most of the time basking in the limelight, it was team-mate Bottas’ time to shine in Texas, taking the checkered flag. It is also a race which has proven to be one of the Finn’s strong points. Back in 2013 during his maiden season in the sport with Williams Racing, was able to finish eighth, after being able to take the fight to the top five in qualifying.
Similarly, this year, he has demonstrated that he has the edge in these flowing, high speed corners, which can be found in the Silverstone Maggots and Becketts complex, the esses at Suzuka, and finally the turns which make up the first sector of the Austin circuit.
Despite using a slower pit stop strategy compared to Hamilton, he was able to finish ahead due to his ability to effectively manage tyre wear. It was definitely a high for the Finn, and perhaps one of the highlights of his career to date.
Overall, Mercedes have been the team to beat this season on Sunday, putting in strong performances with consistently good race pace, which appears set to continue as we head into next season.
Highs and lows
Despite the countless victories, and a sixth Drivers’ Championship for Hamilton, the fifth for Mercedes, the 2019 season has also had its low points. Off the track, the death of Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda in May must have had a detrimental effect on morale.
The German Grand Prix, the team’s home race, which also marked their 150th year in motorsport, but gave them a result which was far from ideal. Team principal Toto Wolff called it a “bad day” which “could not have got much worse”.
As mentioned previously, Bottas’ win at COTA must be considered a high point in the season, which certainly will cement his position within the team for the near future.
2020 and beyond…
The 2019 Formula 1 season has been littered with many highs and lows, and although the team has lost out on wins due to poor strategy calls and technical faults, their resilience has always been obvious. However, one can not help to notice that Bottas is often left standing in the shadow of his team-mate. But will his stand out performances, like what we saw in Austin this year, mean he is on the road to clinching his first World Championship title? There is only one way to find out.
Mercedes, and in particular Lewis Hamilton, have once again dominated the title fight in Formula 1. They will, of course, wish that this form continues for the coming years. But this raises a question: will any other team ever be in a position to take the fight to the Silver Arrows? Most would consider Ferrari or Red Bull to be worthy contenders to undertake that challenge, but this is Formula 1, and nothing is set in stone. Only time will tell us who is able to win that fight for glory, displacing Mercedes at the forefront of the sporting history books…