Race two of the 2023 Formula 1 season in Saudi Arabia completed at the The Jeddah Corniche Circuit and the chronicle of Mercedes continues. In Formula 1, there are only a few engine manufacturers that supply engines and gearboxes to all of the teams, Mercedes being one of them.
For example: Mercedes provides the engine to McLaren, Alpine, Williams racing and their own cars yet, if you look at the performance of all of those cars, they are scattered in positions all over the leaderboard. This begs the question, “what’s going on?”
The same thing could be said about Ferrari. They supply engines to Alfa Romeo, Hass and themselves and again the results vary drastically between the three teams. Then we have RedBull that is being powered by Honda, along with their back up team Alfa Tauri, but when was the last time Honda was in the F1 game?
Honda has always been known to prioritize reliability, longevity and efficiency over performance. In 1964 however, they decided they wanted to be a part of the fast lane action with little to no knowledge of what Formula 1 is. Different sources will say that Mr. Honda had been tinkering with the idea of Formula 1 for almost a decade before they announced their interest in entering the sport in 1964.
An article published by Honda Global described the first communication on the matter in May of 1962 stated:
“Hideo Sugiura, quality manager at Saitama Factory, received an unofficial order from Yoshihito Kudo, director of the research center, “We are planning to compete in F-1. I want you to oversee the project.
Sugiura Responded asking “What is F-1? I have seen some photographs about it before, but I don’t know what it is. Please tell me what F-1 is.”
Yoshihito Kudo responded “I don’t know, either, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a beginner, at first.”
They officially announced their debut in Formula 1 in 1964 just in time for the 1965 season. Their car won its first race, the Mexican Grand Prix on their debut year, unheard of for a company that just a few years ago neither the engineer or the mechanics had any idea what Formula 1 was.
One of the best examples of, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way!’
Although quite fascinating, Honda’s tenaciousness and resilient history is a story for another time. Honda withdrew from the sport after the 1968 season to focus on developing their road cars. Fifteen years later they came back in the game as an engine supplier and in Formula 1, power is very important but reliability is worth it’s weight in gold.
Over the next 30 years, Honda remained in the game on and off in different capacities until 2020.
For most of the world 2020 is the year of unprecedented shock and awe but for Honda and Red Bull racing, the stars were aligning. Their drivers line-up consisted of: The aggressive, raised to be a champion Max Verstappen (1) and skillful driver, none the less, Sergio Perez (11) whose talent was recognized by RedBull after having been let go by Racing Points formerly known as Sahara Force India during Perez’s contract. BWT themselves has had a lot of internal controversy and some would even say that, Perez having been let go was the best thing that could’ve happened to him.
So back to the main point, Mercedes! The team with deep pockets, consistently pushing the laws of physics which resulted in them dominating Formula 1 and winning 74 percent of all races since 2014, including many of the world titles that came with it. The team that brought you the “W11′, which is considered by most as the greatest Formula 1 car ever built, may stay that way for a long time. So what’s happening with their W13 and 2023’s W14?
The 2022 season brought dramatic changes to the Formula 1 car designs which was expected to be up to 3.5 seconds slower, which is a huge loss in power. The aero dynamic designs allows for new cars to follow closer and more competitive racing which we can all agree is a better show.
Besides all of the technical reasons I can use to analyze and make assumptions of what is going on at Mercedes currently, I’ll just say this: They dominated Formula 1 in the last decade and their new design and regulations is expected to make the cars slower all across the board. We know that when they started the 2022 season, porpoising was horrendous, the amount of bouncing the cars were doing on the track was visible and Lewis Hamilton and Georges Russell were very vocal about the stress it was putting on their bodies and the lack of drivability that it created. By the Canadian Grand Prix Toto said that the porpoising was “solved” but they still had the pace issue.
Aston Martin, which is powered by Mercedes, borrowed a page from the RedBull side-pod design book and with other proprietary in house designs and tuning. They’re scratching at the heels of RedBull and Ferrari leaving Mercedes in the dust. Why is Mercedes continuing to perfect their Zero Pods design? Mercedes said when they came out with the DAS system in the W11 that it took them two years to develop, but most of that was not on track testing during the season which means they did not have to risk losing time after time for the sake of development.
I think that there is something there with the zero pod design for Mercedes and luckily, because they don’t have to worry about funding if they don’t win soon like most of the other teams on the grid, it gives them the freedom to perfect what they are hoping will be their next dominating car design. It may even become the next standard for Formula 1.
Until then, their fans are chewing up to their knuckles at the disappointing results race after race. The 2023 season is young, we have only completed the second out of twenty-three races scheduled for this year and there’s still time for improvement. However, if it wasn’t bad enough to have to follow behind Red Bull and Ferrari, Aston Martin has just leap frogged from 7th place in the 2022 Constructor Championship to out pacing Mercedes at qualifying and races so far and quickly becoming the third fastest team on the grid.