The Spanish Grand Prix saw Mercedes take its fifth one-two victory in as many races this year while Ferrari failed to perform despite bringing a raft of updates to its car. With the championship looking increasingly one-sided, we assembled our panel of F1 journalists — Maurice Hamilton, Laurence Edmondson, Kate Walker and Nate Saunders — to chew the fat over the main talking points from Barcelona.
Is Mercedes’ current level of dominance causing long-term damage to Formula One?
MH: No more than when, say, McLaren dominated 30 years ago or, much worse, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher ruled for so long in the Noughties. It’s not great — but it happens. You can’t beat a tight inter-team fight for creating interest and Ferrari’s failure is coming at an unfortunate time when F1 is, according to some sources, struggling to hold onto, never mind attract, casual viewers. The other unfortunate knock-on effect is that Mercedes don’t get credit for their all-round top job.
LE: It’s the hope that kills you… We really thought were in for a great season and after just five races it looks like it’s already over. Dissect those races and we could have had three Mercedes wins and two Ferrari wins (in Bahrain and Baku), but as things stand I can understand if casual fans are switching off.
KW: No, but the constant negative chatter probably is. F1 is a sport that has always seen cycles of dominance, and while Mercedes are enjoying a particularly long and strong run of it, this is just how it goes. More competition at the front would certainly be healthy, and I can’t imagine the midfield enjoy fighting for a best of P7, but behind (and including!) the all-conquering Mercs we’re seeing some great drives this year.
NS: I think it’s natural that fans will get bored with this sort of run. But if anything is damaging F1 it’s that Mercedes’ dominance is happening at a time when the playing field across the entire grid is more uneven than ever.
How many of the remaining 16 races do you think Ferrari can win?
MH: Not many at the current rate of going. The potential is there but they need to unlock it — and manage it. Both are possible. But we’ve been saying that since Bahrain.
LE: Ferrari should still have an advantage at power-sensitive circuits, so that’s Canada, Spa and Monza. France, Austria, Silverstone, Russia and Austin are potential targets too. But after slipping 96 points behind Mercedes in the space of just five races, they will need more than that to make a proper dent in Mercedes’ championship chances.
KW: Sixteen, if they sort themselves out and find the sort of performance Mercedes have unlocked in their car. It’s unlikely, as it now looks like there’s a fundamental flaw in Ferrari’s car concept, but F1 is a weird and wonderful sport and Mercedes could find themselves hamstrung by a string of component failures or other random gremlins. Again, unlikely — Mercedes are looking rather McLaren ’88 right about now.
NS: Let’s say five, but at this point that’s just guesswork. It’s hard to work out exactly what is going on with Ferrari at the moment, but the team is surely good enough to claim victories at some of the circuits coming up later in the year.
How excited are you by F1’s return to Zandvoort?
MH: I loved going to Zandvoort. Easy for UK fans to drive to and a very pleasant atmosphere when you get there. The sand dunes provide unique and useful viewing. The Dutch are lovely people and Amsterdam is a short train ride away. One concern is the physical limitation of the paddock between two legs of the track. Safety concerns at certain sections will need to be addressed but the hope is they don’t neuter — or possibly bypass — Schievlak, a fantastic corner out the back.
LE: I visited Zandvoort for a DTM race and loved the track and location. What I didn’t love was the traffic jam leaving the circuit, so I’m a little concerned about logistics if crowd numbers are going to be higher for F1. But once everyone is at the circuit, I can imagine Max’s fans making the atmosphere one of the best on the calendar.
KW: Unspeakably so. I’ve never been to an event at Zandvoort, and I’ve read so much about ballsy manoeuvres at the Tarzan hairpin — never mind the various clips online — that I’m really keen to visit the track and soak up the atmosphere. Valencia was probably the last time we raced so close to a beach, but I think the water will be slightly cooler in the Netherlands…
NS: Moderately. The track doesn’t exactly scream “overtaking bonanza” when you see onboards, but the Dutch fans and the fact Amsterdam is a wonderful city should more than make up for that… for its first year at least.
If you could only keep two of the five races out of contract at the end of 2019 — Barcelona, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Monza and Mexico — which two would they be?
MH: Monza and Mexico. A deep sense of tradition prevails at both (lacking a little at Silverstone ever since they moved the pits and paddock into the next county and added even more tarmac). Barcelona rarely produces a decent race and, apart from the stadium, Hockenheim is just like any other Tilkedrome ever since they chopped the unique old circuit in half.
LE: It’s a tough one, but for me it would be Monza and Mexico. Silverstone has history but it’s never been a great circuit to watch from trackside and it lost some of its magic when the new paddock was built.
KW: Monza and Mexico, no question. Both races have got great atmosphere, passionate crowds, and take place in countries with exceptional food. Very different races, both are capital E events — there’s a tangible excitement in the air when you get to the track, of the sort we used to get at Silverstone before they “improved” it and parked the paddock in no man’s land.
NS: Silverstone and Monza. Both are about as historic as F1 have to offer and the ability to draw in huge crowds on a regular basis. The Monza circuit could do with some tweaking to improve the racing, however…
There was a lot of talk about paddock motorhomes in Spain, so if you could travel the world in one which one would it be?
MH: I would have said McLaren but that seems a bit empty and quiet now that they’ve placed a heavy restriction on entry. The new Red Bull emporium retains a social buzz and is a lot of fun. For me, it would be Mercedes; friendly, intimate — and serves great coffee…
LE: Racing Point’s new motorhome really impressed me. Going inside felt like stepping aboard a luxury yacht and it’s got a great sun terrace and bar at the top (with a Batman-style light that projects into the sky at night). I might get rid of the pink strip lighting though…
KW: I’d choose the Ferrari motorhome, not for its particular creature comforts but for the skills of the kitchen crew I’m hoping would come along for the ride. One of the highlights of the European season is the feast of antipasti Ferrari puts on at lunch — salads, seafood, bread, salume… There’s so much ante there’s not much need for the pasta! I’d travel the world and get massively fat.
NS: I’d pick the Holzhaus. First off, its massive, but second, it just screams “cool”. You could rock up anywhere with that building and have people talking about it for days.
Which team are you backing for victory in Monaco?
MH: No disrespect to Brackley and Brixworth — but anyone other than Mercedes! Seriously, though, I’d take a punt on the more mature, relaxed 2019 Max Verstappen, keen to make up for last year at Monaco and likely to have the car to do it.
LE: I know it’s boring, but it has to be Mercedes. For years they have struggled on slow-speed circuits, but based on the performance of the car through Barcelona’s third sector, it’s hard to pick anyone else.
KW: Red Bull. They tend to do well in Monaco, and as long as Max manages to keep it out of the wall in qualifying there’s no reason we couldn’t see a repeat of Daniel’s win last year. Verstappen has a lot of ground to make up in Monaco from a personal perspective — he’s never done as well there as he’d like, and I think the new calmer Max has what it takes to secure pole.
NS: Red Bull? Ferrari? Williams? Anyone who isn’t driving a silver Mercedes.