Mercedes Will Always Clean Up The Scraps
3:34 PM EDT on August 1, 2022
There are only so many ways you can express how terribly Ferrari has screwed up its season so far, and boy have we tried. With Ferrari throwing a new set of hard tires on Charles Leclerc's car while he was leading the Hungarian Grand Prix, destroying all of his and Luis's hopes and dreams in the process, the narratives are not so much in your face but rather repeatedly smacking you in the head with a brick, or perhaps the ICE of one of Leclerc's busted power units.
What Hungary made more notable about Ferrari's failings, especially just after France, is that Mercedes is ... good again? Podium repeats are big ole borefests. We had HAM ROS VET, replaced in time by HAM BOT VER, and neither era is remembered very fondly. But after Mercedes opened up the 2022 season with a car that Toto Wolff called a "shit box" in Baku, the idea that Mercedes could get a double-podium finish, much less two in a row, was far-fetched. The people rejoiced; the giant was slain!
But this is Mercedes we're talking about. Here we are, with the second Verstappen-Hamilton-Russell podium in as many race weekends, despite the fact that Max Verstappen started Hungary in P10 and Lewis Hamilton P7, despite the fact that the two Ferraris started P2 and P3. (George Russell started P1 after getting his first-ever pole in a damp qualifying session, while Hamilton suffered a DRS failure on his final qualifying lap.) Adding on a vintage Lewis Hamilton late-race stint on soft tires, the race followed the script of many others in 2022—the Red Bull car is a rocket, Ferrari makes a strategy gaffe and/or the power unit stops working, Russell finishes in the top five, and Hamilton continues his streak of podiums wearing his pride helmet.
People can look at Mercedes's successes—specifically their podiums—this year and dismiss a great deal of them as luck. This is true! If you're not one of the two fastest cars on the grid, you're going to need some luck in order to get a podium, much less win, which Mercedes is certainly hoping for. None of Mercedes's podiums really came off pure pace. They've needed Ferrari DNFs or strategy errors, Red Bull DNFs or mechanical issues, wet weather conditions, and any combinations thereof. But for how long does a team get lucky until we start calling it something else entirely?
In F1, you make your own luck, and Mercedes has been manufacturing luck since 2014. Each time Ferrari fails, with a literal bang or a slow death through strategy, they open up the gates for someone else, and Mercedes has been happy to drive through the opening every single time. It's what reliability and consistency will get you, even if you lack explosive pace. Mercedes has only had one retirement this season—George Russell's self-DNF after a collision in Silverstone—no mechanical retirements, and has fluked its way onto so many podiums that it's no longer a fluke at all. Of course Ferrari will find some way to mess up their race; of course Mercedes will be there to seize the advantage.
If there's one hallmark of the Mercedes era, it's that consistency. Early on in the season, during the definitive "shit box" era of the Mercedes car, fans and pundits alike were telling Mercedes to raise the ride height (remember that fun little porpoising saga?), write this season off, and accept an easy P3 in the Constructors' Championship. But out of all the things that Mercedes may be guilty of, complacency is not one of them. Mercedes took its punches early on in the season. Toto Wolff did his fair share of public lobbying, yes, which could easily be categorized as whining, also yes, but all the while Mercedes was grinding away at its car. Hamilton spent much of the first half of the season running experimental set-ups on his car to try to get to the root of Mercedes's porpoising and bottoming issues, and both he and the team are finally reaping the benefits of that now, with five straight podiums to his name.
On either pace or outlook from the beginning of the season, Hamilton should not have six podiums to Leclerc's five or Carlos Sainz's six. Mercedes should not be just 30 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship—so much for accepting an easy P3. Russell should not be leading Carlos Sainz in the Drivers' Championship going into the summer break, even if just by two points. You can despise it as much as you admire it, but Mercedes refuses to collapse. The team won three World Championships with drivers who hated each other's guts. They've had their own fair share of abysmal races—Germany 2019, Sakhir 2020 as some in recent memory—and yet they've never spiraled.
That's the thing with Ferrari. You can make an engine powerful and a car fast and have one of the best young drivers on the grid, but what about the rest of it?