Behind the scenes

F1: a bumpy start to the season for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell

Only four races in and Mercedes already look off the pace

Since 2014, Mercedes has dominated Formula 1, said Luke Slater in The Daily Telegraph: they’ve won an unprecedented eight constructors’ titles in a row and seven drivers’ championships. True, having Lewis Hamilton, the outstanding driver of this period, has been a big help. But they’ve also had something else: the fastest car. 

How different things have turned out this season, said Giles Richards in The Guardian. Only four races in, and already Mercedes looks well off the pace – third in the constructors’ race, with just two podium finishes. And Hamilton is seventh in the drivers’ standings. At the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday, he endured one of the most torrid afternoons of his career, finishing 13th and suffering the indignity of being lapped by the winner, Max Verstappen. After the race, the seven-time champion said there was “no question” but that his title hopes were over. 

At the root of Mercedes’s problems, said Laurence Edmondson on ESPN, is a regulation introduced this year by F1. In order to make races more exciting and overtaking easier, it has given teams more freedom to “generate downforce” from the underside of cars. This gives rise to a phenomenon known as “porpoising”, which occurs when, on reaching top speed, a car bounces up and down from the sudden increase, then decrease, of downforce. 

It’s long been known that when cars generate their own downforce, porpoising becomes an issue, said Rebecca Clancy in The Times, but it was thought teams would get the problem under control. Surprisingly, Mercedes has been less efficient than others in doing so. Hamilton’s teammate, George Russell, has even admitted that his car was so bumpy he’d suffered back pains and breathing difficulties. “The bouncing really takes your breath away,” he said. It has taken away Mercedes’s dominance as well.

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