August 13, 2013 (F1plus/Jael Arias.) - It's been nearly seven months since the first tests in Xerez took place and more than five since the opening race in Australia. After ten Grand Prix starts, Red Bull is in route to achieve its 7 and 8 titles in four years.
However, despite the dominance of the austrian team, Mercedes is getting closer to the level of the Milton Keynes squad. The German team has achieved three wins, and the last in particular is a wakeup call for Red Bull, since their 4 years dominance is under threat.
Red Bull even better…
The Milton Keynes squad started the season in a very good fashion. Initially hurt by their tire management, as the year has progressed they’ve overcome this issue to achieve the most complete and balanced package of the current grid.
Unlike last year where they were overwhelmed by McLaren and Lotus, Red Bull brought a very competitive package. Their initial degradation problems didn’t stop them from winning several races with outstanding performances by their leading driver Sebastian Vettel.
The german has driven gracefully. The level shown until now has been higher than in the previous three years. Vettel commits fewer errors and in a year when the difference with the rest hasn’t been so pronounced, the triple world champion has managed to establish himself as the number one candidate to clinch the drivers' crown for the fourth consecutive year.
The only black spot of the Milton Keynes based squad this year has been the controversial 'Multi-21' episode in Malaysia. At that time, the worst of the relationship between Mark Webber and the three-time world champion resurfaced. Despite achieving a 1-2 race finish, the atmosphere at the podium was more funeral-like instead of a celebration.
The Australian has announced his departure from Red Bull this season to compete with Porsche in Le Mans Series. Tired of the current state of the sport and aware of his No. 2 driver status, Webber has decided to put a stop to his career in F1.
His first half has been very irregular unlike last year where he won two races in this part of the championship. After the missed opportunity in Malaysia, he has not been in a position to climb to the top of the podium in 2013.
The second half looks promising for Red Bull. Protected by a great technical team and a leading driver in spectacular shape, the title looks like something that could slip off their hands, rather than something they can win.
Last season they had a great second round and this one they have all the arguments necessary to repeat a similar performance this year. Although from Brackley arises a force capable of threatening the Austrian reign.
Late but lesson learned…
No one claimed late last year that Mercedes would come this season as a title contender. The multiple signings announced by the Germans, with Lewis Hamilton as flagship, presented themselves as the establishment of a dominant structure ahead of the 2014 season where V6 turbo engines will be introduced.
But reality has been rather different. Punished by Pirelli fragile tires even more than Red Bull, Mercedes has been able to win three races this season, only one less than the Austrian team.
The performance in Hungary by Hamilton predicts a myocardial final stint for this championship. After suffering thermal degradation problems like no other team, especially in the rear part of the car, in Hungaroring they were able to overcome this issue with the 2012 construction Pirelli brought to Budapest.
The first half has had several black spots for the Brackley based team. To the issues of tire degradation we have to add the prohibition to Nico Rosberg in Malaysia to overtake Lewis Hamilton despite showing a better pace.
And for more controversy, tests conducted secretly in collaboration with Pirelli in Montemelò this year generated harsh criticism to the German team. As a result they were suspended of participating in the young driver tests in Silverstone which makes their performance at Hungaroring even more surprising.
Hamilton finally has been able to drive at his highest level. After complaining early in the season of having troubles adjusting to the brakes and excessive fragility of the tires, the Englishman was able to bring out the best of himself in Hungary for his first victory with Mercedes.
When Lewis is in shape, he has shown that few drivers in F1 can overshadow him. He has the entire second half to recover from disastrous performances like Barcelona, where after starting on the front row, he finished out of the points due to the initial degradation problems of the W04.
Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg has had an excellent start to the year. Despite having suffered three retirements so far this season, the German was the first Mercedes driver to go up to the top of the podium. And he’s done it twice.
He has driven at a high level, being even able to outperform Hamilton in qualifying for three consecutive events. Only misfortune has deprived him of being further up in the standings. His contribution in the second half of the year will be crucial if the German team hopes to challenge Red Bull.
We are still a few races away from confirming Mercedes definite improvement. Despite having triumphed in the sweltering heat of Budapest, in the Hungarian circuit tires do not undergo such lateral loads as they will in Spafrancorchamps and Suzuka. Under those conditions they’ve suffered a lot during the first half.
These two tests will determine whether the level shown by Mercedes in Hungary is reality or mirage.