Mercedes is hoping to use Formula One’s plans to level the playing field among teams in the coming years as motivation to continue its period of domination into the next decade.
In an unprecedented run of success, Mercedes has won the last seven drivers’ and constructors’ titles and is the favourite to win again in 2021 and extend the run to an eighth.
However, in an attempt to bring about more unpredictability in the sport and level the playing field, F1 will introduce a budget cap and new aerodynamic testing restrictions next year as well as a completely new set of technical regulations for 2022.
The new rules are targeted at reducing the spending power of the top teams — Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari — while restricting some areas of development to reduce the amount of performance differentiators between teams.
Although the rules are not specifically target at Mercedes, they represent the biggest threat to the team’s run of success in Formula One, which stretches back to the last major engine regulation change in 2014.
However, Mercedes technical director James Allison believes the introduction of the new rules has the potential to motivate his team to up its game once more.
“You have unintended consequences with many things and if you are sitting, as we are, happily at the top of the pyramid right now — but not in any way feeling like you are securely placed there and that you’ve got to keep scrabbling your way back up to that apex position — then a lot of those changes do look like they are targeted at us,” he told the ESPN F1 podcast.Mercedes celebrated its two championships in Abu Dhabi but missed out on the race victory. Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
“They’re not — they don’t have Mercedes written on them — they have at their heart the idea that they don’t want a pyramid, they want a continuous churn of teams that are capable of winning one day and not winning the next, and for each weekend to be unpredictable.
“But if you are in the position we are currently in, then it doesn’t feel that way, it feels like this is a set of rules that are designed to try to make sure a team like us can’t exist in the future.
“The potential unintended consequence of that is that if you are seven years into a winning streak and finding it difficult to come up with fresh rhetoric that gets people stirred up for the challenge of an eighth or a ninth, then in many ways the sport does you quite a big favour by coming up with a set of rules that are aimed squarely at your heart.
“There is nothing more motivating for this group of people than to set to this new challenge and go, ‘We’ll show you! We’ll show you that we will not go quietly into the night!’
“That’s the thrill for us now, to take this regulatory challenge and, as we have done with previous ones, try to show afresh what we are made of and that we are a team that just wants to try to do the best it possibly can.
“With luck, that best is good enough to be at the front.”
Mercedes is not the first team to dominate Formula One, with recent examples including Red Bull’s winning streak between 2010 and 2013 and Ferrari winning every constructors’ championship from 1999 to 2004.
Allison said Mercedes had tried to learn from the experiences of previous teams to ensure it continues its run of success for as long as possible.
“Lots of things tend to get you in the end, but if you want to lob them all into one catch-all bucket, then probably the easiest one to put it in would be complacency,” he said. “It’s rare that another team simply makes some giant leap forward and leapfrogs the previously brilliant and undimmed-in-their-brilliance former champs.
“It’s normally that the former champ backs off from the loud pedal a bit and takes for granted the success that they’ve enjoyed and starts to feel like they are due that success and the back off in putting in the effort that they previously put in to earn it.
“It’s normally complacency of one form or another and then add to that complacency there are other attritional factors, like the people in the championship team tend to be very attractive prospects for the competitors to poach and eventually you lose one or two, who become ten or 15 and ten or 15 become 50 or 100 and what was an absolutely unbeatable combination of people starts to be a different animal.
“So it can be lots of different things stacking up on top of one another.
“How have we tried to deal with that? We have at least been very aware that those are the risks, because the cycle of success and subsequent decline all of us have seen happen a few times and many of us have actually lived through it in other teams.
“And so we have been quite self-conscious in our determination to try and avoid those risks, try to remind ourselves that there is nothing special, nothing god-given about our success and it’s a result of hard work and effort and, to a degree, some sacrifice in terms of people being willing to spend their time here at work committed to this instead of in the arms of their family, quite often.
“So it’s really reminding each other every single year that the next year will only be a success if we earn it and that we need to ignore all the voices off stage that are busy telling the world that our success next year is a guaranteed thing and that we only need to show up in order for it to happen.
“So the humility to know we have to earn it. And then a determination to try to make it so that the people that work here enjoy working here.
“So while they might be given lucrative offers to move elsewhere, they see the overall proposition that this team puts to them is a good one, and the environment where they work, the type of responsibility they are given, the trust that is placed in them and the fun that we have together adds up to being something that they don’t want to scurry away from because it’s nice and it’s a nice place to work.
“So a big amount of effort is put into trying to nurture the sense of team spirit we have here.
“The final thing that the team has been pretty good about is not getting too overly reliant on individuals and to try to make sure it’s a collective strength that keeps us in good shape.
“Making sure we have some sort of succession plan for the key roles in the team for when people are spent, because it is a sport that uses you up gradually because you have only got a certain amount of vim and vigour to keep at this level of intensity, and when people have given their all, enjoyed every drop of it but are ready to hand the torch on, it’s important to make sure there is someone to hand that torch to and that the company can exchange from one to the other seamlessly without it causing a loss of form.
“There have been a number of exchanges like that that we have been able to manage and show a resilient team structure. That’s the things we have tried to do, but it would be completely ludicrous for me to say “and therefore we have the winning formula” because it’s completely against the first thing I said, which is the complacency that all of us feel and need to remind ourselves that it is simply not a given.
“We need to keep earning it and, hopefully, if we enjoy it sufficiently and we recognise that we do it for the enjoyment every bit as much as we do it for the winning, then with a bit of luck the sheer pleasure of the enjoyment of doing a good job here has the consequence that you produce a thing good enough to win with and then you enjoy the winning as well.”
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