Is Mercedes’ predictable pole position party almost over?

For seasoned Formula 1 fans it’s a highlight of the race weekend: the qualifying that determines the starting position. The fastest laps on the track, drivers racing with their knives between their teeth with fully screwed-up engines. It sounds spectacular, but the excitement is far away. Mercedes has been unapproachable for over six years.

Forecasting the first queue even for people who barely follow Formula 1 was a piece of cake in Barcelona. World Champion Lewis Hamilton and stablemate Valtteri Bottas were in the driving seat at the Catalan circuit.

Recordbreaker

“I’m used to it,” said Verstappen after qualifying. “In a fast lap, they can’t keep up. I have a subscription to the third starting spot. It is what it is. More than best of the rest is not in it at the moment.”

The 22-year-old Verstappen hopes for better times. They might come sooner than she thought. Formula 1 management realises that predictability is disastrous for ratings and the commercial value of the sport.

Horse remedy against ‘party mode’

The leadership is therefore brooding on plans to slow down Mercedes. The first horse remedy to be removed from the stable is a ban on the ‘party mode’. In other words, the engine setting that makes Hamilton and Bottas unbeatable on Saturdays, because they can temporarily boost their power firmly.

No one knows exactly how much time it saves, but it’s definitely a few tenths. Motor sport federation FIA is in a hurry: the ban should be in force in Spa-Francorchamps by the end of August.

Likeliest laps

The young Briton gets support from Renault rider Daniel Ricciardo. “A Formula 1 car has to sing as loud as possible and you hear that on Saturday afternoon. Every driver enjoys that. So don’t touch it.”

Doorn in the eye

KKleader Hamilton realizes that the Mercedes dominance is a thorn in the side for many. “They’ve been trying to slow us down for a while now and will continue to do so. No problem. I’m not surprised”, says the six-time world champion.

The impact is not so bad in his eyes. “It’s certainly not going to produce the result they’re aiming for. We are a top team with the best engine and the best people. It’s not for nothing that we win so many times.”

Bottas doesn’t sound an alarm either. “It’s fine. If they change the rules, that goes for everyone. I have no idea how much ground others will gain on us, but they won’t just beat us.”

The Finnish driver points to a side effect. “All teams also use various engine settings in the race. Sometimes you use more power, sometimes less. Sometimes you attack. Sometimes you defend. I wonder if they’re going to ban that too.”

Irritation and resistance

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff regards the upcoming measure as a compliment. “It’s logical that the FIA wants to counter dominance. It has always been like that. If you win as much as we do you get irritation and resistance. Formula 1 is not only competition on the track, but also next to it. From their perspective, I understand they want to do something.”

With muscular language Wolff predicts that more will be needed to knock Mercedes off the throne. “I see it as a challenge. If we’re not allowed to squeeze everything out of the car on Saturday, we’ll focus more on Sunday. Then we’ll try to translate our strength into more engine power in the race and we might be even harder to beat.”