The red Ferrari was right on the gearbox of the silver Mercedes. It was the final lap of the race. Only a few corners remained. The Ferrari attacked, the Mercedes parried. This was a duel that would go down to the very last corner. As the two cars bore down on the tight righthander leading on to the start-finish straight, the Ferrari lunged. It wasn’t enough. The Mercedes held on, but by a whisker, a margin so narrow that the two cars sped across the line in a single silver and red blur.
If only that had been the battle for the lead. But it wasn’t. In the red Ferrari sat Charles Leclerc, in the Mercedes sat Valtteri Bottas and the pair were scrapping for second.
Lewis Hamilton had long since cruised across the line to win the French Grand Prix, bringing the flag down on a predictable afternoon of racing.
Racing? A liberal usage of the term for what was largely a procession of very fast cars lapping around the Paul Ricard track.
For while the Leclerc-Bottas scrap and another multiple-car last lap battle involving Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen provided some relief, what former-F1-driverturned-TV-pundit Martin Brundle described as a Hamilton “masterclass” was drowned out by the criticism levelled at Formula One for a soporific show.
“If you say that it’s boring… I totally understand it,” Hamilton told reporters after the race. “Don’t point the fingers at the drivers because we don’t write the rules. “I think it’s really important for people to realise it’s not the drivers’ fault.”
Sunday’s race wasn’t the first processional Grand Prix nor will it be the last. But that’s not to say every race is or will be as devoid of action. Just two weeks ago in Canada, Formula One served up a thriller. The race before, in Monaco when Hamilton fended off Max Verstappen on worn tyres, was also ripe with tension.
The French Grand Prix probably only served as a trigger for frustrations at Mercedes’ dominance to boil over.
After two seasons when Ferrari pushed them hard and should have ended the German marque’s run of title success but for mistakes to hamstring their challenge, much was expected of them this season.
The Italian team’s pre-season testing form and the optimism emanating from the Maranello camp promised a titanic championship duel, if not a changing of the guard. Instead Mercedes have walked away with the season, much as they did with the French Grand Prix. They have won each of the eight races this season, six of them in one-two formation.
Where once Bottas offered the promise of turning the Mercedes walkover into a hotlycontested intra-team battle, the Finn has also lately faded, even as Hamilton has found another gear.
The Briton has already won six races this season and is now 36 points clear of his teammate. With a race win worth 25 points, he will continue to lead the standings even if he fails to finish the next race and Bottas wins. Already on 79 career wins, he could surpass Michael Schumacher’s all-time record 91 victories as soon as this season, provided he triumphs in each of the remaining races this year. Of course Hamilton’s job is to win, just as much as it is Mercedes’ job to give him as dominant a car as they can.
It was down to Ferrari to make it a two-team battle. But Vettel, third in the championship, is already 76 points adrift of Hamilton. Why in their stead can’t any of the other teams challenge Mercedes?
The answer to that lies in the way the finances of the sport are structured. To put it simply, only the top two or three teams have the resources to battle it out at the front. This disparity in spending power is being addressed as part of a raft of regulation changes set to be introduced in 2021.
But that doesn’t mean Formula One is set for a succession of dull races.
Mercedes were dominant in France last year. In Austria neither of their two cars finished leaving Verstappen to score a shock win. There’s still hope for Formula One yet.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)