Further sustained dominance by Mercedes would be unpalatable for Formula One, according to Christian Horner, and the Red Bull principal believes the sport’s new owners, Liberty Media, would surely have to act if the world champions prove yet again to be far ahead of the rest of the field under the new regulations which are set in place for the next three seasons.
But Ross Brawn, Liberty’s new motor sports director, has made it clear that no artificial curbs would be imposed on any F1 team because of their success.
Mercedes have won the last three drivers’ and constructors’ championships, with their closest rivals, Red Bull and Ferrari, unable to mount a sustained challenge. In that time the Silver Arrows have won 51 out of 59 grands prix, secured 31 one-two finishes and 96 podium places. Mercedes have been such a class apart that the drivers’ championship has been a two‑horse race between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg while in 2014 they took the constructors’ championship with three races to spare and in 2015 and 2016 with four remaining.
Horner – whose Red Bull team have won only five races in three years – believes F1 is in desperate need of competitive racing. “It’s unpalatable to think of it for another three years,” he said. “The new owners of F1 know very much about putting on a great show and there being good and healthy competition.
“That can’t be artificially done obviously but I would be surprised if they were prepared to allow total dominance like the last three years.”
Horner’s Red Bull enjoyed their own run of success when taking four drivers’ and four constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel between 2010 and 2013 but they did not enjoy quite such a clear advantage. Vettel sealed the title early in 2011 and 2013 but in 2010 there were three teams still in contention going into the last race and in 2012 the German driver secured the title in the last round by only three points from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Horner acknowledged that, while there is a danger to F1 if there is only a single team competing at the front, he is also insistent that simply imposing artificial restrictions would not work. Mercedes dominating again, he said, “would be bad for the sport. But how you prevent it from happening I don’t know. It would be wrong to artificially slow someone down. We have just got to work hard to put them under pressure.”
Brawn, who is working to develop F1’s regulations to aid better racing, agrees with Horner on this. “If you start applying penalties, well that’s not Formula One,” he said. “The difficulty is that you end up having artificial constraints to try and correct it which the fans don’t like. Fans will see through an artificial solution.”
Brawn is more inclined to look for a solution in addressing the disparity between teams’ income, with the sport’s governing body, the FIA, having a role. He said: “The real core of it is to look at how you level the playing field in terms of financial resources and so forth, and that’s why the five‑year plan must include the funding of the teams.
“Budget control and distribution of funds is a pretty major issue. These are tough debates we are going to have to have with the teams and the FIA to see what progress we can make. There is a disparity of funds in F1. You can legitimately argue that Ferrari and Mercedes are a bigger draw to the show but how do you proportion it, to make a fair distribution of funds?”
Ferrari were quickest in pre-season testing but Mercedes were strong on reliability and are expected to have more pace come the first race of the season in Melbourne this coming weekend and Horner believes they remain the front runners.
“Mercedes are still very much the team to beat,” he said. “Hamilton is the de facto No1 there now and stand-out favourite. Ferrari were a sleeping giant last year and they look like they are waking up.”
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes executive director, played down his team’s advantage but was sympathetic with the need for F1 to have proper competition. The Austrian said: “You cannot expect that what has happened in the last three years will continue; it was an outlier. It was because we interpreted the new regulations in the best possible way. But it was extraordinary and is not something that we can possibly expect to carry on.
“Of course the sport needs more winners and needs unpredictability and needs variability. If you know that the winner of the grand prix is going to be a Mercedes, that is certainly not good in terms of the spectacle. But we are here to represent Mercedes and we are being benchmarked based on our own track success.”