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What does the future hold for unstoppable Mercedes?

What does the future hold for unstoppable Mercedes?

FORMULA ONE: No team has reigned over Formula One for as long as Mercedes, but all empires come to an end eventually.

By Michael Lamonato

Wednesday 4 November 2020, 09:15AM

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton. Photo: AFP.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton. Photo: AFP.

Securing the constructors championship was almost a formality for Mercedes at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, but even so the German marque sealed the deal in style.

From the Valtteri Bottas-led front-row lockout to the Lewis Hamilton-controlled one-two finish, Mercedes led every lap of the race and claimed the fastest lap, as complete a result as they come.

It was a fitting way to confirm an unprecedented seventh teams title, eclipsing Ferrari’s run from 1999–2004. It also ensures that only a Mercedes driver can claim the drivers championship, with Hamilton likely to do so at the next race in Turkey.

With a new benchmark for domination set, the team’s place in history is incontrovertible.

Mercedes didn’t have things all its own way on race day. Hamilton slipped to third at the start behind Max Verstappen, who he only overcame by stretching his first stint on worn tyres longer than planned.

Bottas, meanwhile, should have been able to beat Hamilton had a massive piece of Ferrari debris not lodged itself in his car, costing him as much as 0.7s a lap.

But the Mercedes W11 had too much pace in hand, the pit wall too much expertise on call and the drivers too much ability on tap to prevent this complete team from claiming a complete result.

“When you win a team championship I think it’s almost better than an individual because it’s something you do collectively,” Hamilton said. “We are on the same level, we are all part of the chain links.”

The collectiveness isn’t to be understated. Winning one championship is achievable just with the right people, but Mercedes’s continued success is the child of its acclaimed no-blame, problem-solving culture.

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“We have a group that is just amazing together,” team boss Toto Wolff said. “We’ve stayed together, we’ve tried to push the benchmark to new levels and we’ve achieved that, and it’s just a super proud moment with all these guys and being part of it.”

But while an eighth title next season is likely under stable regulations, the team will thereafter face the ultimate test: staving off inevitable decline.

All empires come to an end, and this is certainly true in Formula One, where spells of single-team dominance are the norm. With the mountain summited, team members are poached by hungry rivals desperate to make their own ascent. Drivers eventually retire. The team fades back into the pack to rebuild.

The first piece of the puzzle is Toto Wolff. Having helmed the team since 2013, he is now openly preparing to transition to an oversight role requiring substantially less travel.

He does so while star driver Hamilton remains out of contract. The Briton admitted last year that he would wait on Wolff’s decision before penning a new deal, describing their relationship as “joined at the hip”.

Of course the prospect of Hamilton hanging up the helmet with an eighth title on offer in 2021 is extremely unlikely, but it’s also true that at 35 years old and with a growing list of other interests Hamilton is in the final chapter of his career.

Transition plans are ready. Wolff says structures are in place to ensure his smooth handover, while Mercedes junior George Russell will be ready for elevation by 2022.

Mercedes will likely always be great, but its days of steamrolling the sport with impunity cannot last forever. With the end of the Wolff-Hamilton partnership, that reckoning could come sooner rather than later.

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