Unpacking F1 Underperformance: Mercedes vs Ferrari
Is media too soft on underperforming Mercedes in Formula 1? This peculiar yet thought-provoking question raised during F1Lead’s review of the Miami Grand Prix sparks an intriguing exploration into the public admission of failure by top F1 teams, a keen comparison of Mercedes and Ferrari, and the role of media in the sport’s narrative.
The query of whether media outlets have been unduly lenient on Mercedes for its consistent underperformance in Formula 1 was raised during F1Lead’s review of the Miami Grand Prix. At first glance, the question seemed a bit peculiar.
Mercedes’ challenges have been evident and widely reported since they surfaced during the pre-season testing last year. There have been occasional improvements, but none have been consistent, and Mercedes is now relying on what Toto Wolff, the team principal, refers to as its “new baseline” with the upcoming upgrade at Imola.
F1Lead has extensively reported on Mercedes’ weaknesses and futile attempts to match up with Red Bull, providing extensive podcast and video coverage. The same is true for Ferrari. The question, submitted by Jeremy Hustead via F1Lead Members’ Club, underscores a key distinction in how the two teams publicly admit their failures. While one team is more transparent about their shortcomings, the other is less so.
The full question asked was: “Is Mercedes receiving too soft a treatment from many media outlets despite their persistent struggles? It seems that if the same situation befell Ferrari or Red Bull, there would be a far greater uproar. Rather, there seems to be a consistent pattern of making excuses, not just from the Mercedes team but also from a significant portion of the media.”
Kent Kiz, during the podcast, centered his response on the question of why there should be any “outrage” at all.
Kent stated, “Our role isn’t necessarily to pass judgment, but more to report and analyze the situations.” He added, “If Red Bull had made mistakes with their car, I wouldn’t be outraged, just as I’m not outraged that Mercedes has. However, I wouldn’t avoid discussing the shortcomings.
According to Kent, the role of the media isn’t to cheer on one team and boo the other, or express disappointment when their own team isn’t performing up to expectations. He said, “This isn’t the perspective from which I, or many others in the media, view the sport.
“So, it isn’t about being overly critical or excessively laudatory, it’s about providing description and analysis.”
A common source of frustration is the apparent disconnect between the more vocal fans and the media, which, it’s important to highlight, is a diverse body with varied opinions, not a single, unified entity. For us at F1Lead, the actual winner or loser isn’t the primary focus. We’re more intrigued by the reasons and methods behind the results.
Therefore, ‘outrage’ isn’t really on our agenda. F1 is an extraordinarily difficult endeavor, and a team whose car is losing tenths of a second over a lap of two to 4.5 miles is far from incompetent.
An interesting observation is that we have generally been more critical of Ferrari than Mercedes, even though both teams, in the broadest sense, are underperforming. This was also true last year, though Ferrari fell short by a much smaller margin. The team’s own approach determines the reaction to their performance.
Mercedes, for example, has been publicly self-critical, almost to the point of self-punishment. When a team openly acknowledges its failures and underachievement, there’s not much left to dispute. Some may criticize Mercedes’ tendency for self-flagellation, but it’s evident they take their shortcomings seriously.
Regarding ‘excuses’, outlining the reasons for Mercedes’ underperformance doesn’t necessarily mean we are justifying it. There are valid reasons for mistakes, and there’s never been any indication that Mercedes’ struggles in the new ground effect era are due to external factors. If your simulation tools are giving you misleading information, it’s your responsibility to improve them.
Aside from trying to comprehend and clarify why Mercedes has made certain mistakes, there isn’t much more to discuss. As a team that should be competing at the front, its failure this year has contributed to a less than stellar narrative for this season. From my viewpoint, the appropriate response is disappointment, not outrage.
Moving on to Ferrari, the team has received more overt criticism for a lesser degree of underperformance, but this is entirely due to how the team publicly handles its challenges. Last year, team principal Mattia Binotto consistently downplayed strategic errors despite their recurring nature. This is in stark contrast to Mercedes’ approach to such failures, which at times included over-the-radio apologies to Lewis Hamilton, indicating a distinct difference in handling shortcomings.
There is little point in repeatedly stating that a team is underperforming when it constantly admits and tries to explain its failures. However, a team that incessantly downplays its shortcomings does warrant such attention.
Ferrari’s approach has slightly changed this year, but it hasn’t undergone a complete transformation. There’s a delicate balance between not excessively criticizing your team and denying the scope of the problem, and Ferrari seems to lean more towards the latter. This perhaps symbolizes a part of the long-term issue at Ferrari.
Elite sports are uncompromisingly competitive. Merely being ‘good’, as both Mercedes and Ferrari are to varying degrees, isn’t enough because there’s likely another competitor, in this case Red Bull, that is performing exceptionally well.
Both teams need to identify, comprehend, and address their issues. This isn’t about making excuses, but about diagnosing and solving problems. The length of this process and the timing – or perhaps the question is if – of its success is what truly matters. As a media organization, F1Lead will continue to document their progress and the reasons behind their outcomes. After all, if coverage was solely about praising winners and criticizing losers, it would be monotonous.
This also acknowledges the importance of such inquiries, which foster a deeper understanding of perspectives both within and outside of F1. This is what transformed what initially appeared as a peculiar question into a thought-provoking one.
While the ideas of ‘outrage’ and ‘excuses’ don’t align with our approach, they did guide us towards a deeper understanding of why such perceptions might exist, and a key difference between the two F1 teams that should be competing fiercely.
The only thing that might warrant outrage is the fact that their collective shortcomings have rendered this season less exciting than it could have been.
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