Formula 1 drivers arrive in the first pre-season test with high hopes. Whether you’ve had a disappointing season last time around or you’ve won the championship the previous season, it doesn’t matter - all teams start afresh. With the massive regulation change this season - in respect of aerodynamics as well as the engines(now dubbed power unit along with ERS), 2014 cars had little to do with its predecessors. In such a situation, Mercedes debuted their latest challenger, W05, in best possible manner, completing more laps than any other team in pre-season testing with no apparent issues. When the season kicked off in Australia, the Brackley based team continued on their fine form with Nico Rosberg winning the race by a mammoth margin of 27 seconds. This was followed by three straight 1-2 finishes, with Hamilton finishing ahead in each result. So how does their start to 2014 season compares with the best in history? We find out on the basis of three parameters.
Four wins in first four races
Ferrari were the last outfit to score four back-to-back victories in first four races of the season. In fact they went one better, with Schumacher winning the opening five rounds of the 2004 season. With arch rivals McLaren and Williams struggling to be on par with F2004, Schumacher easily secured his seventh and final title while Ferrari clinched their sixth straight constructors championship.
We will have to go back another decade to find the next team who came on top in first four races of the season. It was the clothing brand Benetton, with Schumacher behind the wheel(again) that managed this result in their ninth season in Formula 1 as a constructor. While Schumacher went on to win the drivers title, lack of results from other side of the garage meant Benetton only came second in the constructors standings.
Williams, during the peak of active suspension era, also managed this result in 1992. With the dominant Williams FW14, Nigel Mansell scored nine victories(including five in first five races of the season) to seal both the titles.
And how can we forget McLaren’s exemplary 1988 season. With Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the driving seat and Honda turbo engines on the back of the iconic MP4-4, McLaren won 15 out of 16 races of the season, with the Italian GP being the only race where a McLaren driver was not on the top step of the rostrum.
Led every lap of first four races
You need more than just a dominant car to lead every lap of the race. And to repeat it in four straight races in no easy feat. Only two teams in the 65 year history of Formula 1 have led every single lap of the first four races of a given season. Mercedes have now entered this list, joining Williams(1992) and McLaren(1988).
However, an important thing to note is that a driver may lose the lead of the race briefly, if it pits earlier than its rivals. He may still emerge in front once pit the stops are done and lead the remaining part of the race.
Four poles and as many victories in opening four races of the season
Williams and McLaren, who share a total of 17 constructors title between them have managed to start the first four races of a season from pole position and have come out on top in each of them.
In 1992, Nigel Mansell started the season with six straight pole positions and added further eight over the remainder of the season. On Sundays too, there was no match for the British driver who had narrowly missed out on championship multiple times. He scored a podium in each and every race he made the chequered flag, and won nine of them, to secure his maiden drivers title.
In 1998, qualifying specialist Ayrton Senna always had the upper hand over then two-times world champion teammate Alain Prost, scoring six straight pole positions to kick start the season. Prost, on his part, scored most points on race days but lost out on the championship as only best 11 results were considered.
It is a bit unfair to compare cars and drivers of different eras. Further, unlike Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams never left Formula 1 once they've dominated the sport(1954-55). Enzo Ferrari merely produced road cars for sponsoring his Formula 1 team. Similarly, McLaren and Williams have showed total commitment towards the sport. In stark contrast, it is widely accepted that if Mercedes had not succeeded after the wake up-call from Daimler in late 2012, they would have pulled out of the the pinnacle of motorsport.
Nevertheless, Mercedes have done a fantastic job in producing the best power unit(and probably the best car) this season. As 2009 showed, regulation change is more of an opportunity than a threat. The top guns failed to realize it and are now paying the price for the same.