It seems it can never be too early to ask: Will Mercedes win all 21 Formula One races in 2019?The question made the online rounds several weeks ago in the form of various headlines, just five races into the new season.By then Mercedes had swept all five with one-two finishes every time, hence why the prospect of a perfect season was being raised so early in the campaign.Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff responded in the expected way, saying no, 21 wins was not realistic and “you need to stay humble and keep both feet on the ground.”He noted his team would face “a tremendous challenge” in the subsequent two events — Monaco and Montreal — where it had struggled the previous year.Except we know what happened. Mercedes triumphed in Monte Carlo and at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (though, here, Lewis Hamilton benefited from the controversial penalty to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel).Hamilton won again at last weekend’s French Grand Prix, making it eight victories in a row for the silver squad and fourth straight for its reigning champion, who led every lap from the pole position at Circuit Paul Ricard.It was his sixth win of the season as he barrels toward his sixth F1 drivers’ title, one shy of the record held by Michael Schumacher.That puts Hamilton 23 points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas at the top of the standings and 76 points clear of third-place Vettel.To put it into perspective, he could stay in bed for the next three races and still hold a one-point advantage on his Ferrari rival even if Vettel wins all three times.In the constructors’ standings, Mercedes has 338 points vs. 198 for Ferrari and 136 for Red Bull.
Charles Leclerc of Ferrari posted the fastest lap time during Friday afternoon practice at the Austrian Grand Prix. The session was interrupted by crashes by Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes and Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
Mark Thompson /
So back to the original question: Will Mercedes win all 21 races?Well, no one can answer that. But to me the more pertinent question — because it speaks to state of F1 — is this: “Can they?”And my answer, sad to say, is yes.In other words, I see no team at present capable of beating Mercedes on merit on any type of track, whether its characteristics are considered “friendly” or not to the strengths of the silver cars.True, Ferrari seemed stronger in Montreal, and this gives the Italian team hope for similar-style circuits where brute power trumps nimbleness.But remember: There were 22 laps left when race-leader Vettel veered wide under pressure from Hamilton and got a five-second penalty for rejoining the track “in an unsafe manner.” The race was not won by any means, and it remains unclear which was the quicker car. By the same token, it can be argued Ferrari should have won in Bahrain, where Charles Leclerc was leading comfortably with 11 laps to go when his engine lost power and he ended up limping to the checkered flag in third place, behind the you-know-whats.But that was stop No. 2 of the season. Mercedes seems to have found another gear since then, while Ferrari seems to have lost its way.So if anyone manages to beat Mercedes these days, it is likely to be Mercedes itself — through a mechanical failure or mistake of its own.This weekend, F1 is in Austria for the ninth Grand Prix of the season, and Mercedes will be reminded disaster can strike at any time — and sometimes it even comes in twos.Remember? Last year at the Red Bull Ring, first Bottas, then Hamilton fell victim to mechanical failures, leaving Max Verstappen to pick up a popular win for Red Bull on home soil.That’s the difference between “can they?” and “will they?” Sometimes stuff happens that disrupts the natural order of things.In 2016, Mercedes came close to a perfect season, winning 19 of 21 races. Sure enough, the two losses were self-inflicted. In Spain, Hamilton and then teammate Nico Rosberg crashed into each other at the start. In Malaysia, Hamilton succumbed to an engine failure.In 1988, McLaren-Honda accounted for every victory but one (though there were only 16 races). The team would have gone undefeated had Ayrton Senna not been knocked out by a Williams just two laps from the end of the Italian Grand Prix.Ah yes, that’s another way a winning streak can come to a sudden, unexpected end: Someone crashes into you.But we wouldn’t want to see that happen to anyone, would firstname.lastname@example.org/walterbF1AT A GLANCEAustrian Grand Prix live coverage. Qualifying: Saturday at 8 a.m. on TSN5; 8:45 a.m. on RDS. Race: Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on TSN5; 8:30 a.m. on TSN1, TSN4, RDS.Related