If you had told Mercedes after the first four rounds of the season that they would be in a position to pressure Ferrari going into the last nine races, they likely would have bitten your hand off.
2022 did not kick off well for the reigning and eight-time constructors’ champions, who had just come off the back of a mammoth title fight with Red Bull last year.
They were perhaps still reeling slightly from the controversial ending to the championship that saw Max Verstappen beat Sir Lewis Hamilton to the title, the squads at Brackley and Brixworth set to work putting the final touches on this year’s car under the new technical regulations.
While Red Bull, who themselves had been pushed to the very limit last year, nailed the new spec, the German side designed a car that is good on paper, but one that they struggled to make work for them.
One of the aspects that the teams did not necessarily see coming was the aggressiveness of the “porpoising” and bouncing, and that is something that caught Mercedes out in particular.
Both Hamilton and new team-mate George Russell were forced to train differently to withstand the lateral loads being put through their spines and necks, and as heavy as the bumps were in the car, there were also a lot of headaches going on in the garage.
Having initially tried to raise the ride height on Hamilton’s car, the team released that this was costing them too much time in the corners, so they had to keep running the car low until they eventually found a solution to the aerodynamic turbulence.
When they got to the bottom of this, they encountered bottoming, which consists of the floor being too close to the track surface due to the ride height.
This was equally painful for the drivers, but performances were nonetheless starting to improve for the Silver Arrows.
The early part of the season saw Hamilton finish a race outside the points for only the second time in nine years when he crossed the line 13th in Imola – this was perhaps the lowest point of his campaign.
Despite the numbness in the seven-time champion’s back in Azerbaijan, he ended the race fourth as Russell picked up his third podium finish of the season in third, and the times have been rolling since then.
Hamilton has been on the podium in all of the last five races, with Mercedes achieving their first double podium of the year at the French Grand Prix.
They repeated that fate in Hungary after Russell took pole position, symbolic of the improvements being made.
However, Max Verstappen won that race from 10th on the grid after suffering engine issues during qualifying, and he has stood on the top step of the podium eight times in 2022.
Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez have taken a win a piece, while Charles Leclerc is second in the championship having claimed three victories – two of which came in the first three rounds of the season.
The Monegasque could have added more to his tally had it not been for reliability failures, bizarre strategies and, in France, a rare mistake.
Sainz too has lost points for similar reasons at various points in the season, and the Scuderia’s title challenge has begun to fade away.
Hungary epitomised their recent woes; Leclerc was leading the race when the team strangely called him in for Hards to respond to a stop from Verstappen, and they offset their strategy, ruining the 24-year-old’s afternoon.
He ended sixth as, for the third time this year, a mistake on the pit wall cost him a win and sent him outside of the podium places.
Leclerc is now 80 points adrift of leader Verstappen, while Ferrari have fallen 97 adrift of Red Bull.
Things can change quickly in F1, but it surely takes a great deal of optimism, from a Ferrari perspective, to suggest that the tide can yet swing in their favour.
The Italian team have shown that they are ready to win races again, but they perhaps need a bit longer to turn themselves into a championship winning team.
But they may have to stop looking ahead at Red Bull and instead start checking their wing mirrors for Mercedes’ attack.
The Brackley-based team are now 30 points off second place, and the improvements being made to their car are indicative that a race win could well be on the cards in the final nine races of the year.
Further, new regulations coming into effect from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards are set to banish moving skid blocks; the fascinating caveat there is that we simply do not know whether this is going to affect Red Bull and Ferrari, but we are excited to find out.
Hamilton was part of the McLaren team that salved two wins from the 2009 season after a horrible start to the year, and he went on to win another 10 for the British team before joining Mercedes in 2013.
All is certainly not lost for Mercedes, whose grit and determination has seen them come through tough periods in their BAR and Honda days – the title winning Brawn season was their reward in 2009.
Rewards this year will look a little different; they will not catch the Red Bull juggernaut, but wins are certainly possible between now and the end of 2022.
Can they beat Ferrari to second? Mercedes did not get to where they are today by writing themselves off, so the real question is, whyever not?
But if anyone is ready to write of the Maranello-based side at this point, they too may be in for a shock; the Scuderia know better than most how to get themselves out of a jam.
So sure, Mercedes can beat Ferrari, but whether they will be answered in what will be an amazing final part of the 2022 season.