The engineering galacticos: The stars behind Lewis Hamilton's F1 dominance

As Lewis Hamilton stripped off to reveal his tattooed torso and be sprayed by rosewater on the Abu Dhabi pod...

Posted: Dec 11, 2018 4:03 PM
Updated: Dec 11, 2018 4:03 PM

As Lewis Hamilton stripped off to reveal his tattooed torso and be sprayed by rosewater on the Abu Dhabi podium, there was no denying who was the star of the 2019 Formula One season.

Hamilton had just romped to an 11th grand prix victory in 2018 -- more than double the race wins achieved by chief rivals Sebastian Vettel -- on top of sealing a fifth world title just a few weekends earlier.

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Hamilton was quick to share the accolades with the hundreds of Mercedes employees behind his continued dominance.

And while technical director James Allison singled out Hamilton's immeasurable talents, he also was keen to point out that the team was the sum of their parts.

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"I think when I got here, I felt like I had imposter syndrome," said Allison from the team's Brackley headquarters as he reflected on another driver-constructors' title double. "But I'm treated the same way as everyone else.

"A lot is expected of everyone that works here but, unlike others on the grid, this is very much a team game here."

The secret to Hamilton's success, according to technical journalist Craig Scarborough, lies in the manner in which Mercedes has assembled a galacticos of engineering brains to their operation.

"Mercedes are a team of star engineers without egos," said Scarborough of the number reason behind their ongoing dominance. "They're all very good engineers and could be technical directors in their own right at other teams. They've done very well together."

Key to that assemblage was Paddy Lowe, effectively Allison's predecessor before moving to Williams, who was vital in getting the engineering dream team together which notably includes Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis.

Scarborough also argues Toto Wolff deserves praise too.

"He just leaves them to do their work without interference," he said. "It's easy for someone like Toto to try to control the team but that would be misplaced. He keeps the engineers out of it. You don't see them on camera or in the garage. If you try to over manage them, that's when you have problems. He simply doesn't do that."

'Stars from financial people to the cleaners'

It is a sentiment echoed by Allison, who shuns any individual praise and focuses on Mercedes' collective effort.

"To act like a primadonna would be so out of kilter with the team's ethos," he said. "There's just no egos and that doesn't mean the people are bland and automotive. There's huge characters up and down the team.

"There's no false modesty, people will just say they're pulling for each other. What I like is that when there are setbacks, everyone here puts up their hand to say 'what can I do to help?'

"Lewis is an absolute phenomenon and he's a truly remarkable driver. But when we talk about the team it's not just the driver or the nuts and bolts of the car.

"Everyone plays a role: the finance people, the commercial people, the press people, the cleaners, the guys on the shop floor, everyone. This is an equal effort from everyone."

In Abu Dhabi, the victory was no more than the cherry on top of the cake as Hamilton once again dominated both qualifying and the race win.

Already for Mercedes the celebrations had begun in earnest following the previous race in Mexico which had sealed the constructors' title in a pulsating season-long battle with Ferrari.

While relatively new to the team -- Allison arrived in 2017 after a previous spell at Ferrari -- he argues this year's success was still the sweetest yet.

"Everyone was united by the fact that this year has been a proper trial," he said. "There was so much joy, satisfaction and relief on everyone's faces. I'm just so glad to be a small part of it and that Toto rang me up in the first place."

In the Allison household, his son talks of two types of fun: type one and type two. Type one is fun throughout while type two is miserable while in the process of doing it but more memorable afterward.

"This season was very much type two fun," said Allison. "While you might be suffering, you can't help but be aware of the opportunity at the end of it all. We've been through the ringer, we've been tested but we've not be found wanting."

'Still the best engine in F1'

At the heart of Hamilton and Mercedes' speed is the engine, which has long set the benchmark in Formula 1.

For a period this year, Ferrari looked to have the quicker power unit only for Mercedes to claw back the advantage throughout the latter part of the season.

"The power unit is probably still the de facto best engine in F1 but there's also the reliability and how much performance they get out of it in qualifying," said Scarborough. "Because in truth, it's not an exceptional-looking chassis compared to their rivals."

At the heart of the car is a longer wheelbase than both Ferrari and Red Bull, and a far lower rake -- effectively the ride height of the car from the front to the rear. It is such a design approach that has brought anomalies at certain tracks but has been key to their dominance at other circuits.

For Allison, the stability in its engineers in particular has given the team a "good base to right wrongs."

Looking ahead to 2019, Scarborough believes Mercedes are once again the team to beat, although Allison won't say so publicly even if he agrees.

"It's entirely presumptuous to say we're the team to be beat," he said, "and Ferrari and Red Bull will be out for our blood. What I will say is that this team is where I've felt most energized by a good result. There are talented people at every layer and I hope I keep doing this for as long as they'll have me here."

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