Written by By Bethany Sidorskaya, CNN
With over 80 race victories, 14 drivers’ titles and over 300 career podium finishes , Michael Schumacher has etched himself into the history books as one of Formula 1’s all-time greats.
In the 17 years that Schumacher has steered his Mercedes C63 AMG into the winner’s circle, his Mercedes team has had a thoroughly distinguished run.
The team has developed its own carbon-fiber V6 engines that are essentially Formula 1’s answer to the Skyline 6, ushering in a renewed era of competitiveness in the era of strict fuel-flow regulations.
This year, Mercedes is building on its engine development curve. In practice at the Jerez track in southern Spain, a Mercedes teammate of Lewis Hamilton told CNN Motorsports Director Cliff Lippert that he’s noticed a marked improvement in the way the new V6 motors operate.
Even so, sports fans’ attention will continue to be fixed on the team’s two star drivers, particularly Hamilton, who is aiming to improve on his 2017 record of 10 wins from 21 races.
Speaking after the season opening pre-season grand prix of the year in Melbourne, Australia, last weekend, team boss Toto Wolff said he was confident the team’s new engines were “highly competitive.”
“The ingredients of winning are on show,” he said. “We had good performance from our teams.
New name, old standards
While Ferrari and Mercedes have both taken the top step in race wins in recent years, Red Bull Racing and McLaren appear to be the main threats to the champions.
Alonso won an Australian Grand Prix for the McLaren team in 2008, seven years after Schumacher led Ferrari to victory at the same Circuit.
According to McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, who took second place at the season opener in Melbourne, “Red Bull is the threat.”
Renault and Williams have both underperformed in recent years, but Williams is expected to be back up to speed this season.
The strength of the team is its driver combination. Felipe Massa has been with Williams since 2002, driving for the team since 2007, and will be hoping to build on the Brazilian’s two previous championship wins in 2007 and 2012. Williams has decided not to field an all-new car in this season.
Strict fuel-flow rules
This year, Formula 1 has brought in fuel-flow rules which restrict cars to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of fuel over its 45-lap distance, compared to an average of 120 kilograms (265 pounds) in the last two seasons.
Results suggest the old rules were more potent, with cars typically finishing within 40 seconds of the leaders, compared to around 2 minutes, 10 seconds last year.
It’s too early to gauge how the new regulations will affect the main contenders, but there are some signs of a possible decline in cars.
“The McLaren V8 car got faster and more reliable over time so I’m expecting cars to be a little bit tighter,” Formula One analyst Professor Bill Scanlan told CNN.
In anticipation of tighter corners and less fuel, teams have increased their downforce through key overhangs and aerodynamic angles.
Although Mercedes will inevitably gain the most from the changes, Silverstone — home of the British Grand Prix — will also benefit as other teams look to the former champions to make up ground.
“Mercedes is simply better,” says Scanlan. “But they’re a great team.”
Could faster cars be bad for a sport?
However, with more effective downforce has come a desire for cars to race faster.
“We would want faster cars that really are fitted with some kinetic energy recovery systems,” said Formula One chief executive Chase Carey in Melbourne.
In the past, the drivers had the choice of choosing their own engine, and had the luxury of changing during a race. Those freedoms are no longer available.
“Teams are striving for bigger and faster cars, and that will make it a little tougher for the more specialist teams,” said Scanlan.
But tech innovations are sometimes less appreciated than Mercedes’. In Australia, McLaren was upgraded with a previously unseen large rear wing on its car.
“It’s an innovation that everyone has come to accept as being very exciting but that goes against what everyone thinks is important,” Scanlan said.
The rest of the season will discover if new technological developments are successful in aiding faster lap times.