Since the beginning of the hybrid era we have seen a team dominate Formula 1 like never before. Mercedes AMG F1 have won 8 consecutive constructors’ titles as the FIA also set a precedent in minimising car design regulation changes. This season has seen the first big changes in the regulations since 2014 and the apple art has been upturned.
Despite Wolff’s silly comments to Lewis after the 4th race in Imola when he apologised to his star driver for giving him an “undeliverable” car, Mercedes are in fact the third quickest team on the grid. George Russell isn’t the just the ‘best of the rest’ after the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers as he currently lies fourth in the drivers’ title race.
The problem for Mercedes is their favoured son and multi-year world champion is struggling with the current car concept, and has been proven over the years, different team mates prefer different styles of car.
It’s not that Mercedes knowingly designed a car that Lewis doesn’t favour, it’s just that the regulation changes and new wheel sizes were such a step into the unknown that the brains at Brackley had no real idea how the W13 would turn out.
No team can win forever and as such maybe Mercedes plight is just the circle of life.
Hamilton’s team mate has driven the worst car on the grid for years and clearly knows how to man handle the current beast that is the W13 to success. Conversely Lewis Hamilton is used to a car so well honed to his liking, he is struggling to adapt his driving style.
With Barcelona on the horizon, D-Day is coming for Mercedes F1. Whilst they have struggled with wind tunnel alone correlation to reduce the bouncing nature of the car, Barcelona offers them some hope on the horizon.
Having tested the car there in the pre season trials, Mercedes will be able to get some correlation checks done based on the data from February that will help them asses how the changes to the car since the start of the season have affected it’s performance in all areas of the circuit.
The dilemma they suffer is that if the concept they believed to be the way forward again proves to be incrementally progressing, do they ditch the car because Hamilton can’t drive it as well as George Russell?
Given Lewis has won 6 world titles, it will be incredibly hard if he again loses out to Russell for the team not to concede they need ‘to go a different way’ in car design going forward. Toto revealed this weekend, “Clearly it is a very sensitive concept.”
“At some point, of course, there comes the time when we have to decide what we are going to do next year. But it’s not like it used to be, when you could write off a year to focus on the next. The rules are staying largely the same.”
If we parse this comment, Wolff is suggesting in the old days a team would write off a year to change the concept for the next year’s car. But given the stability of the regulations that write off is better done this year.
So Barcelona is key for the W13.
If the team can get some better ‘real world’ correlation data when compared to testing in February, the decision will be made that the current W13 design lives or dies.
Clearly the Mercedes 2022 car is not going to beat the Ferrari’s or Red Bull’s in Catalonia – but it may give Hamilton a more favourable ride. And that will be the key as to whether the current no side-pod concept is ditched and a new way forward is sought.
If a new concept is forged, it will mean Mercedes are settling for no better than third this season as a constructor, but it could unsettle George Russell if the new chassis design goes the way of Hamilton.