The hype around the Mercedes F1 team this weekend has been incredible, despite in qualifying their lead car being as far behind the pole sitter in Spain as it was at the first race in Bahrain. Granted Mercedes got worse after the inaugural race being 0.8, 0.9 seconds off pole when the cars actually managed to make it into Q3. In Imola neither achieved that feat.
After the race Toto Wolff told Sky Sports if Hamilton hadn’t been tagged by Magnussen his pace was so good he could have challenged for the win. Lewis implied the same telling the bull pen reporters, “If I hadn’t had the issue at the beginning who knows where we would have been in the end”.
But the numbers don’t lie. Russell as lead Mercedes driver ended up 32 seconds off the pace at the chequered flag and two weeks ago in Miami that gap was just 18 seconds.
In fact in the season’s debut weekend in Bahrain Hamilton finished P3 just 9.6 seconds behind the winner.
How is this an improvement?
Group delusion appears to have swamped the Mercedes team and many in the paddock and as Mattio Binotto soberly observed when asked if Mercedes were back in the hunt, “They would have been 50 seconds behind Charles… over 66 laps that’s 6-7 10ths”.
Hamilton received the black and white flag during the race for exceeding track limits multiple times, hardly the signature of a car that is planted and ready to take on the Ferrari and Red Bull’s.
The race winner Max Verstappen had a faulty DRS wing during the race and struggled behind Russell for around 20 laps. If true pace is what we should be examining, without that he would have been down the road as far as Binotto reckons LeCLerc would have been.
Hamilton wanted to stop the car when he found himself in P19 and “save the engine” so it required the team to tell him “P8 or better is possible”. Yet at the end of the race the champion racer grinning told Natalie Pinkerton his motto was “never give up”.
The W13 car this weekend was at it worst in Barcelona through section 3, the low speed corners that require great traction. We’ll see in a few days whether the Mercedes hype has any substance in Monaco where it’s low speed corners everywhere.