Formula One’s most dominant team for 8 years has clearly fallen behind the curve in the new era of car design regulations. Despite the much lauded upgrades Mercedes brought to Silverstone, over one lap in qualifying their lead driver is still as far behind the pole time as in the season opener in Bahrain. George Russell who out qualified Lewis Hamilton at the 2022 Austrian GP was around 0.6 seconds slower than the Ferrari pole sitter.
Russell has faired much better with the Mercedes W13 car than his world champion team mate and even after Hamilton’s 3 consecutive podiums the young Brit remains 17 points ahead.
Qualifying at the Red Bull Ring saw both Mercedes crash during quali 3 though Russell had set a time good enough to earn P4 on the grid. Hamilton’s best time was 10 seconds of the pace and he started in P10.
The two Mercedes cars were running a new rear wing in Austria, but with the damage from both crashes one driver was forced to revert to a higher downforce earlier wing design.
Today Mercedes explained the decision to favour Hamilton over Russell who was given the older wing design for the Sprint and the Grand Prix.
Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott reported that Hamilton’s crash was more significant and his car needed the most extensive work of the two.
“When you crash two cars it’s always going to make for a very difficult weekend from then onwards,” he said in a video released by the team. “We’ve done quite a lot of damage to the cars. We’ve broken both floors, we’ve broken both rear wings, we damaged quite a lot of suspension, on Lewis’s car we also damaged the front wing and [did] some cosmetic damage to the chassis.
“So [it’s] damage that we can repair but not over a weekend. That meant completely rebuilding Lewis’s car from scratch and it meant also trying to build one floor out of two. We had one complete spare [floor] we could fit and we had to get the best out of the two crashed floors to build another.”
Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz described the floor on Russell’s car as a “patchwork of duck tape” while Hamilton received the spare new floor.
Lewis also received the new style read wing and the thinking behind that decision Elliot explains.
“We were compromised on George’s rear wing because we only had one complete spare rear wing. That we chose to fit to Lewis’s car because he was going to have to come through the field, which meant that George had to fit a rear wing which was probably not the ideal level of downforce. It was a bit too much downforce for that circuit.”
“Having rebuilt the cars we also had to dial in the set-up again and you’ve got very limited time in FP2 to do that and that was always going to be another compromise.”
Given the budget cap the teams are no longer able to bring spare parts to GP weekends to cover all eventualities and so the onus is on the drivers not to create a situation where they are unable to complete in the race on Sunday.
Elliot continued, “Having damaged two cars as badly as we did on Friday the drivers [were] now in a position where if we damage them in the sprint race we may well be in a position where we couldn’t race on Sunday,” said Elliott. “So, all of that has to be factored in and all of that sort of compromises your weekend.”
Even the wealthier teams at times are forced to adopt a ‘make do’ approach which is more reminiscent of a bygone F1 era.
“In Lewis’s case he had done so much damage to the chassis – actually only cosmetic damage but damage that we couldn’t fix in the field – we had to sort of build his car from scratch on Saturday morning”, explains Mercedes TD.
“So, that car had to be built from nothing, fitting the engine, the gearbox, all the suspension, all of the car systems that bolt around the chassis. It all had to be put in place and the mechanics managed to do that in three-and-a-half hours on Saturday morning which is an amazing achievement and all credit to them for actually getting us back out and into FP2.”
The curfew in Austria was strictly enforced which meant Hamilton had just 14 minutes track time in practice two on Saturday before the sprint race.
In the end Lewis failed to make much ground during the Sprint as the team had hoped by giving him the newest rear wing and started the GP in P8 four places behind Russell.
This seems a bizarre decision by Mercedes as they should probably have favoured their lead driver with the best components.
In the end due to Russell tangling with Perez and receiving a penalty, Lewis outperformed him during the race to take a third consecutive P3 podium. Russell despite his struggles managed 4th.