The all conquering Mercedes F1 team who have won the most consecutive constructor titles in the history of Formula One have had a miserable start by their standards to the new era of car design regulations. Despite regularly being a second off the pace of the Ferrari’s and Red Bull cars the team have picked up the scraps due to repeated reliability issues and DNF’s suffered by the top two teams.
Lewis Hamilton struggled with the car early season and was dominated by his new team mate George Russell, yet the 7 times world champion has seen a resurgence in his luck and form since Canada claiming P3 podium finishes in the last three outings.
Mercedes came to Paul Ricard with high hopes and another set of upgrades for the car and in fact so bouyant were the team the briefed media were reporting a possible race win for the Silver Arrows.
Yet the reality was different. Despite a smooth track in Castellet which allegedly suits the W13 car and the much vaunted upgrades Mercedes were lucky not to have both cars out qualified by Lando Norris.
In ‘The Notebook’ pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz summed up the weekend so far.
“Mercedes. 1 second off the pace. What has happened? A messy day, a messy weekend.
“They’ve messed about on setup, they’ve messed about with their wings. But Hamilton and Russell did great laps to get into Q3.”
“Lewis was a bit worried about his brakes not warming up early on but it was fine in the end. Very disappointing to be a second or 9/10ths off the pace.”
The result of this Paul di Resta believes is now they have at best a “50% chance of winning one race this season”.
It appears the light is dawning on the technical Guru’s back in Brackley that next season while the rest of the field are evolving their cars, Mercedes is going to have to bring a radically different design for the season.
Technical Director Adrew Shovlin believes that merely revising the W13 car’s controversial sidepods will not make much difference.
“We’re certainly not of that mind. Nor are we wedded to saying this is how the Mercedes car must look. From the very early part of the year we’re looking at other teams’ bodywork and certainly with a view to next year, looking up and down the grid to see ideas,” Shovlin commented to paddock writers.
“And it may be that we don’t just take another team’s idea, we’re looking at combinations of different concepts. But it’s a gradual process. I think fundamentally our car isn’t going to change appearance massively this season but I’d be surprised if next year’s car looks the same.”
The problem is whilst Mercedes start from scratch, the rest of the field will be evolving their 2022 cars and F1 history would suggest 2023 will be another sharp learning curve for the Mercedes team.
The probability of no world championship next year has raised speculation again over Lewis Hamilton’s retirement, however when asked about this, Toto Wolff flippantly replied.
“We talked a few weeks ago about how long the partnership can go and the figure discussed was about five to 10 years, so I think we can go to 400 [races]. Someone said you have to win the eighth [world title], so why not 10?”
The British driver will start his 300th GP this weekend in France. Of course Toto’s number’s don’t add up because if Lewis completes just 400 races that would be require another 4 seasons – not 5 or 10 years.
Lewis Hamilton is 37 and would be pushing 40 by the next time Mercedes could deliver a car possible for him to win a championship. The woeful upgrades in France mean Hamilton is unlikely without a raft of DNF’s to win a race this season.
The question is how long will Lewis put up with being uncompetitive and as there are no guarantees Mercedes will deliver a title winning car until the next regulation changes in 2026, will he have the patience to stick around?
At present Lewis could retire at the top of his sport but running mid field for years may well diminish his legacy.