Whilst on the whole Mercedes presented a united front during their annus horribilis with the failed W13 2022 Formula One challenger. Yet there was in fact an intense partisan battle being fought behind the scenes.
From round 4 in Emillia-Romania when Hamilton was lapped by Verstappen with a third of the race to go Hamilton began to voice his concerns that the very concept of the W13 was completely wrong.
Mercedes plead with Hamilton to keep the faith
Mercedes senior Tech management pleaded with Lewis to that they should continue working on the car to understand what they had got so wrong.
By the time Monaco came around Lewis was towing the party line to a certain extent. When asked about starting from scratch with a new car Hamilton replied:
“I think we’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with this car before we can make another car. If we just started making another car we could easily get it wrong.”
“There’s definitely loads of things that I would not want from this car onto next year’s car,” added the British 7 times world champion.
Hamilton calls time on W13 concept back in Monza
Roll forward to Monza and Hamilton was now in defiant form
Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz asked Lewis after the first two practice sessions in Italy: “The team seem to insist on paper, wind tunnel data, all of this blah blah blah, its [the W13] effectively a good car if we can get it sorted.
“You seem to suggest otherwise,” added Kravitz. “Are they realising that as well?”
“I think so’” replied Hamilton who added, “There are bits of it that are good, there’s performance in there, its just whether you can utilise the performance.
“You want a car that works on every single track you go to.”
Hamilton went on to praise the “genius” of Adrian Newey, drawing the comparison, “the Red Bull seems to work in the majority of places. It’s understanding why [ours doesn’t],” added Hamilton.
“There’s loads of bits of this car that we would change,” correcting himself Lewis then said “that I would change.”
Lewis clearly reveals there was a significant difference of opinion within the team over the nature of the changes required.
Last chance saloon for ‘zeropod’ concept
At the launch of the Mercedes W14 last week, it appeared the technical team had got their way. The car retained much of its look from 2022 including the zeropod design.
However, all is not what it seems according to Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz.
Speaking to Craig Slater on Sky Sports News Kravitz claims Mercedes have allowed the Tech team one last chance to prove their radical idea has winning potential.
With the regulations stable for the next two seasons, Mercedes are hoping their alternative approach to Red Bull and Ferrari’s car design could yet see them dominate the Formula One grid once more.
“They’re giving their big idea that was a failure last year one more go,” reveals Kravitz.
Mercedes Plan B car now in design
However Hamilton has had his way because the team have developed through the winter another car that can replace the current W14 during the European round of races.
“If they need to, they can go to a plan B, which is the Red Bull or Ferrari style of doing things, in the middle of the season.
“That’s why we’re hearing from Mercedes… these rules are here for another few years yet so they’ve got to get it right at some point.
At the moment they’re saying: ‘We think we’ve got a proper handle on what went wrong last year, we still believe our way of having very slim sidepods is the way to go aerodynamically’.
“They say most of the downforce is generated by the floor, which you can’t see, but they’re saying don’t expect anything too soon. I think if they went away without three or four wins in the season they’d be disappointed.”
Wolff uses carefully crafted phrase
Kravitz then reveals what clearly is a confused Mercedes collective mindset. The current W14 is not where the Mercedes engineers want it to be and they have upgrades planned down the line.
“They’ve got developments for the European season and they think they’re going to work.”
This appears to be consistent with Toto Wolff’s carefully worded press release at the launch in which he said, “I see so much effort, motivation, and energy to launch a car that will eventually be competitive enough to fight at the very front of the grid”.
The big question is if the Mercedes engineers have upgrades planned form round 4 onwards, why are they not on the car now?
Mercedes half way house reveals confused mindset
Further, if the upgrades then don’t work and Mercedes switch to a new car mid-season they will then be 18 months behind the Red Bull and Ferrari teams in terms of development.
Whilst Lewis Hamilton may eventually get his own way and have the W13 concept scrapped entirely, starting mid season with a new car design concept has never been successful in the modern era of Formula One.
Further, this muddled half way house approach may confine Mercedes to the ‘also rans’ until 2026 when the next big regulation comes into effect.
The next logical line of thinking is to question whether Hamilton’s new contract that Toto Wolff claimed was a formality and would be completed in “a few hours”, has been held up while Lewis appraises the W14 and its upgrades.
Whatever happens, if Mercedes are forced to switch car design philosophy mid-season that sounds more like a Ferrari strategy plan Z than a plan B as Mercedes now claim.