Is Mercedes threatened with another title-less season? 2022 was a clear setback with third place in the Formula 1 World Championship, but the new year could start as the old one ended: with a gap to Red Bull; indeed Mercedes is now admitting that they are where they expected to be, slow and slower than Red Bull. While one should not read too much into the test times, Max Verstappen already seems to be the big favourite for the title again.
Motorsport boss Toto Wolff had used the word “eventually” in the press release for the presentation of the new W14 when talking about whether the new car will be competitive. The same word is now used by George Russell after his first drive in the test on Thursday.
“You have to think rationally,” he says of a possible title fight with Red Bull. “We believe at some point we will have a car that can be in the fight. Whether we will have that next week in Bahrain is maybe a bit too much.”
So Mercedes are all but writing off victory in the season opener, the Red Bull RB19 seems too good: “They look very strong and stable, and Max is driving well,” Russell said. “But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be there at some point. We’ve always seen the strength of Mercedes and their development. The belief is there.”
At least the W14 is claimed by Mercedes to be a step forward compared to its predecessor: “From the feel of it, it’s going in the right direction,” says Russell. “But we know that in this sport it’s not about feeling, it’s about lap times.”
Mercedes car out of balance
The lap time had spat out sixth place for Lewis Hamilton (+0.671 seconds) and ninth for Russell (+1.337) on Thursday. “The car was still quite out of balance in the morning,” Wolff told Sky.
“We just haven’t found the right set-up for the conditions yet, but that’s part of the learning process with a new car.”
“It’s no secret that we have a few problems with the balance, especially in the middle of the corner,” Russell also confirms.
That said Russell is optimistically claiming that “the balance is easier to solve than last year. Even though it’s a limitation, it’s a good problem to have.”
In general, the problems are much more pleasant compared to last year and Mercedes is a little more satisfied, at least in this respect. “Compared to twelve months ago, everything is running much more smoothly,” he says.
“When we were here last year, a lot of alarm bells went off. There was the porpoising and we weren’t sure how to solve it. Also the characteristics of the car were not good. This time it is running better, and the reliability is also fitting so far. For sure we still have a few things to improve, but generally we are where we expected to be.”
Failure stops Russell on Friday
On Friday, however, things did not go 100 per cent smoothly, at least in terms of reliability: Russell rolled out in the afternoon after only 26 laps with a hydraulic defect and triggered the first red flag of the day.
“It is very unlikely that George will come out again,” the team announced.
Meanwhile, Toto Wolff is not surprised that Red Bull is so fast. But he also stresses that Mercedes is not yet getting everything out of the car. “You have to wait for the three days,” he says.
But one thing is certain for him: “We definitely want to fight for the world championship. That is the goal. But you also have to stay humble.”
During the Silverstone filming day, this website reported that Mercedes had a suspension failure. This was hidden from the public, but now the cameras and journalists are abundant, there will be little hiding place for the former F1 superpower.