Disillusionment was written all over Mercedes’ faces after the Formula 1 season opener in Bahrain. For Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, no more than fifth and seventh places were possible. Instead of 27 points, which the team was able to collect last year, they only scored 16 points.
Particularly worrying: With Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin, a Mercedes engine partner finished third, even ahead of their own team. And the gap to defending champion Red Bull made Mercedes’ minds reel even more.
Everyone is aware that it will take more than minor adjustments to close the gap, says Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “We talk about it openly throughout the team. Everyone is aware that it is not about finding 0.3 seconds and polishing up the car,” the Austrian clarifies.
“It’s about considerable performance that we need to find to be able to fight for race wins and championships again.” That is also a prerequisite for keeping Hamilton. The British driver’s contract expires at the end of 2023.
As yet, however, Wolff does not see any negative impact on Hamilton’s potential retention:
“He’s an integral part of the team, holding the team together, and I don’t think that’s going to change just because we’ve had a really bad start.”
“We have won eight constructors’ championships and six drivers’ titles with him, and that relationship continues,” Wolff insists. Asked if he didn’t fear losing the seven-time world champion after all, he says: “It would be far too easy to lose a driver and throw in the towel.”
“We’re not doing that, quite the opposite. We just have to dig really deep and deeper than we ever have and give both drivers a car to fight with. They’re doing everything they can, but if the car doesn’t cooperate in the corners and they have to correct, you almost feel sorry for them.”
Mercedes changes, including Hamilton?
Mercedes had already been looking at “other ideas”, the team boss reveals. “And not just since a fortnight ago when we saw we couldn’t close the gap, but for quite a while. The focus is still on making it work, but we’ve been looking at different [car] concepts.”
So for the car, the team has a plan B. Is that also in place in case Hamilton doesn’t renew his contract and leaves?
“Even though we are open about how we need to turn the car around, it is not the right time to talk about the driver situation in 2024,” Wolff waves it off.
“It’s far too early. We all have to go in the same direction, the drivers, the engineers, the whole management, instead of throwing in the towel,” affirms the Mercedes team boss. “We have never done that before and we will not do it.”