TJ13 has persistently reported since Barcelona last season that there has been more than just creative tension within the Mercedes Formula One team.
Lewis Hamilton first criticised the concept his team’s car designer had adopted to the new ‘ground force’ regulations after the failed big upgrade at the 2022 Spanish GP.
Hamilton called out failed concept early 2022
The British driver persisted with his coded criticism and eventually the team’s technical director Mike Elliot responded with a ‘bare all’ interview at the Belgium GP designed to defend the ideas Mercedes had adopted.
Elliot did admit to “one crucial mistake” made in the autumn of 2021 but refused to reveal exactly the nature of the error. Yet Elliot did not accept the concept of the W13 was wrong, just that the “mistake” had made fine tuning the bouncing out of the car much more difficult.
“And when you sort of think about strengths and weaknesses, we could probably talk circuit to circuit, but I think we look back and you look at how we developed the car, and I could point to one moment in time last year, where we did something that I think we made a mistake, and what you’re seeing in terms of performance at the track and the way it swings from race to race is a consequence of that.
Mercedes new tech director refused to accept concept wrong
“And that’s a mistake we’ve known about for a little while. And it’s something we’ve been correcting.
“And that’s why our performance has gradually got better, but it’s not something that we can fully correct for a little while yet. We will do over the winter.”
Clearly Elliots intention then was to evolve the W13 concept rather than “start again” as Hamilton preferred.
Yet just a few weeks later in October Toto Wolff appeared to lend his weight to Hamilton’s side of the debate by telling Motorsportweek.com, “The DNA of the car is going to change for next year, that’s clear.”
W14 was not what Hamilton asked for
Of course by then the design team would have been well under way with this seasons challenger.
At the launch of this years W14 Mike Elliot was clear stating, he believed there was “a lot of goodness” they had taken from the W13.
The Mercedes head of technical continued though in a somewhat defensive fashion.
“After eight years of winning back-to-back World Championships and then having a poor year, many might expect that we would be tearing up the drawings and starting again but that’s not the case,”
Mercedes tech boss defiant
If anything a clearly defiant Elliot concluded, “There’s significant changes in the bodywork, the core DNA is the same.”
This was clearly the rhetoric of a man who had been forced to fight his corner time and again and Elliot’s defiant assertion that the DNA remained was in direct contradiction of Wolff’s comments late in 2022.
Its now clear the internal arguments over the concept Mercedes technical team adopted to cope with the new ‘ground effect’ regulations have been bitter and prolonged.
Elliot fiddles while Rome burs
The sheer speed with which Toto Wolff proclaimed the death of the W14 after just one race was astonishing.
Less than two days earlier following an FP1 session in Bahrain where the Mercedes cars were 11th and 12th, Mike Elliot was discussing the pending upgrades with the assembled press.
“It’s part of the normal development. We have got a very different sidepod coming – I say very different, a different sidepod that’s coming,” Elliot concurred.
I think Toto said that in the press. But it takes time to bring that. It takes time to make the bits, it takes time to change the bits that go underneath the bodywork to fit, so we’ll bring it as soon as we can.”
Elliot’s tinkering with the underbelly of the W14 has now proven to be filling while Rome burned.
Wolff calls off failed W13/14 project
36 hours later a tempestuous Wolff was calling for a complete rethink when the team reassembled on Tuesday in Brackley.
“I don’t think this package is going to be competitive eventually,”
“We gave it our best go over the winter and now we need to regroup, sit down with the engineers, who are totally not dogmatic about anything, there are no holy cows, and decide what is the development direction that we want to pursue in order to be competitive to win races.”
Wolff’s behaviour reveals bitter internal struggle
For Wolff to make such a strategic decision in an off the cuff and very public fashion reveals clearly he’s had enough of the internal battles raging within the Mercedes team.
Hamilton’s subsequent outburst and demand for an apology merely confirms the revelation that Mercedes technical team have been a law unto themselves and insisted their car design is the right way to go – and by logical extension that Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin’s concept is inferior.
Hamilton told the BBC that “last year, there were things I told them. I said the issues that are with the car.”
“I’ve driven so many cars in my life. I know what a car needs. I know what a car doesn’t need. I think it’s really about accountability.”
“It’s about owning up and saying, ‘Yeah, you know what? We didn’t listen to you. It’s not where it needs to be and we’ve got to work’,” Lewis concluded.
Mike Elliot succeeded James Allison in 2021 as the Mercedes technical director and so it is understandable why he has defended his design concept to the hilt.
Mercedes technical director must resign
But in the cold light of day, it is Elliot and his team that have delivered what Toto Wolff has now pronounced an abject failure and ended the era of eight consecutive Mercedes constructor titles.
In most commercial organisations such a failure to deliver performance would result in an automatic resignation or dismissal of those responsible for the failure.
Hamilton’s demands for an apology have only heaped further pressure on the embattled Elliot who surely has no choice but to hand in his resignation to Toto Wolff.