As a team Mercedes came into this Formula One season believing they could genuinely challenge for world championships. Compare this to Alpine who set their sights on being much closer to third place and scoring around 200 more points than last season.
At the launch of the W14 in February this year Toto Wolff stated, “Our hopes and expectations are always to be capable of fighting for a world championship.”
Mercedes season target to win titles
“However, our competitors were very strong last year, and we are playing catch-up,” he added with a note of realism.
However, Wolff’s response to what appeared to be just one poor qualifying session prior to the first race of the season in Bahrain revealed behind the scenes tensions had grown during the winter.
There has clearly been a divide over the future direction of Mercedes car development and it can easily be distilled into two choices.
- scrapping the philosophy behind the W13 and copying a Ferrari or Red Bull type solution or
- ploughing on believing Mercedes unique path for the new ground effect cars will eventually come good.
Wolff’s outburst decides the fate of the W14
Wolff’s outburst appeared to make the final adjudication in Bahrain when he said, “I don’t think that this package is going to be competitive eventually.”
“We gave it our best go, also over the winter, and now we just need to all regroup, sit down with the engineers….”
Scrapping an entire body of work that would have begun soon after the summer break last year was an incredible suggestion for Wolff to make.
And this new target was based on doing what was required for the team to win world championships again.
Starting over is a huge body of work
Yet of course to scrap the body of work Mercedes have delivered for almost two years and start again is not without risk.
It means for certain that any hope of winning a title this season must be sacrificed. Being used to winning consecutive drivers’ and constructor titles since 2014 made it doubly difficult for Mercedes to face up to their reality – as did Alpine.
Since Bahrain, the Mercedes car has again looked much improved and without the astonishing steps forward made by Aston Martin, would clearly be the main challenger to Red Bull racing.
However, Toto Wolff is wary about Mercedes making the same mistake as last season; something he describes to motorsport.com as the “perfect storm.”
Mercedes duped by end of year results
The team’s confidence grew in their design philosophy as Wolff recounts:
“It got better and better and better. We were competitive in the American races. We won in Interlagos, we knew that Abu Dhabi [where Mercedes struggled] is a bit different.
“That was the perfect storm for us. It wasn’t good for 2023. We thought we were on the right track and the concept works. But it didn’t.
Despite Lewis Hamilton’s P2 last time out in Australia, Wolff’s comments appear to suggest the team is committed to the complete redesign of the W14 he declared to be ‘the new way’ in Bahrain.
Mercedes revised goal to beat Aston Martin
In terms of targets, Mercedes are finding it tough to set them below anything other than winning titles each year. However, it appears Toto and Mercedes have come to accept that just “shooting for the stars” may not be delivering.
“I don’t want to change the targets yet about fighting for a world championship, even though it doesn’t look realistic,” he explained to motorsport.com
“But I want to keep the motivation high to do the best possible job. And we’re bringing quite some steps, a change of car layout from Imola onwards and we must see how that performs.
“There is one team that’s well ahead of everybody else. And then there are three teams with Ferrari, Aston Martin and us that are competing for the rest.
“And I think we need to beat these two guys, before you can dream about coming back, before you can aim to win a championship. So, this is like a two-way objective.”
Imola upgrades no silver bullett
The Imola upgrades were revealed by technical director Mike Elliot back in February as the first developments they would bring this season and as such will continue to be the evolution of the W13/14 aero philosophy.
Whether the enhanced W14 will deliver the promise Mercerdes technical staff always believed in, is yet to see.
Should the car make a leap ahead of the Aston Martin, it could be Mercedes find themselves in another “perfect storm” before they fully switch to either a Red Bull or Ferrari type design philosophy.
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