While its still early in the Formula One season no matter how disappointing the last one each new weekend is a clean sheet, full of fresh hope and an opportunity to discover more about the machine each team believes will be a little better than last time out.
Mercedes high hopes for 2023 following their double win in Sau Paulo at the end of last season have somewhat been dashed as the new W14 has proven to contain more of its predecessor’s DNA than Lewis Hamilton had hoped for.
Mercedes “goodness” emerged
Yet in Miami for FP1 it looked for all the world like the faith Mike Elliot and the technical team from Brackley had in their ground effect concept had come to fruition.
Mercedes have probably forgotten the last time they had a 1-2 at the top of the timesheets on a Friday, as Russell pipped his team mate with a last gasp effort before the chequered flag.
Team boss Toto Wolff echoed the words of Mike Elliot at the W14 launch when after the session he remarked, “The car has some goodness, it is just very tricky to unlock it. When the drivers have confidence, they can go quickly.
“It is on a razor’s edge. This morning we seemed to be in a sweet spot. I don’t think we can extrapolate from this.”
Wolff predicts W14 downfall
With the accuracy of an Old Testament prophet of doom Wolff’s words came back to haunt Lewis and George just over two hours later.
Hamilton could only manage to be seventh quickest while Russell was down in fifteenth some 1.286 seconds slower than the world champion Verstappen’s pace.
A downbeat Lewis Hamilton said after the session, “Same as every weekend – we are a second down. [Miami] is a great place to be but we are not particularly quick and it’s a struggle out there. P1 looked quite good but in P2 the true pace came out.
“I am going to stay hopeful that we can get the car in a better place. We had the extreme bouncing last year but it feels like we are racing the same car.”
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Hamilton desperate for Imola upgrades
Mercedes promised when the car was launched that the first significant upgrades to the W14 would arrive for round six in Imola. These of course will be the ones planned by Mike Elliot while he was still the team’s technical director.
Any realistic input from the returning James Allison who has replaced Elliot will only realistically make it onto the car following the summer break in September.
However, Lewis is desperate for anything to improve the current machinery, despite his differences with Elliot over the car design.
“There isn’t just one thing,” he explained. “I’m trying to stay positive with it. We’re working as hard as we can it’s just we desperately need those upgrades, that’s for sure.
“Just got to keep our head down for one more race and hopefully we’ll start a new path at the next race.”
De Ja Vu for Russell
George Russell recalled how the team fared in Miami at last years inaugural event.
“Similar thing to last year when we were quickest on Friday and then knocked out in Q2 on Saturday.
“The car just changed even from the medium [tyre] run in P2. I felt strong, was on a good lap which would have put me in the top four and then put the soft tyres on and the car just wasn’t working for me.
“I think we understand a little bit why that is and have time to improve things overnight. Fine margins.
“If we get things right, there is no reason we can’t be ahead of Ferrari and Aston Martin.”
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Clearly the Jekel and Hyde nature of the Mercedes car could easily see a repeat of qualifying last year where Lewis Hamilton wrestled his steed to P6 while Russell failed to make Q2 and started in P12.
Meanwhile up front Max Verstappen was back to his imposing best after a weekend in Baku where he was second best on single lap pace to both a Ferrari and his team mate.
The Dutchman pulled out a lap time 0.385 seconds quicker than Sainz, with Leclerc just 0.083secs further adrift.
After his weekend of glory, Sergio Perez could only manage fourth, 0.489secs off his team-mate.
Perez mistakes costly
The Mexican driver explained, “We have been trying a few things with the mechanical balance and we learned quite a bit,” Perez said.
“My lap was also pretty bad. I locked up on the final corner so there is quite a bit to come. I am not driving really well today. So if I can improve my driving and get myself a bit more comfortable, it should be fine.”
Verstappen however had a “positive day.”
“Initially it was [tough] getting used to the track a bit with the new Tarmac,” he said. “It was ramping up a lot through the day but I always felt good in the car and we had a good balance in it so I felt happy.”
There’s questionable weather expected around the time of Saturday’s qualifying and so Mercedes have a glimmer of hope that in damp conditions it is Dr, Jekel – not Mr. Hyde – who shows up incarnate in the form of the W14.
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Yuki's not happy 😡#MiamiGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/vweJKmBmhW
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