Wolff clarifies in Monaco that Mercedes with updates “no worse” than the car before as yet with a mix of reports on the big overhaul.
“As I said, Monaco is certainly not the ideal place to evaluate updates or changes to the car,” says Mercedes driver George Russell. Yet it is the very question about what has been changed that is the most frequently asked after Formula 1’s Friday practice for the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff answers it on Sky: “At least the update is not much worse than the car was before. That’s a good thing for Monaco already.”
Lewis Hamilton, seven-time Formula One world champion, says his W14 Mercedes feels “good overall” with the new parts. He says the changes to the car have been “noticeable”.
What Mercedes has changed on the W14
“I don’t want to say anything about the specific areas in which the team has made improvements,” Hamilton continues. Only this much: “Hopefully we now have a platform on which we can build…”
And that platform is dramatically different from the previous stage of Mercedes racing car development. Or as Wolff puts it, “The whole bodywork is different, plus the front axle and the underbody.”
But first things first: On the front suspension, Mercedes has raised the upper wishbones and also changed their shape. “This improves the flow of air to the side box and thus also the cooling performance of the car,” the team explains.
At the front edge of the underbody, Mercedes has changed the angle of attack of the turning vanes to direct the air even more specifically under the car and generate more downforce at the rear of the vehicle.
Most noticeable, however, is the new shape of the sidepods, as the “zero pod” concept has been abandoned in favour of a conventional solution. Mercedes expects the high and wide air intake and the new waistline in the side box to “improve the flow to the underbody edge”, which should promote underbody performance and also optimise the airflow to the rear.
The latter is also the purpose of the cantilevered engine cover that the team unveiled in Monaco. However, the cover is also intended to provide more downforce. More downforce is also the keyword for the modified rear wing with a larger angle of attack as well as for the additional cascade winglets on the rear axle of the car.
Russell not at full speed
For all these innovations, Wolff attests to “everyone involved in Brackley” doing a “great job” and Hamilton says “thank you” to his colleagues at the factory.
“Everyone has put in so many hours of hard work so that we can compete here [with the update]. It’s great that we’ve kept it on track.” says Hamilton.
That was not a matter of course: Russell in particular complained loudly on the radio several times in Friday practice about a lack of confidence in the car, and on top of that committed a speed limit offence of 0.2 km/h in the pit lane.
Why was he not as good as Hamilton? “The car was so bad on the rear axle,” says Wolff. “That’s when George said I can’t push on the limit or I’ll put it in the Armco”
Different set-ups among the Mercedes drivers
Which is probably partly down to a different set-up compared to Hamilton in the sister car, Wolff adds: “We drove different set-ups. But now we at least have a direction that will work for George.”
The results at least show a positive trend: in P12 in the second practice session, Russell was exactly 0.233 seconds off Hamilton, who was sixth. In the first session Hamilton had finished third and Russell only P15, with a one-second gap between the Mercedes drivers.
But it remains a deficit on Russell’s side. In a direct comparison, he lost time to Hamilton especially in the very tight parts of the track, specifically in the hairpin, the harbour chicane and again in the area immediately before the start and finish. However, Russell manages to make up some of the gap on the following straights, although not all of it.
READ MORE: Leclerc comments on Hamilton to Ferrari story
A Monaco masterclass #OnThisDay in 2012 as Michael took what would have been his 69th pole position in F1. 👏pic.twitter.com/hAcQW2u2rH
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 26, 2023
How Russell plans to turn things around by Saturday
“I think George needs a few laps to really get going. That was also the case in Baku,” says team boss Wolff. He adds: “It’s important that he improves as well. In qualifying, he’s all in. I’m not worried about that.”
And Russell knows his homework: “We now have to see what we can still get out of the tyres. The basic performance of the car is good.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, wants to have identified “quite clearly” where the performance is lacking in my case, saying. “That’s a topic for our debrief. We will exchange ideas and see what we can do with the resources we have.”
Wolff: No chance against Red Bull in Monaco, but …
But Wolff believes it won’t be enough against Red Bull: “Max [Verstappen] was in his own league on the long run. You can see: He has the power in the car and no tyre wear. But on one lap it was very close on Friday.” He therefore feels “it’s going in the right direction” for Mercedes.
Russell points out that he had “definitely improved” by the second practice session. “But overnight we have to figure something out. Because qualifying is the most important thing this weekend, and qualifying is the session where we struggle the most,” he says. “On Sundays we are always in a better position. That’s what the last year and a half shows.”
So, according to Russell, Mercedes’ mission in Monaco is obvious: to “turn around” the current trend and shine as early as Saturday. But that won’t be easy, because Saturday’s form is not about driving deficits, “but an inherent thing in the car,” says Russell. His conclusion: “Saturday will probably not be easy for us.”
MORE NEWS: Two things that annoy Hamilton
Mercedes had not yet turned up engines to full
Wolff, however, sounds confident when he says: “We didn’t have the engine turned up yet [in free practice]. There might still be a little bit to go. I think in the end it will all be within two or three tenths.”
That could be positive or negative for Mercedes, as Russell adds: “We’ve seen a few times this year that a McLaren, an Alpine or even a Haas finish ahead of us on Saturday but disappear into nowhere on Sunday. If they manage to do that again this time, they are likely to be a problem for us on Sunday.”
“That’s why we need to work on our qualifying pace and put the car itself to the test next week,” Russell said. Especially as Mercedes are half a second off the pace.
For that reason, Hamilton is sceptical of being in contention for the front in Monaco: “I don’t think we have half a second up our sleeve, but we’ll see.” He had “generally had an excellent day” at the Monaco opener and was looking forward to building on that.
Everything else, the final evaluation of the updates, would have to wait until after the weekend. Russell:
“We’re almost pushing our innovations a little bit and then we’ll think about it next weekend [in Barcelona].”
READ MORE: Verstappen laments Honda decision