The Mercedes AMG F1 team appear to be coming apart at the seams. The drivers are constantly questioning the teams race strategy decisions and George Russell in particular is becoming more vocal with the passing of each race.
Toto Wolff made some extraordinary comments following the recent Sau Paulo Grand Prix where Mercedes had hoped to repeat their feats from 2022. There George Russell won the race while the Red Bull drivers squabbled over sixth and seventh place.
Russell questions Mercedes performance in Brazil
This year the Mercedes cars were never competitive with Russell challenging his team mate lap after lap, but the call never came for Hamilton to let his quicker team mate through. George finally overheated his car and was forced to retire from the race.
“We obviously got something very wrong. We’re not sure what that was yet but the pace just hasn’t been there,” said the young Mercedes driver.
“You clearly don’t go from a podium-worthy car to one that is one second off the front, so it’s been very strange.”
Lewis Hamilton finished both the previous races in second place, though he was later disqualified for his car running at an illegal height in Austin Texas.
Toto Wolff scathing
“In the end, we were suffering from high oil temperatures in the power unit and that caused us to retire. That topped off what was a difficult day” a philosophic Russell told assembled media.
Toto Wolff was scathing about the performance in Brazil. “Swings [of performance] are on, but swings are not on from being almost quickest to being wherever we ended up…eighth,” he said.
“For me, personally, the worst weekend in 13 years.
“Totally baffling. At the same time unacceptable for all of us. We are a proper structure, solid team and that didn’t look like a solid team.”
Have Mercedes ever had a great aero car design?
Hamilton finished the race in Interlagos over 62 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen and he was the next but one car to be lapped by the new triple world champion.
Mercedes are used to dominating Formula One championships with seven drivers’ titles and eight team championships scored in consecutive years from 2014.
Yet the Brackley outfit began their rule of Formula One when the new engine formula came into being back in 2014. They had spent a reported $1bn on research and development and their V6 turbo hybrid was light years ahead of their competition.
Questions now are being asked as to whether Mercedes really understand aerodynamics as well as their competitors and whether their dominance was mostly related to their power unit superiority.
Kravitz questions whether “dream team” can be revived
Sky Sports Ted Kravitz questioned in his post race summary whether the Mercedes dream team has fallen apart and wonders whether it can ever be rebuilt.
“I ask myself, it’s the first race since the departure of their chief technical officer Mike Elliott, who was instrumental in so much of their success, even though he was in charge of the design group which got these last two cars so wrong, is the Mercedes dream team changing fundamentally now in a way that they can quickly bounce back and become that dream team again?”
Of course Elliot was replaced vy James Allison who oversaw the last three of the Mercedes constructor wins and is back at the helm as technical director.
Kravitz continues suggesting the brain drain Mercedes have suffered may be hard to replace.
Mercedes too stubborn to change their car concept
“James Allison is still there, Toto Wolff is still there, Andrew Shovlin is still there, but there has been some key departures – Andy Cowell, James Vowles, the Italian engineer [Aldo Costa].
“And I’m just wondering, like all dream teams change, whether there is some transformation about this team, and whether they’re going through a bit of a change and whether that dream team ethic and quality can survive next year?”
Now ex-F1 champion driver and Sky expert pundit Damon Hill adds his weight to the view there are problems in Brackley and they sit firmly with the aerodynamics team.
Mercedes came up with a completely different design concept when the big rule changes came into force in 2022 and they stubbornly refused to switch to a more Red Bull kind of design this year too.
Red Bull high rake design prevails
“My anxiety is this, which is that for a long time, Mercedes’ dominance really was down to their power unit. They had the best power unit for a very long time,” Hill told the Sky Sports F1 Podcast.
“And the aerodynamics were always slightly different to Red Bull’s. And if you remember towards the end of the previous Formula 1 regulations, they persisted with their relatively flat looking rake on the car, whereas Red Bull were absolutely huge.”
Red Bull’s design guru Adrian New has always based his cars around a high rake (rear end) and the cars Vettel won his four titles with between 2010-2014 all had a noticeable high rake
“They [Red Bull] led the way and everyone started following Red Bull with this very high rake. It looked like a rat running along the car. It had a very high back,” Hill observed.
Hill questions Mercedes aero team
“But Mercedes stuck persistently or doggedly with their with their other… they looked like they were running a different aero concept on their car in the previous regulations, and then along come a new set of regulations…
“What I’m saying is, is the Mercedes aero department missing a trick here?”
“And they’ve lost quite a few good aero people to other teams as well, over time.”
The real concern for Mercedes is the Brackley squad is two customer teams McLaren and Aston Martin have repeatedly been far better than their power unit supplier for significant periods during the 2023 F1 season.
Mercedes so far behind they may not recover
Aston Martin finished a lowly 7th place last year yet were the best of the rest at the start of 2023 with Fernando Alonso claiming 5 podiums in the first sic races. The Spaniard following his P3 in Sau Paulo now has more podiums that both the Mercedes drivers put together.
Clearly the Mercedes engineers tried to evolve their 2013 W13 which was berated by both Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton. Now the team boss admits they will be starting over for 2024 but the question is how much of the learning curve for a new concept remains a shot in the dark.
McLaren and Aston Martin switched their basic car concept towards that of Red Bull and then to took some time before they were competitive. Mercedes are very late to the party and there is no guarantee their Red Bull look a like 2024 challenger will his the ground running.
Mercedes are so far behind the party when they reveal their 2024 challenger the learning done by everyone else with this concept will be a blank piece of paper for the former world champions.
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