Light at the end of the tunnel for Mercedes after title run derailed

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, driving in Singapore. Singapore, September 2022.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton turns the corner during Friday's free practice session. Singapore, September 2022.

Although Mercedes saw their streak as Formula 1 Constructors’ champs end with a whimper, they did give themselves reason for optimism.

An all-new regulatory cycle is the perfect base for a shake-up of the Formula 1 pecking order, but with Mercedes having won eight Constructors’ titles on the bounce, it was expected that they would remain a contender for further glory, even in spite of the sweeping changes.

There was plenty of scepticism when Mercedes started claiming that their W13 was off the pace, but as the season-opener in Bahrain arrived, it became clear that the W13 was indeed struggling with no sandbags to dispose of, either.

Starting the season comfortably adrift of Ferrari and Red Bull, it was Mercedes’ struggles with porpoising, a bouncing phenomenon associated with these new ground-effect challengers, which served as the early roadblock. Until Mercedes got a grasp on that, it was hard for them to focus on outright performance.

But considering these dark times which Mercedes found themselves in, their recovery was certainly encouraging. Their pole position courtesy of George Russell in Hungary was something of a false dawn considering the nightmare Belgian GP which followed, but slowly the situation improved.

That being said, the main issue for Mercedes in 2022 was the continued lack of consistency. Lewis Hamilton was contending for the win in Austin, followed by another P2 in Mexico, and then the ultimate highlight arrived as Russell won the Sao Paulo sprint and Grand Prix, Hamilton making it a one-two.

But, that was followed by a season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where, at a circuit providing an all-round test of the cars with fast, medium and low-speed corners, Mercedes once more had no answer for Ferrari and Red Bull.

Without doubt a timely reminder for the team of the work that lies ahead over the winter, but certainly not a result which should cancel out the positives that Mercedes found in a very challenging season.

Learning the W13’s weaknesses in brutal fashion, Mercedes are a team that know how to win consistently and all of this experience and learning must go into the W14, while they know now that they have the driver line-up capable of adding further titles to the collection.

There were some question marks surrounding Hamilton after the events of Abu Dhabi 2021, could he truly bounce back from that? The early signs suggested perhaps not, Hamilton looking below his best in the troublesome W13, but as he became the team’s motivator and the W13 started to come good, we saw displays reminiscent of the Hamilton we have grown accustomed to.

And alongside him is a driver in Russell who Mercedes now know can win races, and can withstand the pressure of a seven-time World Champion in Hamilton harrying him across the line in Brazil. Russell feels ready to be a title challenger in the right car, which he expected to have in 2022, and it is hard to argue that he could not be.

One of the key talking points regarding this Hamilton-Russell partnership was how harmonious it would prove to be, Hamilton having enjoyed the company of the placid Valtteri Bottas for the past five years. The last thing Mercedes wanted was anything remotely reminiscent of the Hamilton-Nico Rosberg days.

But, Hamilton and Russell proved they could be collaborative both in terms of pushing Mercedes towards the goal of unlocking more performance, and in their interactions on the track.

Now, it is impossible to say that this relationship will not change if Mercedes do return to title-challenging ways, but at this stage it is only possible to call what you see, and it appears that Mercedes have the ideal combination of speed and co-operation in their driver pairing to mount Constructors’ and Drivers’ title challenges.

With the regulations remaining stable for 2023, it is highly unlikely that Red Bull will slip out of title contention, even with their reduction in wind tunnel time, while Ferrari are also expected to be back in the game, so if Mercedes return to the conversation then they are very likely to come up against these two familiar rivals.

But in such a scenario, 2022 served to prove that Mercedes are well positioned to challenge again, that last puzzle piece is a W14 which is consistently strong, not just occasionally.

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