Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Bahrain was still “in our heads” as the team pushed Lewis Hamilton and George Russell towards being too cautious on their tyres in Jeddah.
It has not been the start to F1 2023 which Mercedes had in mind, with their P5 and P7 result at the season opener in Bahrain stinging the eight-time Constructors’ champs, and as Hamilton and Wolff proved, creating a serious test for the team’s no-blame culture.
The Saudi Arabian GP meanwhile was a better outing for Mercedes as a whole, Russell crossing the line P4 and Hamilton P5, the latter having benefitted from the timing of the Safety Car as he pitted to ditch the hard tyres which he started on in order to take the mediums, giving him an advantage over the field mostly now running on hards.
Hamilton though could not find a way past his team-mate, that situation proving to be a rather complicated one, as Russell had made his case for not yielding to Hamilton on the basis that Fernando Alonso ahead had a five-second penalty, only to be told that the Aston Martin driver had already served it. More on that shortly…
But as for Mercedes’ race, Russell and Hamilton were unable to get anywhere close to Alonso before the chequered flag, confirming that P4/P5 result.
However, that briefly became P3 and a podium for Russell, the stewards hitting Alonso with a 10-second post-race penalty, arguing that the rear jackman had ‘begun work’ on the AMR23 in the pits before the full five seconds of his original penalty was fully served.
Alonso then took part in the podium celebrations but the trophy was to be handed to Russell, only for him to later give it back when Aston Martin were successful in an appeal. A 100th career podium it was then for Alonso after all of those shenanigans.
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But, while Mercedes team boss Wolff did not say exactly what more he thought was possible in Saudi Arabia, he did suggest that Russell and Hamilton probably could have pushed harder on their tyres, Mercedes’ experiences in Bahrain having in hindsight caused them to be overly cautious on tyre management.
“Today was positive and we’d rather take a small trophy home than none,” said Wolff before Alonso was reinstated to the podium.
“I think we saw some performance gains to Bahrain which is encouraging. It shows us that the development trajectory is going in the right direction.
“I think both of our drivers under our guidance probably over-managed their tyres a bit, and we had a little more pace. Bahrain is still in our heads, and we could have maybe pushed more.
“It was a strong driver from George and a great recovery from Lewis to get solid points. Red Bull are still far away in terms of performance and that won’t be easy to catch. Nevertheless, today we’ve seen that our development is heading in the way we want to head.”
After two rounds of the F1 2023 World Championship, Mercedes sit P3 with 38 points in the Constructors’ standings and level with customer team outfit Aston Martin. There is already quite a sizeable gap to Red Bull, who are sitting very pretty on 87 points.