‘Could you imagine Christian letting Toto off if they’d gone more akin to the Red Bull?’

Michelle Foster
Toto Wolff and Christian Horner looking glum in the pre-season press conference. Bahrain F1 February 2023

Toto Wolff and Christian Horner looking glum in the pre-season press conference. Bahrain February 2023

Although Toto Wolff would “not have heard the end of it” had Mercedes put a Red Bull-esque W14 on the track, Martin Brundle is convinced the Mercedes team boss would not have let ego dictate his decision.

Following a lacklustre, by their standards, Bahrain Grand Prix where Mercedes were trounced by Red Bull with both cars also overtaken by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, there’s been a great deal of talk about the team’s W14 and the possibility of them swapping design concepts.

Motorsport boss Wolff lamented after the race that he did “not think this package is going to be competitive eventually” and that Mercedes needed to “decide the development direction that we want to pursue.”

The team has since confirmed “radical changes” are coming although Wolff has hinted this may not impact the much-talked-about zero-pod design as he insists it’s “not just about the sidepods or how the car looks from the outside.”

It has Sky Sports F1 senior producer Jess McFadyen questioning whether ego, and the on-going war-of-words between Wolff and his Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner, could be playing a role in Mercedes’ decision not to embrace a more Red Bull-esque look.

“The cynic in me says that they just could not have turned up in Bahrain with a copycat Red Bull,” she said on the Sky Sports F1 podcast. “Could you imagine Christian letting Toto off if they dropped their no sidepod concept and came out with what more and more of the teams we’ve seen doing which is more akin to the Red Bull?

“Toto would not have heard the end of it if they had abandoned that that concept and come back without their no sidepod concept.

“The cynic in me also says that development wise taking it back to square one would just not have been tenable.

“There is also that part of me that goes they love a tete-a-tete do Horner and Toto Wolff and I don’t know if they could have survived a ‘Oh, so you have copied us then’ kind of scenario.”

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‘A man’s ego is a very ugly thing’

Brundle, however, doesn’t believe chirps from Horner would have affected Wolff if his Mercedes engineers believed the Red Bull style sidepods were the best way forward.

“Well Christian would have loved it, wouldn’t he?” Brundle replied to McFadyen before laughing about the Red Bull team boss’ dig at Aston Martin for racing an “old” Red Bull, “and so he’s having a good old poke at Aston Martin instead.”

But, on a serious note, he continued: “A man’s ego is a very ugly thing but if it gets in the way of your Formula 1 car performing then you’ve definitely got the cart before the horse.

“Engineers, in my experience, thinking in zeros and ones would have analysed the whole situation to death and decided to stick with that. I don’t think it would have been based on what Christian might have said on Sky F1 or Netflix about Toto.

“Engineers, designers, they’re not hardwired like that at all. They’re sort of into what they do.

“I’m pretty sure if the engineers and designers and aerodynamicists had gone to Toto and said ‘if we do it like that, we think will be three quarters of a second a lap faster’. I think Toto would have parked his ego to be honest.”

‘You just don’t know what’s going to happen at the next race’

The former F1 driver turned pundit has also ruled out writing Mercedes off as Formula 1 heads to the Jeddah circuit for round two of the championship, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“My experience is we go to Saudi and Mercedes win the race and all that stuff comes caving in on your head,” he said. “It is a different track layout and they might they might have found some things with it.

“Mercedes are a mighty team, there’s a lot of clever people there. They’ve lost some clever people, but there were hundreds more are left behind so I wouldn’t write them off.

“But it is absolutely clear that they do need to find something pretty magical with that car. And looking at it on the grid, on the basis of if it looks right it is right, it’s not right.

“It’s not a good looking car. It just looks lumpy. When you look at the side of the Red Bull it just looks right somehow and the same with the Aston.

“So unless Mercedes have already got some kind of change of the architecture, of the fundamental aerodynamic architecture of their car in the pipeline, it might take some time, but always leave a little bit spare because you just don’t know what’s going to happen at the next race which is what I love about Formula 1 and love sport in particular.”

“But,” he admits, “the form books suggest it’s Red Bull comfortably.”