Damon Hill makes huge Mercedes claim that will alert dominant Red Bull

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton standing outside the Mercedes garage looking at the updated W14. Monaco May 2023

Lewis Hamilton standing outside the Mercedes garage looking at the updated W14. Monaco May 2023

There’s good news and bad news for Mercedes with Damon Hill believing they have a “title contender in their back pocket”, but alas it won’t be on the track before next season.

As Max Verstappen claimed a record-breaking 10th successive win at the Italian Grand Prix, Mercedes left Monza with Toto Wolff stating they can’t be “satisfied” with their fifth and sixth in the classification.

The race marked the 10th grand prix this season in which Mercedes were denied the champagne celebrations, the W14 not a match for the rampant RB19 nor Ferrari’s Monza-specific SF-23.

Could Mercedes challenge Red Bull for next year’s titles?

Next season, though, could be a very different story according to Hill.

With Mercedes trackside engineering director Shovlin having made it known the team’s “entire focus” is already on their 2024 car, Hill believes the Brackley squad “probably” has a title-contending car on the drawing board.

Alas, it won’t be seen before next season as this year’s car cannot be adapted to fit what has already been billed by Mercedes as “fundamental changes”.

“I think they’re beavering away back at the factory in Brackley furiously and they probably have a title contender in their back pocket,” Hill told Sky Sports News.

“They just can’t use it this year because it won’t fit on this particular car, so it won’t be until next year when we’ll see that.”

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Having this season ditched their zero-pod concept in favour of bigger bulgier sidepods, Wolff has promised even more fundamental changes with 2024’s W15.

“The direction our team is developing is really quite interesting,” he said. “We see opportunities and we are not shying away [from anything]. We are leaving no stone unturned, and looking at every single concept that we’ve seen on other cars.

“That is whether that’s powerful or not and whether it’s of any use for us, without letting ourselves be distracted from the way we operate, and the way we analyse. We are going to come up good.”

Lewis Hamilton hopes in the W15 he will have a car that is “capable of fighting for victory from the first race”, one that will be “at the front, be competitive, “compete with the others.”

He added: “I don’t want to chase after the others again next season. I don’t want to play hunter for another year.”

As for his teammate George Russell, who joined Mercedes last season and therefore missed the heydays of one championship title after another, he hopes the W15 can recapture that glory.

“I think we’re working really hard on the characteristics for next year,” he said of next year’s car. “We’re looking a lot at how the previous generations of cars were for Mercedes during the glory years, and using that as a bit of inspiration, as clearly that was one of the best cars in history.

“So that’s given us some pointers on where we need to try and aim for.”

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