James Allison’s ‘pretty punchy’ prediction brings new hope for Mercedes

Oliver Harden
Lewis Hamilton drives upgraded Mercedes W14. Belgium, July 2023.

Lewis Hamilton drives the upgraded Mercedes W14 at Spa-Francorchamps. Belgium, July 2023.

Mercedes technical director James Allison has warned the team are “on a very good path” to return to title contention in the F1 2024 season.

Mercedes entered the 2023 campaign aiming for title glory after being restricted to just a single victory in the first year of the ground effect regulations in 2022, but were forced into a redesign of the W14 car after a poor performance at the opening round in Bahrain.

A heavily revised chassis arrived ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix at the end of May, but the team’s on-track performance has remained erratic in the months since.

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Lewis Hamilton, without a win since the penultimate round of the 2021 season, warned after a demoralising showing in Japan that Mercedes are facing a crucial six months of development in their hopes of getting on terms with Max Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull team this year.

Speaking to Sky F1 following the opening practice session at the Qatar GP, Allison feels Mercedes now have a full understanding of where they have been going wrong – and stressed the importance of getting the 2024 car right ahead of F1’s next rules reset in 2026.

He said: “You can’t promise anything because everyone’s working hard – all the teams are pretty decent – but I think we’re on a very good path. I think that much of what ails us now is reasonably well understood and we’re working to fix that.

“It’s extremely exciting – and [Hamilton is] right about it being a very important period because all of us have got half an eye on the fact that 2026 is coming down the tracks at us. 2026 [is] big rule change again, tear everything up, start all over again – and that will have to be done in the 2025 season under a cost cap.

“So in order to have the sort of firepower to do that, it’s going to mean that probably [the] 2025 car will not be all new, which means that what you do for ’24 will echo into ’25 as well because a lot of carryover will have to happen.

“So hugely important to set the tone for what 2024 and 2025 will turn into.”

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McLaren’s impressive rate of improvement from a poor start to the season has been suggested as a template for Mercedes to follow, with Allison convinced that the team are moving ever closer in design towards Red Bull.

He explained: “McLaren was certainly ahead of us in the last race, with us the race before, on average over the last five we’ve been there or thereabouts with them.

“But absolutely chapeau to them for having come from more or less the worst car – or vying for it – to being second quickest in the last race weekend. That makes us see what’s doable, but actually that isn’t most of our focus.

“It’s more that when you look at any of the cars on the grid and you see the type of corners they’re strong in, the type of corners they’re weak in, you can sort of reverse engineer a bit from that. What are the characteristics that will prosper over a season as a whole?

“You can see the McLaren moving towards the direction of a Red Bull. Forget the look at the car, but in terms of the way it performs on a track and this really impressive 225/250kph performance, that gives a lot of signals about what they’re targeting in order to be strong around the tracks of all the Championship.

“So that’s useful guide, a useful thing to let you know whether you think you’re barking up the right tree or the wrong tree.”

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