Ex-Mercedes chief delivers worrying update on prospects of Red Bull title fight

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bul driver Sergio Perez battles with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023. Track limits

Red Bull's Sergio Perez battles with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023.

Former Mercedes strategy chief and now Williams boss James Vowles believes his former employer have little chance of an imminent return to the F1 title scene.

While Mercedes did win one grands prix in 2022, the first season in this new era of ground effect challengers, the W13, with its distinctive ‘zero-pod’ concept, was never a true rival for Red Bull’s RB18 as they romped to a comfortable title double.

And while Mercedes did move to ditch their unique take on the regulations early in F1 2023, the initial momentum coming from that performance boost has now started to fizzle out, with McLaren jumping to the head of the ‘best of the rest’ queue, which had consisted of Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari at the most recent outing at Silverstone.

James Vowles claims Mercedes need at least six months

Vowles ended his long-standing association with the Brackley outfit to take up the Williams team boss role ahead of the F1 2023 campaign, and while he believes Mercedes will challenge runaway leaders Red Bull again, who are undefeated in F1 2023, he does not see that happening until next season at the earliest.

This is due to Mercedes having lost precious development time after following the wrong path with their previous concept.

“I think Mercedes lost a year of development while I was there, simply because the direction they went in was so different to the rest of the pack,” Vowles is quoted by Marca.

“They will get back to the front, but I think it will take them another six to 12 months to be able to do that.

“Their comeback will start slowly, but it will come, I’m sure. They will learn about the package and how to develop it because it’s an amazing organisation.”

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Perhaps this Mercedes timescale is influencing Lewis Hamilton?

For months now it has been teased that Hamilton and Mercedes are on the brink of agreeing a new contract, the seven-time World Champion’s current deal set to expire after the F1 2023 campaign.

The wait though goes on, which has led to speculation that Hamilton is biding his time and assessing this Mercedes recovery mission. That record eighth World Championship is his goal, he wants to fight for it next season, but can Mercedes provide the challenger required?

Well, if Vowles’ prediction of a six to 12-month period before Mercedes can return to the front of the grid comes true, then this surely will only cast further doubt in the mind of Hamilton when it comes to that new contract.

Of course, the lower end of that scale would see Mercedes in the F1 2024 title fight, so they best hope they can convince Hamilton that their absence from the top of the F1 mountain will stretch on no further than that.

Otherwise, we could be facing one of F1’s most iconic partnerships coming to an end.