‘Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff exaggerated the Mercedes crisis a bit’

Michelle Foster
Mercedes team principal Lewis Hamilton speaking to Toto Wolff in the garage, hand gesture. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton speaking to Toto Wolff in the garage at the 2023 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.

Mercedes’ W14 is not as bad as the team has made it out to be, that’s according to former Ferrari engineer Ernest Knoors who says talk of a crisis was “exaggerated”.

Mercedes arrived at the first grand prix of this season in Bahrain worried about the pace of their W14, six tenths down on the Red Bull in qualifying and 50 seconds behind in the race strongly suggesting their fears were justified.

It had motorsport boss Toto Wolff saying he does “not think this package is going to be competitive eventually” while Lewis Hamilton criticised the team for not listening to him about what the car needed.

Wolff subsequently admitted Mercedes had “got it wrong” with their concept, the team boss promising “radical changes” if the current development plan was “not enough”.

And then Hamilton put the car on the podium at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Briton was P2 on merit in a race that both he and his team-mate George Russell briefly led, Hamilton keeping the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso at bay to finish runner-up to Max Verstappen.

Former Ferrari and BMW engineer Knoors reckons they exaggerated their car’s woes.

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“Of course this is not yet what they want,” Knoors said to Motorsport.com after the Australian GP.

“Mercedes naturally thought ‘we want to fight for the championship again this year.’ Hamilton naturally always wants to be in front of Russell within that team, those are things that haven’t fallen into place.

“I think that’s why Hamilton said ‘we are in crisis.’ I always thought that was a bit of an exaggeration.

“He said that after Bahrain and yes Bahrain was bad, but in Saudi Arabia and especially in this race you saw that the Mercedes is not yet at the level of Red Bull, but it is good.”

Hamilton was the only Mercedes driver to score on the day, the seven-time World Champion up to 38 points in the standings, with Russell retiring with an engine failure.

That, Knoors says, will be a concern for Mercedes as reliability was a strength of theirs last season.

“It is worrying that Russell dropped out with reliability problems,” he said. “That was of course a strong point of them last season. They barely had any technical breakdowns, right down to that one time with Lewis right at the end [in Abu Dhabi].

“Now they have something that breaks. That is perhaps more of a concern than the pace they said they missed.

“I actually think that the crisis was exaggerated a bit by Wolff and Hamilton. Maybe it was more that Hamilton was not feeling good than that the car was really bad.”

But, having said that, he doesn’t believe Mercedes suddenly have the pace to challenge Red Bull for the race wins.

“I think Mercedes will have its ups and downs, but that is the same for Aston Martin,” he said. “Red Bull is more stable in my opinion. Ferrari will also have its ups and downs.

“Of course it also depends on how your concept and tyres fit a particular track. I think Hamilton and Mercedes in general will just be second or third.

“One can hope that when they bring a different concept or further development, they will further close the gap to Red Bull.”

But was Hamilton’s P2 track-dependent?

Wolff says yes, the nature of the Albert Park circuit “definitely helped” Mercedes this past weekend.

Although Mercedes have done better since Bahrain, Russell 5.1s shy of the podium in Saudi Arabia and Hamilton on it in Melbourne, the team was surprised by their pace around the Albert Park circuit,

Predicting P5 to P8 in qualifying, neither driver expected to be second or third on the grid although it could be argued that Ferrari, having a lacklustre qualifying, gave them a helping hand on that one.

Wolff says the circuit also made the team look better than “we should be”.

“I think definitely an advantage for us,” he said of the Albert Park circuit.

“Our car lacks a little bit of performance in the rear end and the track definitely helped us so I think that made us look a little bit better than we should be.

“But we know where the weaknesses are and we just need to sort them out.”