Mercedes are “optimistic” of challenging Red Bull for the F1 2024 title now the team are making “reasonable strides” with this year’s W14 car, according to trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
Having been restricted to a single victory in the first season of the ground effect regulations in 2022, Mercedes entered this year with hopes of returning to title contention.
However, a poor performance at the season opener in Bahrain saw the team abandon their divisive zero-pod concept, with a heavily revised W14 appearing for the first time at the Monaco Grand Prix at the end of May.
Additional reporting by Sam Cooper
Mercedes target Red Bull battle in F1 2024
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have claimed four podium finishes between them in the eight races since Monaco with Hamilton setting pole position for July’s Hungarian GP, but the team remain short of challenging the dominant Red Bull outfit, winners of all 13 races in 2023 so far.
Ahead of last weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc claimed Red Bull are unlikely to be caught before F1’s next major regulation change comes into effect in 2026, with Max Verstappen winning 36 of the last 57 races since the start of his maiden title-winning season two years ago.
In an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com’s Sam Cooper, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner suggested that he “fully” expects the gap to close over the next 12 months as the current rules mature.
Asked at Zandvoort if Mercedes share Leclerc’s bleak outlook, Shovlin revealed the team are fully focused on delivering a title challenge in 2024 having accepted that Red Bull will not be caught over the remainder of this season.
He told media including PlanetF1.com: “We certainly don’t think like that because our ambition is to be challenging for a Championship next year, so we’re optimistic that we can do that.
“If you look at the step that McLaren have made, it shows that you can make big steps and we’re still understanding a lot about these regulations.
“What we would say, though, is where we were with this car – and in the constraints of the cost cap – we realised we’re not going to be able to shut down that gap to Red Bull this year, but our entire focus is on making sure we can challenge next year.
“I think we’re making reasonable strides on development still, but you can see it’s still a busy period of the year because the teams are trying to get the packages on the car that are going to take them through that flyaway region.
“I think it will slow down in the relatively near future, but we made some pretty significant changes to the design of the car and that’s actually opening up a bit of performance aerodynamically, so we are still finding good performance on the W14.”
Mercedes are locked in a fight for second in the Constructors’ standings with Aston Martin and Ferrari, holding a 40-point lead over the former with nine rounds remaining.
With Lando Norris, of the resurgent McLaren team, emerging as Verstappen’s closest threat on pure pace at Zandvoort, Shovlin feels different tracks will play to the strengths of different cars – and is backing Mercedes’ consistency to see them through.
“I think it will,” he replied when asked if the complexion of the battle behind Red Bull will continue to alter.
“We don’t seem to have the highs and lows that we had last year; Ferrari look like they’re struggling at the maximum-downforce tracks; McLaren looked like they struggled at the lower downforce in Spa.
“It will no doubt change from track to track but we seem to be doing OK at most circuits and hopefully that will put us in good stead.”
Hamilton’s Q2 exit at Zandvoort means at least one Mercedes has failed to reach Q3 at half of the 16 qualifying sessions, including sprint shootouts, so far this season.