Mercedes have identified Red Bull’s reduced qualifying advantage at the Australian Grand Prix as the “biggest shift” from the opening two races of the Formula 1 season.
With three consecutive pole positions and victories, Red Bull have made a near-perfect start to the 2023 campaign but there was a vulnerability about the RB19 car in qualifying trim at Albert Park.
While team-mate Sergio Perez fell in Q1 after failing to set a lap, Max Verstappen’s time for pole position was just two tenths faster than the Mercedes of George Russell as the Red Bull appeared to struggle more in the cooler conditions.
Following the session, Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko remarked that pole position was “only possible with an optimal lap from Max” and the car’s reduced advantage in Australia qualifying has not gone unnoticed at Mercedes, who despite losing George Russell to an engine problem in the race claimed their first podium finish of the season with Lewis Hamilton.
Asked in the latest edition of Mercedes’ Race Debrief YouTube series if the team’s improved performance in Melbourne was track-specific or a function of their improved understanding of the W14 car, Mercedes tech man James Allison said: “That’s always a very difficult question to answer.
“Was it expected? Broadly yes, because the performance level in Australia was not markedly different to that in the other two tracks so far this year.
“Different yes to Red Bull, but not a completely different animal compared to the rest of the field.
“I think the biggest shift in Australia was that Red Bull were a little bit more off form in qualifying compared to the rest of the grid, and that sort of closed up the field.
“But if you look at the relative pace of our car to the Ferrari, our car to the Aston Martin, it’s been close-ish all year and yes, we are a little bit on the better side, but it wasn’t seismic.
“So, was it expected? Well, we expected to be in the fight with Ferrari and Aston Martin and pleased to have our noses in front, but we did expect to be there.
“How much of the overall good results of the weekend was track specific and how much came from things we did? Time will tell.
“We’ll go to some more very different tracks in the next few weeks, and we’ll see whether this was the sort of initial bellwether of general uptick in our performance which we hope for, or whether it was related to the quite unusual track conditions that we saw this weekend in Melbourne.”
Having started the season in crisis in Bahrain last month with team boss Toto Wolff ordering an overhaul of the car concept, Allison senses that Mercedes have moved up F1’s competitive order and now sit second to Red Bull – ahead of Ferrari and Aston Martin.
He added: “Overall, a sense of quiet satisfaction that we have moved the car forward that, from a performance point of view, we probably got as much as it is able to give right now.
“That happiness of course is tempered by the disappointment that we only got one car to the flag and that George was not able to show what he was capable of in the car on race day, having performed very strongly up to that point in the weekend.
“We didn’t have huge breakthroughs, but we moved forward a little bit.
“We put a small amount on the leaders, Red Bull, and we are starting to get on terms with – and maybe just a whisker in front of – the Ferraris and the Aston Martin.”