‘Dire’ Mercedes situation under question after Toto Wolff’s ‘emotional’ reaction

Michelle Foster
Toto Wolff watches on from the Mexican Grand Prix garage

Toto Wolff has overseen another difficult year for Mercedes.

Mercedes’ dramatic result in Brazil led to an “emotional reaction” from Toto Wolff but Naomi Schiff and Damon Hill wonder if it’s as dire as the team boss out.

A visibly distressed Wolff launched a scathing attack on Mercedes’ W14 after a wretched weekend in Brazil in which the car suffered from drag and understeer, and destroyed its tyres.

After Lewis Hamilton, the only one of the teammates to complete the Grand Prix, did so more than a minute down on race winner Max Verstappen, Wolff’s tirade went from “horrible” to “miserable” to “this car doesn’t deserve a win”.

Are Mercedes really in that dire of a situation right now?

It was a notable turnaround in mood to the previous two weeks where having finished second at the United States and Mexican Grands Prix, pre-Austin DSQ, the team reignited the dream of winning a race before the end of the season.

After Brazil, that hope was all but eradicated.

Schiff, though, wonders if Wolff’s reaction was an overreaction to what she thinks was a once-off slump.

“Look, I think we all heard Toto’s words and it just seemed that Toto was not in a good place. Those words were quite strong,” she told the Sky Sports F1 podcast.

“I’m not sure if it’s potentially a bit of an emotional reaction to a moment after the race. Because overall, of course, it was not a great weekend for them.

“They lacked pace, they were obviously using up the tyres a lot more than the majority of the teams around them and that’s something very uncharacteristic for their car. And on top of that, they had reliability issues. So a lot of things going wrong for them.

“But if you look back just two races, they had two podiums in two races, and that car was moving forwards in a positive trajectory. So I think, although it was quite a dramatic result for them, it just does seem like it may be a one-off.

“Maybe they know more than we do, and obviously they do, but at the end of the day, we’ve seen this car in the past be very on a knife’s edge, so that working window for them is very narrow.

“And I think that given the fact that it was a Sprint weekend, it’s possible they led themselves in the wrong direction when it comes to set-up so I’m pretty sure that they’re having major debriefs right now.

“But I don’t know if we should take Toto’s reaction with a bit of a pinch of salt. I think it was quite a pessimistic outlook on a weekend that of course didn’t go the way they wanted it to at all but are they really in that dire of a situation right now? I think recent history shows that they aren’t in such a terrible place.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

How different would 2023 Sprint Championship have been to usual standings?

Revealed: The F1 2023 World Championship standings without Red Bull

Mercedes paid a price for an ‘incredibly fickle’ car

Her fellow pundit Damon Hill also believes Mercedes’ Brazilian Grand Prix slump was a “one-off” with the team paying the price for a fickle car.

Given Brazil was a Sprint weekend with just one practice hour for the teams nail down the perfect set-up, he questions if Mercedes earned on the side of caution after their Austin DNF and got it wrong with the set-up.

“Is this the end of an era with Mike Elliot leaving and there are key people who have have drifted away from the team? Are we seeing the effects?” said the 1996 World Champion.

“I agree with Naomi is this is a one-off because in America it looked great, except they were disqualified. So maybe they erred on the side of safety a little bit too much.

“These cars are incredibly fickle – the F stands for ‘fickle’ at the moment in Formula 1 because we know everyone’s up and down.

“Last two races, Aston Martin were nowhere and then suddenly they’re up there looking good. I know they were helped in qualifying a bit but Fernando was reasonably competitive and good. So you don’t need much to be out of the window it seems with some of these cars.

“Obviously the exception is Red Bull. But even they would say… I mean Singapore caught them out didn’t it and it was ride height. So these cars are very, very, it seems to me, dependent on precise set-up for each particular track, and if you get out of the window and the competition being as tight as it is now then you’re really are hammered.

“I know Toto operates a no-blame culture, but he seems to be taking all the blame for himself and he seemed willing to admit that it wasn’t acceptable.

“A tough weekend and Lewis underlined it by admitting that this is not where he thought he’d be by this time at the end of the season. But it could have been just a one-off, we’ve got two more races to find out.”

Mercedes can’t wait to say the back of the W14

Such is Hamilton’s dismay at the W14’s lack of progress, the Briton told the media he could not wait to see the back of the car.

“Only a couple more races with this car and it’s gone, and I’ll be happy! This year, you’re just counting down the days, trying to enjoy every day as you can,” he said.

Hill doesn’t blame him but says Mercedes now face an “anxious” time as they wait to see if 2024’s all-new W15 is any better.

“They know it’s wrong,” said Hill. “They’ve admitted that as much that they can’t do anything with this car, they have to wait till next year.

“That’s why Lewis is so keen to say goodbye to this car because there’s only so much you can do with a fundamental design concept. There are parameters within the design of this 2023 car, which they can’t get around until they design a completely new car.

“So back in the factory, they will be designing a completely new car that doesn’t have any resemblance or very few resemblances to this year’s car. But they can’t simply change this car so they’re stuck.

“They know they went up the wrong design route from the beginning. It took them a year to admit, or maybe even more than a year, to admit that it was wrong.

“They’ve admitted they changed some things and they’re heading back probably they believe in the right direction but they won’t know until they get their hands on next year’s car. And that’s always a bit of an anxious situation to begin.”

Read next: F1 chief takes firm stance on ending Max Verstappen’s ‘disheartening’ dominance