‘Mercedes simply don’t understand how to make a car work effectively’

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton climbs into his W15 in the Mercedes garage during F1 2024 winter testing.

Lewis Hamilton climbs into the Mercedes W15.

Walking away from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix amidst questions of correlation issues, F1 journalist Andrew Benson says Mercedes “simply don’t understand” how to make the ground-effect aerodynamic car work.

After two years of struggling to reach the top of the podium, only once winning a Grand Prix, Mercedes were encouraged by the W15’s performance in Bahrain where Lewis Hamilton declared the car to be a “race car”.

Worrying assessment as Mercedes once again struggle for pace

But one week later, and with bouncing back in the mix, the mood in the Mercedes camp wasn’t as buoyed.

Finishing down in ninth place, Hamilton said it was “like I was in a different category when I was going through the high-speed” corners while Toto Wolff admitted “there is something we need to spot, and that’s the thing to unlock”.

What that thing is, though, the team boss didn’t say.

It has the BBC’s Benson declaring Mercedes “simply don’t understand” how to make the ground-effect aerodynamic cars work for them.

“Mercedes left the opening race in Bahrain optimistic that they had a car that finally provided a platform on which they could build and develop under these new rules,” he said in a Q&A.

“Saudi Arabia suggested something else. Basically, a weakness of the car was exposed – it was dreadfully slow in the high-speed corners. And Mercedes did not understand why.

“In short, the simulation data said it should be producing a certain amount of downforce, and it was not producing anything like it.

“Team principal Toto Wolff admitted: “There is something which we don’t understand.”

“The bottom line is that something is happening with the Mercedes floor which the team cannot get their heads around.

“They still simply don’t understand how to make a car work effectively with these new rules.

“As Wolff put it in Jeddah: “The thing is, it’s been two-and-a-half years that we are chasing this fundamental. It is not by lack of trying. We pushed so hard and we are going to give it a massive go now in the next week with more data to understand and come back to Melbourne stronger.”

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Mercedes’ realistic target for the 2024 season?

With a best result of P5 in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes are fourth in the Constructors’ Championship on 26 points, already a staggering 61 behind back-to-back 1-2 finishers Red Bull.

It begs the question, what’s the realistic target for Mercedes this season?

“Mercedes’ target will be to end the season as best of the rest – they already pretty much admit that Red Bull are uncatchable this year, certainly in terms of the championship,” said Benson.

“For Russell, that realistically means the best he can hope for is to finish third, behind Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. To do that, of course, he has to beat Lewis Hamilton – no easy task, despite the seven-time champion’s slow start to the season – and perhaps even more of a challenge is Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“Mercedes have some work to do after a chastening Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend, when they admitted that the car was not producing the downforce they thought it should be, and they did not know why.

“They have been burning the midnight oil in the last week to try to figure out what they have not understood, so it will be interesting to see how they get on in Melbourne this weekend.”

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