Nico Rosberg believes Mercedes are in an “extremely difficult situation” as they contemplate changing their car’s philosophy after another disappointing start to a season.
But that, as he points out, involves more than just slapping new sidepods onto the existing car, it means the “whole car has to change”.
Last season Mercedes began the season with the third fastest car but this year, despite eradicating their porpoising problems, they’ve slipped to fourth with Aston Martin surging ahead.
Speaking in the build-up to Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff declared to Sky Germany: “We have a car that we are not happy with.
“We have to make the best of what we have. The car is what it is. Now the development in the factory continues.”
After the race, a grand prix in which Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were more than 50 seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen, he added: “All in all there is quite a lot to fix.
“There’s a lack of pace, there’s a lack of downforce and then of course nothing works because then you’ll also damage your tyre.”
Mercedes’ pace on Sunday night, a race in which Hamilton and Russell were both overtaken by Fernando Alonso on the track, has reignited speculation of a B-spec car from Mercedes.
However, given that Formula 1 is operating under a budget cap, Hamilton has also questioned whether that’s even possible.
Instead it would be more likely that Mercedes change the concept ahead of the 2024 season, but that means they’ll be well behind their rivals in terms of development time on the car.
“It’s an extremely difficult situation,” said Mercedes’ 2016 World Champion.
“Toto Wolff said that this concept won’t go any further. That’s a big statement.
“You have to take a step back this year and then start with the new concept already preparing for the new year. I don’t want to be in those shoes.
“The problem is you can’t just put new sidepods on it and then it works. The whole car is in a river. The whole car has to change.”
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Rosberg, though, was nonetheless impressed with Hamilton’s performance on Sunday night as he felt his former team-mate got the “maximum” out of the race as he raced to fifth place.
“Positive is Lewis Hamilton, who got the maximum out of it, but a very difficult start, unbelievable,” said the German.
“They were 50 seconds behind Verstappen, who didn’t give everything. That would otherwise have been 60 seconds, i.e. one second per lap. That’s hard.
“They have to find the miracle weapon and make great progress quickly, but they don’t really understand it themselves and that’s the difficult part.”
Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko admits he’s surprised Mercedes weren’t able to make inroads over the winter.
But, like Hamilton, he has questioned whether a B-spec car is a viable option under the budget cap.
“I don’t know,” he told Sky when asked when he expects Mercedes to make a radical change. “We thought they were coming here with a car that was going to be competitive. And when the new car comes, we’ll be surprised.
“For us, that would take three or four races, but the next critical thing is that we have a cost cap. Whatever you try or redesign now gets lost in the budget for other things. So, this is a development that is not easy for a team.”