Mercedes’ W14 dilemma after rising up the pecking order in Australia

Oliver Harden
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton leads Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso at the Australian Grand Prix. Melbourne, March 2023.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton leads Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso at the Australian Grand Prix. Melbourne, March 2023.

Peter Windsor, the Formula 1 commentator, has highlighted Mercedes’ strong performance compared to Aston Martin as a key takeaway from the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

Having targeted a return to World Championship contention in 2023, Mercedes were aghast to find themselves six tenths off pole position – and slower than customer team Aston Martin – at last month’s season-opening Bahrain GP.

With Aston Martin running the same engine, gearbox and rear suspension assembly as Mercedes, team boss Toto Wolff remarked that the Lawrence Stroll-owned outfit had gained “two seconds in six months and their car is half ours”.

But after George Russell managed to stay close to Fernando Alonso following the Safety Car in Saudi Arabia – enough to temporarily inherit a podium when Alonso incurred a post-race penalty – Mercedes emerged as the dominant Red Bull team’s closest threat in Australia as Russell secured a spot on the front row alongside Max Verstappen.

While Russell eventually retired after snatching the lead at the start, team-mate Lewis Hamilton managed to hold off Alonso for second place.

Speaking via his YouTube channel, Windsor feels that the performance of Mercedes – who had both cars ranked in the top six in the speed trap in qualifying, having struggled for straight-line performance throughout 2022 – was significant after their disappointing start to the season.

“Lewis Hamilton [was] a very, very good second,” he said. “He raced hard and well.

“And as much as you could say it was great that Mercedes finished second, I think the significant point is that they beat Aston Martin around Albert Park.

“Who would have thought that after the first two races, that Mercedes would do that? recommends

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“Albert Park should have been an even better race for Aston Martin because the one thing they’re not particularly good at is top speed.

“They’re not that quick through the air and so Albert Park wouldn’t have been too penalising for them – but yet Mercedes beat them.

“I think a lot of that – not a lot but certainly some of it – is that Mercedes are now quite quick in a straight line and that’s one thing the team have done really well over the winter.

“They’ve improved the speed through the air of that Mercedes, taken some downforce out of it quite clearly.

“And coming back to the obvious point: confusion at Mercedes.

“Do they stay with this car? Do they go with a new car?

“It wasn’t bad, it’s quick as an Aston Martin as of Albert Park.

“Let’s see what happens as we go on.”

With most drivers aiming to reach the end on the hard tyre following the red flag for Alex Albon’s crash, the racing in Melbourne was compromised by extensive tyre management.

But Windsor feels that Alonso’s inability to get close enough to try a pass on Hamilton shows how the 2023 rule tweaks to the floor and diffuser have negatively affected the spectacle following F1’s move to more ‘raceable’ cars last year.

He said: “Lewis made very good use of that top-speed advantage and we also saw how relatively difficult it is now, with the new 2023 floor regs, to follow another car really closely as Fernando Alonso found out.

“Even with the help of three DRS zones, he wasn’t able to do very much and when he got within a second of Lewis he had to back away because the front went away on the car, and that of course would eat into the tyre situation.

“A really good performance by Mercedes to beat Aston Martin and that’s a really significant point, I think, to take from this Australian Grand Prix.”