‘Big question mark’ emerges over Mercedes W14’s full fuel-load performance

Henry Valantine
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

With Mercedes uncharacteristically slower than usual in race trim over the weekend, a theory has emerged that the W14’s performance on a full fuel tank may be a “question mark”.

Former Williams team manager Peter Windsor believes Mercedes may not have the answers they were looking for from the first half of the season after struggling to match the pace of Red Bull.

One of the characteristics of their season has been that the W14 has often performed better in race trim on Sundays than over one lap in qualifying, but chief technical officer Mike Elliott admitted they had an “unusual” weekend in that it was not the case in Belgium.

Mercedes have performance ‘question mark’ on full fuel

Speaking on his YouTube channel after the Belgian Grand Prix, Windsor believes the Silver Arrows have had a couple of races where the car has struggled to get up to speed in the early part of proceedings, where the cars are at their heaviest.

Lewis Hamilton struggled to keep pace with Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in front of him, while George Russell lost ground after being caught behind the slowing Oscar Piastri at the start and being forced to make up places later on.

Windsor said: “Good luck to Lewis [Hamilton] going into the summer break, not sure Mercedes have any of the answers they really need in terms of what they’re going to be doing with the car.

“And its performance still on a full fuel load is a big question mark, as we saw in Hungary and to some extent here at Spa.”

As for the team themselves, chief technical officer Elliott gave his reasons for why the team’s fortunes may have reversed compared to their usual performance pattern – with Hamilton and Russell often able to make up ground in the race after qualifying slightly lower in the pack.

With the 44 laps of the Belgian Grand Prix being the only representative dry running of the weekend for the teams, Mercedes felt that a lack of dry laps in practice played its part in not helping gather data to inform their strategy.

But with that, Elliott believes the drivers drove well to bring home a P4 and P6 finish respectively.

“I guess that’s an unusual thing for us. Generally, we’ve got good tyre degradation, generally, we do much better in the race than we do in qualifying,” Elliott admitted in Mercedes’ post-Belgian Grand Prix debrief.

“I think when you look at this weekend as a whole the mixed conditions and the drying tracks that we had meant that qualifying was such that the pace was changing lap to lap as the track dried up.

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“The tyres you were running on were changing from session to session and so that probably was more about what the driver can get out of the car than getting to that perfect point at the end of qualifying.

“I think both of our drivers did an excellent job to safely navigate through the weekend and put in good laps when they needed to put them in.

“I think in terms of the race pace I think that is all about degradation and to get the degradation you want you’ve got to have the balance in exactly the place you want it.

“For us this weekend we weren’t there. I think that is just a result of not having dry laps in practice, not having enough opportunity to get the setup of the car just where you want it and relatively we ended up with a car that wasn’t quite as well balanced as maybe some of our competitors were and as a result we had more tyre degradation and therefore weren’t really able to extract the race pace that we would have liked to have seen.”

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