Mercedes ‘chaos and panic’ mind games suspected over W14 concept

Michelle Foster
Mercedes mechanics raise the W14's engine cover. Bahrain March 2023

Mercedes mechanics raise the W14's engine cover. Bahrain March 2023

Former Bridgestone expert Kees van de Grint wonders if Toto Wolff has thrown a “feint” with the team boss saying Mercedes got it wrong with their concept but then “quietly hoping things will work out”.

Well off the pace in the opening two races of this season, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Mercedes declared they’d “got it wrong” with the W14 and would be bringing major changes to the car in the coming weeks.

However, one race later, Australia, the team was Red Bull’s closest challenger with motorsport boss Wolff adamant George Russell could have won the grand prix were it not for his early retirement.

The Briton had snatched the lead at the start, beating Max Verstappen off the line, only to lose it when he pitted under the first Safety Car. He retired shortly after the restart, his Mercedes engine suffering a suspected cylinder failure.

But despite showing signs of improvement, Mercedes are pushing on with an aggressive “fast pace” upgrade plan.

Van de Grint is a bit disappointed as to him it seems Mercedes are throwing in the towel in a moment of panic. Or are they?

“I liked that they stuck to their concept,” he told the Dutch edition of Motorsport.com. “They had faith in that. Now you probably think it’s not such a good concept after all.

“Then I think, what did you discuss and analyse in the winter? Because this is a late conclusion, if you have to change now and want to change a whole concept. That might say something about the people who left.

“I think the sounds are more in the panic atmosphere. You can also hear that from Wolff, he has actually already given up.”

“But,” he continued, “that is of course also a bit of a feint because he quietly hopes that things will work out somehow.

“Russell was also quite fast, they were unlucky that he broke down there. It can’t all be in harmony there, a bit of chaos and panic.”

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The Dutch engineer also weighed in on Red Bull’s DRS, billed as “insane” by Lewis Hamilton after Max Verstappen flew past him two races in a row with the Mercedes driver unable to defend in any way.

Wolff called it “mind-boggling”, but Van de Grint reckons that’s not Red Bull’s only advantage over the W14.

“The handling in corners, where you don’t have DRS, is also superior to the rest,” he said.

“How easily the Red Bulls pass someone else… You’ve seen other cars that are in the DRS [zone] and then they just miss it. But the Red Bulls pass it so easily. That is a great compliment to the Red Bull team, that they have also thought about developing in that direction. So hats off to that.”

But it’s an innovation he’d rather not see on the Formula 1 grid.

“I have never been in favour of this artificial intervention. I don’t like this,” he said. “Racing is keeping someone behind you and the other has to find a gap to get past them.

“This has nothing to do with racing.

“Anyone can actually pass someone on the straight. I’d rather not have a DRS see and then see how Verstappen forces that hole.

“But that’s not Red Bull’s fault or Verstappen’s fault, it’s the regulator’s fault. But a bit of the sport, because if you need these kinds of tricks, then the sport is not completely healthy. If that’s legal, you want to make the best of it and they’ve done that very clearly.”