Toto Wolff highlights potential Mercedes W15 ‘weakness’ ahead of Spanish Grand Prix

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.

Toto Wolff believes this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix will be a big litmus test for Mercedes' recent upgrades.

With Mercedes’ form on the uptick in recent weeks, team boss Toto Wolff believes the circuit in Barcelona will be a big test of their improved package.

Mercedes claimed their first Grand Prix podium of 2024 last time out at the Canadian Grand Prix, having taken pole position in Montreal courtesy of an impressive lap from George Russell.

Toto Wolff: Barcelona will be the test of Mercedes progress

After a slow start to the year as Mercedes changed the philosophy of design with their new W15, recent upgrades have started to transform the performance of the machine.

A new front wing, in particular, has turned the car into the “driver’s friend”, according to technical director James Allison, and the improved performance of the W15 allowed Russell to take pole position in Montreal before putting up a spirited battle throughout the Grand Prix.

Russell would finish the race in third, having overtaken Lewis Hamilton for the final podium place in the closing stages, marking the team’s first podium in a Grand Prix in 2024.

But, despite the improved showings in Monaco and Canada, team boss Toto Wolff believes it’s the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya that will be the real litmus test as to how much improvement Mercedes has actually made.

This is due to the fast, flowing nature of the Spanish circuit, as well as not being a circuit that requires bouncing across the kerbs – all of which are very different characteristics from the last two races.

“We have continued to make incremental gains across the past few races. It was encouraging therefore to take another positive step forward in Canada,” Wolff said ahead of the weekend in Spain.

“To see that translate into our strongest team result of the season so far is a reward for everyone’s hard work. 

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a unique track, however. It has a narrow range of corner speeds and, with a newly re-laid surface, was something of an outlier compared to more traditional venues. We know our competitors will perform more strongly at upcoming races so we will need to continue to work hard to consistently get ourselves in the fight for podiums, and eventually, race wins.”

The Austrian said that the characteristics the Barcelona circuit demands have not been Mercedes’ strength so far this year, meaning a strong performance this weekend would underline significant progress in improving the W15.

“Barcelona will provide a good test of our progress,” he said.

“It has a mix of fast, medium, and low-speed corners, a long straight, and plenty of elevation change. 

“Tracks that contain this wide speed range have been a weakness of ours so far this year. 

“This weekend will therefore provide another opportunity to evaluate our progress through our recent updates, and we hope to build on the positive momentum from Montreal.”

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James Allison: Mercedes performance window ‘broadened substantially’

Speaking in the team’s debrief from the Canadian Grand Prix, Allison said the recent updates have made a big difference to widening the car’s performance window.

The W15 had shown occasional flashes of speed during the first third of the year, but the team struggled to unlock it consistently.

The evolution of the W15 through its current development path has made it easier to bring out that innate pace more regularly, believes Allison.

“I think we have broadened [the window] substantially,” he said.

“There is more we still need to do, and we will know for sure when we go to the next track, which is Barcelona because there is really a very substantial range of cornering conditions. There is also a much hotter track, and so that will be quite a stern test of a vehicle.”

Evaluating the team’s chances for Barcelona, Allison said he doubts whether contending at the very front is possible just yet.

“The changes we have made are making this car a better car,” he said.

“And that will be true at every circuit we go to. The characteristics of Montreal make it look a little quicker than we have a natural right to command at the coming races. In Barcelona, I think it more likely that we will be competitive, but not right at the front.

“Because the next tracks are a little bit of a sterner test of a car. Hot asphalt, wider cornering speeds.”

But that doesn’t mean the high-speed weaknesses will remain, with Allison saying further upgrades will further rectify the shortfalls of the car.

“However, I also know what we have got coming. I also know what we are planning to further improve the car,” he said.

“Our challenge is just to keep those upgrades arriving at a pace that the others cannot keep up with. In doing that, just bully our car to the front by virtue of the effort made by everybody here over the coming weeks and months to get the car so that it can have its Montreal weekend or better at any track that we face in the future.”

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