A former F1 driver has questioned whether Mercedes’ car-making capabilities were masked by a superior engine during their dominance.
With eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships between 2014 and ’21, the might of Mercedes’ juggernaut was halted in 2022 as Red Bull’s RB18 eclipsed the rest of the field during the first year of the new technical regulations.
With Lewis Hamilton entering 2024 as an underdog for the title in relation to Max Verstappen’s current control of the sport, a compatriot of Verstappen’s has questioned whether Mercedes still has the wherewithal to design a world-beating car.
Christijan Albers: Why were Mercedes so good pre-2021?
Former F1 and DTM racer Christijan Albers, now a part of Viaplay’s punditry team, said he wonders whether Mercedes’ performance levels during their years of dominance came about as a result of a vastly superior power unit and not thanks to superior car designs.
“The question is whether Red Bull can [be] challenged [by] Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, or maybe Aston Martin next year,” he said in his column for De Telegraaf.
With the W14 going without a race victory – the first winless Mercedes design since 2011 – the new path for the 2024 W15 means all eyes are on the car Brackley rolls out for this season.
But Albers has big questions about what is currently being manufactured in their factory.
“I wonder if Mercedes can still build a really good car at all,” he said.
“After all, why were they so good in all those championship years before 2021? Was it the engine, the car, or a combination?
“I think it was mainly the engine. And that supremacy is gone now. Then I doubt they can crawl out of it.
“Red Bull, for example, has always had an okay car, but an underperforming engine, especially with Renault. Mercedes has always been able to fall back on tens of HP more and that is now gone.
“Just think of the end of that great 2021 season, when Hamilton had such a rocket engine in the closing stages and Verstappen was basically hopeless. Until that last lap in Abu Dhabi.”
But the Dutchman said there are grounds for optimism for Mercedes for 2024, based on how their race pace would occasionally come alive during ’23 when the setup of the car was nailed down.
“Mercedes did get a bit better during last season,” he said.
“Especially in qualifying, because in the races their speed was often quite good in itself. Only when you have to start further back after a difficult Saturday, you lose a lot of time in the early stages of a race.
“We have seen races where Hamilton in particular was able to match Verstappen’s lap times quite well. But in Brazil, for example, Mercedes again went nowhere. You could also see from team boss Toto Wolff’s reaction after such a weekend how unpredictable that car still is. If they are slightly off in terms of tuning the car, the consequences are incalculable.”
Christijan Albers: Not winning is going to gnaw at Lewis Hamilton
With Lewis Hamilton entering his fourth season attempting to claim another title, the seven-time World Champion has gone two full seasons without a race victory – something Albers says is likely eating away at him as the gap back to his most recent win grows.
“Hamilton looked rather frustrated at the end of the season,” he said.
“I can well imagine that too. He’s had years of beating everyone, of course, but has now gone two full seasons without a win. That’s going to gnaw at you.
“He wants more and more but struggles against the fact that that Mercedes doesn’t go any faster. Then at the end of the year, you are broken and tired. He hasn’t had that boost of a moment of furore you need then for a while.”