How Mercedes kept winning mentality alive during losing year

Thomas Maher
George Russell's Mercedes heads a train of cars. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

George Russell's Mercedes heads a train of cars during the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

Mercedes had to adjust to life without constant victories in 2022, for the first time since 2013. But a shift in mentality allowed them to stay positive.

Having become F1’s unbeatable team between 2014 and ’21, the 2022 championship saw Mercedes having to adjust to being bested by both Ferrari and Red Bull over the course of the season.

With a troubled W13 design meaning that a championship challenge was never on the cards after a slow start to the year, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were able to become regular podium finishers by season end, with Russell also claiming Mercedes’ sole victory of the season as he led home a Merc 1-2 in Brazil.

Finishing third in the Constructors’ Championship, it’s the first time since 2013 that the squad have not won the prestigious title – a position that took some getting used to.

James Vowles: Every race provides a learning opportunity

Looking back over a difficult season, Mercedes’ strategy director James Vowles opened up on how the Brackley-based squad kept their heads up as their new reality set in.

“There was certainly some tough moments in the year,” he said in Mercedes’ official debrief after Abu Dhabi.

“I think, personally, I remember Imola was a real low point, it was a sprint race and we really suffered. We struggled there, we were fighting back towards the back of the grid really at certain points. The main thing is this, if you separate it into two separate items.

“The first is how we actually perform with the car we got and I think we did a fairly good job with that all the way through towards the end of the year. We were certainly picking up points that were given to us or awarded to us by Ferrari or other teams when we could and were able to stay fairly close to a second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

“The second is the learning that we could build through the race, so, every single race that we have obviously provides you a learning opportunity and I think we did a very good job throughout the year of understanding where our weaknesses were and how to build on that towards the end of the year. Cars that were fighting for P10, P8, or perhaps even out in Q2, Q1 at the end of the year were able to fight for race wins and that’s really an example to the culture that we have here.

“I think everyone knows this externally but, as an example of that, failure is not just always an option, but it is actually something that is almost rewarded – it makes us stronger as a result of it, as long as you can deal with it in the right way.

“We have a number of values here, as do most companies, but really the most important things, other than innovation and excellence, is how we stick together as a team, how we fight together, and how we come back stronger as a result of it.”

Toto Wolff ‘learned to manage expectations’

Appearing on the Beyond the Grid podcast, team boss Toto Wolff also reflected on overseeing his team’s first year away from the top under his watch – he took charge of Mercedes during the 2013 season.

“All of these years I’ve been always wary of the feeling when losing,” he told host Tom Clarkson.

“Winning lasted overnight – landing back in Europe, the feeling was gone and you were thinking about the next race.

“But, when losing, I felt it so much as a personal downfall, that it lasted for a few days. It’s funny how your brain protects yourself because you manage your expectations – you’re half a second behind, the next race, you’re two and a half [tenths] and your brain says ‘well that’s actually solid’, but it’s not.

“You have to always reassess yourself on the baseline and that was last year or the year before. This is what we expect from ourselves. So, every time I’m getting too comfortable with the situation, every time I’m not having the butterflies before a race, I actually worry whether I am still fully in this. But I am.”

As for whether Wolff got used to finishing in third, fourth, or lower, the team boss explained how important it was to try holding onto the positives.

“That’s how the brain saves us,” he said.

“We protect ourselves collectively, all around the world, from our own mediocrity by coping with such a situation. In that respect, you start to see the positives. You see race pace that was good. Reliability was good, but there is no hiding the lap time. The stopwatch never lies and you come back, whether it is second, third, or fourth, you’re just not winning. And that is fundamentally what we fight for.”

Read More: George Russell: ‘If I have the right car beneath me, I can beat Lewis Hamilton’