Peter Windsor, the Formula 1 pundit, is expecting Mercedes to “soldier on” with the zero-pod car concept despite the imminent arrival of a major upgrade package.
Despite being restricted to just one win in the first year of the new ground effect rules last season, Mercedes opted to persevere with a slim-sidepod design for 2023.
Yet following a punishing experience at the opening race in Bahrain, where George Russell and Lewis Hamilton qualified six-tenths away from pole position, team boss Toto Wolff admitted Mercedes had mistakenly followed the wrong path and ordered sweeping changes to the car.
With technical chief James Allison brought back to the frontline, Mercedes had been expected to debut a heavily revised car at the recently cancelled Emilia Romagna Grand Prix with speculation that the team would move towards a more conventional sidepod design in tune with the likes of reigning Constructors’ Champions Red Bull.
Speaking via a recent YouTube stream, however, Windsor is doubtful that Mercedes are set to deploy an instant Red Bull beater with the major upgrade.
He said: “If you’re hoping it’ll suddenly make it as quick as a Red Bull, I think you’ll be pretty let down.
“If you’re looking for something that might give them a little bit more consistency – a larger sweet spot [or] operating window as they call it – maybe it’ll do that.
“It was interesting to read what they’re saying about the upgrades, which is basically: ‘This is the start of a new path which we believe, long term, will take us back to the front and winning races.’
“So the implication is they’ve made their decision on where they’re going to go with the car and this is the first step in going in that direction.
“Whether they’re going to get away from the whole zero-pod thing and this is the first step towards going towards a conventional car remains to be seen.
“But my bet is that they are still going to soldier on with this car but obviously make some changes based on better correlation between modelling, CFD and wind tunnel testing now that they’ve got a little bit more testing time, not being the World Champions last winter, and that correlation is going to be important in terms of the next step.”
With Red Bull holding a significant lead in the Championship – 122 points ahead of second-placed Aston Martin – have won every race of 2023 to date, Windsor envisages a scenario in which development of the dominant RB19 car stops around the time of July’s Belgian GP, the final round before the summer break.
Only then, he believes, will Red Bull’s rivals then have the opportunity to close the gap and compete for regular victories.
“I think Red Bull will probably pull the plug on development on this car around Spa time, because they’ll be thinking already then of ’24 and they’ve got this year’s Championship sown up,” he said.
“So at that point I think that’s when you might start to see a Mercedes or a Ferrari – or possibly even an Aston [Martin] – really pretty close to a Red Bull.
“But it’ll be an artificial thing because Red Bull will be, at that point, beginning to look ahead to ’24 – a little bit like the back end of last year as well.”
Following the cancellation of the Imola round, Windsor expects some teams to delay the introduction of their new parts until next month’s Spanish GP – with the upcoming race in Monaco too big a risk.
“It’s not a place that you’d want to bring upgrades,” he said of Monte Carlo.
“If there was an upgrade on the car at Imola that would’ve worked at Monaco – [by which] I mean it would’ve been on the car for Monaco as well – then they may not be running that upgrade now.”