Although Mercedes have yet to win a race this season, and their revised W14 didn’t elevate them above the chasing pack, Karun Chandhok says this year they’ve actually improved by a “quarter” of a percent against Red Bull.
Last season, trying to tame a porpoising W13, Mercedes spent the better part of the season resolving that before being able to focus on improving the car.
That meant they finished the championship with just one win on the board, and third in the Constructors’ Championship.
‘Mercedes have improved by a quarter, but it’s still not enough’
However, that win, coming late in the season at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, led them down what Toto Wolff has since conceded was the “wrong” path with the design of this year’s W14 prompting a rethink after the opening races of the season.
Mercedes introduced a B-spec W14 at the Monaco Grand Prix, the car not only moving away from the zeropods in favour of bulkier sidepods but also sporting a revised front suspension layout.
But after a brief surge in Spain and Canada, the team recording three podiums in two races, Mercedes have managed just one in the next four grands prix in a campaign in which the battle to have the second fastest car on the track has swung between Aston Martin, Mercedes, Ferrari and now McLaren have joined.
It meant Mercedes, only P4 and 6 at the Belgium Grand Prix, went into the summer break with the mood from Spain’s double podium somewhat soured.
That Red Bull were still 30s up on the chasing pack, Max Verstappen’s advantage over the best-placed non-Red Bull car in both the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and Belgium, didn’t help matters.
But according to Chandhok, Mercedes are closer to Red Bull today than they were last year.
“I was just doing my numbers for the first half of the season,” the former F1 driver said in a Sky Sports podcast.
“Last year Mercedes on average were 0.8% off the Red Bull and this year they were 0.596. So they’ve improved by a quarter, but it’s still not enough.
“I think there have been those flashes of brilliance, Lewis’ qualifying Budapest is probably the standard. There have been certain races where they’ve looked better than others.
“And I think on the whole they’ve come away from the first 12 races being disappointed. Toto’s body language was pretty clear on that front.
“They were hoping that they’d understood their concepts at the end of last year, they stuck with the concept, then they’ve had this midseason upgrade but it’s not really moved them ahead of the midfield pack.
“They’ve kind of still stayed in that middle fight with Ferrari and Aston – Aston if anything have dropped back a bit. But now McLaren are in that flight.
“So I think on the whole Mercedes as a team will be pretty disappointed despite the fact that I still believe they have the best collective driver line-up in Formula One.”
It’s a line-up that his fellow pundit David Croft believes is keeping Mercedes in second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
40 points ahead of Aston Martin, who have relied solely on Fernando Alonso for the big points’ hauls, Mercedes have Lewis Hamilton fourth in the Drivers’ Championship with George Russell P6.
“That driver line-up is keeping them in contention,” said Croft. “Keeping that second place and the distance between themselves and Aston Martin.”