Ralf Schumacher talks up Mercedes, but Red Bull still ‘the team to beat’

Henry Valantine

Ralf Schumacher believes Mercedes “should be on our mind” when discussing the title picture in 2023, but the former Formula 1 driver says Red Bull and Max Verstappen are still the favoured combination for the World Championship.

Mercedes launched the W14 in the penultimate car unveiling of 2023 at Silverstone on Wednesday, with an all-black livery that harks back to one of their most dominant seasons in 2020 and the enthralling title battle of a year later, though it also comes with a weight-saving implication as the team look for a way back to the front.

‘Just’ one victory was a poor return by the standards set by Mercedes in the turbo hybrid era, having won eight consecutive Constructors’ titles before Red Bull and Verstappen cantered away to glory last year, with the Dutchman winning his second title by taking a record 15 race victories in 22 rounds.

The points will reset again as the teams prepare to do battle once more in Bahrain at the start of March, but the multiple Formula 1 race winner believes the German constructor face an uphill task to topple Verstappen and Red Bull, even if they are set to get closer once again.

Speaking to Sky Deutschland, Schumacher said of his 2023 predictions: “Mercedes should be on our mind. They have managed to bring their car back in the budget without testing and have identified the shortcomings.

“They also have a very strong driver pairing. The seed will be Red Bull with Max Verstappen – there is no doubt about that. That’s the team to beat.

“With Ferrari, it’s always a bit of a surprise box. It can be super strong sometimes. However, you have to say that both drivers made a lot of mistakes. The team also made mistakes. There are some deficits there.”

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Schumacher’s nephew Mick also joined Mercedes as reserve driver after his departure from Haas at the end of 2022, in a deal which also sees him being made available for reserve duties at engine customers McLaren for the year ahead.

He has made it clear himself that he is looking to get back on the grid as soon as possible, preferably in a full-time drive by 2024, and his uncle Ralf feels the young Schumacher is a good fit for Mercedes at this moment in time.

“For the teams it’s great to have someone like Mick,” he said. “He knows his way around, he knows the tracks. Mick comes fresh out of the car, so to speak.

“It’s also a good opportunity for him. With four chances [possible in FP1 for Mercedes and McLaren] there’s more chance for him to maybe drive.”