Off the pace in Friday’s practice and with Lewis Hamilton doubting he’ll make it into Q3 in qualifying, Ralf Schumacher has warned Mercedes if they don’t get it right this weekend they’re facing a “very, very difficult season”.
After a solid but unspectacular Monaco Grand Prix in their heavily revised W14 with its new downwash sidepods, Mercedes arrived in Spain conceding this race weekend would give them a more accurate picture as to whether the new-look car was a step in the right direction.
So far the signs aren’t great.
George Russell finished Friday’s practice in eighth place, half a second down on pace-setter Max Verstappen, while Hamilton was a further 0.15s back and declared that “from the pace that I had today, it’s a struggle for me currently to get into the top 10”.
That, Schumacher says, is a worry.
“For me, this is the decision here as to whether it was possible to get back to the old form with the new car,” he told Sky Deutschland.
“If they don’t succeed here, the season will be very, very difficult for Mercedes.”
Hamilton admitted on Friday evening that he’s concerned by the pace shown by Alpine, who bagged a podium last time out in Monaco while on Friday Esteban Ocon was fifth quickest.
“I think,” said the Briton, “it’s very, very close between us and that middle….after P5 back to around P10. So it’s really, really close between us all.
“It’s impressive to see the improvements that everyone seems to have made all around us, looking at Ocon, the Alpines are doing great. The Aston Martin was second just right behind the Red Bull, which is really really impressive.
“So yeah, it’s not going be easy, that’s for sure.”
Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko agrees.
The 80-year-old reckons Alpine could get the better of both Mercedes and Ferrari in Barcelona this weekend.
“Alpine have stepped up,” he told Sky. “I’s a fact and it’s very nice to see a third force join the fray.
“Mercedes and Ferrari, regardless of tyre, are behind and their long runs don’t seem be so good.”
Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell is a bit more optimistic about Mercedes’ chances.
“I think a lot of people are bringing updates to the car,” he said.
“We weren’t expecting to suddenly set the world on fire, and we just need to learn what we can from the info we’ve got and try to move forward.
“Definitely we can find some gains. There’s a few surprises out there today but I’m sure the story will be slightly different tomorrow and again on Sunday.”