Why the huge gap between Red Bull and Mercedes is not as big as it seems

Mark Scott
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton shakes hands with Red Bull's Christian Horner.

Lewis Hamilton shakes hands with Christian Horner.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has suggested the Spanish Grand Prix timesheet may have been lying a little bit with regards to the true pace gap between Red Bull and the Silver Arrows.

Max Verstappen cantered to a fifth victory of the F1 2023 season with another dominant display at the Circuit de Catalunya, but arguably the bigger headline was the fact that Mercedes, armed with their new B-spec W14, have potentially reasserted themselves as the main threat again to Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell combined for Mercedes’ first double podium of the year in Spain, but the official timesheet states there was a mighty 24-second gap between second-placed Hamilton and easy winner Verstappen.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner was quick to highlight that seismic gap when asked in the immediate aftermath of the race whether he was now concerned that Mercedes are going to be breathing down their necks.

But, ahead of F1’s next stop on the calendar this week in Montreal, Wolff believes Red Bull’s advantage, while still large, is not as big as it seems.

“I think the learnings are is that we have a good race car,” Wolff told Sky F1.

“Lewis [Hamilton] probably came out a good five, six seconds behind Max when he cleared Carlos [Sainz] and I just think we are much closer.

“But you do see where the benchmark is. At the end, it [the timesheet] says more than 20 seconds but maybe in reality it is more like 15 seconds, which is just not where we want to be.

“I think towards the end [of the race] Lewis was cruising at around two, three seconds [below the norm] so the gap was sub-15 seconds or around that benchmark.”

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All eyes will be on Mercedes in Canada to see if they can confirm their positive step along the development path with another strong performance at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and, with such a radical upgrade introduced in Monaco, it does beg the question whether there is much more potential to be unlocked from the W14.

Mercedes driver George Russell may have already provided an answer to that question as he has teased even more upgrades are on the way within a short timeline that covers the next few F1 races.

“Yeah, Silverstone we’re excited for,” Russell told Sky F1.

“I think we’ll be in a good place there to fight for a good result. We might have a couple more things coming for Silverstone.

“But we need to not get too carried away with just this one result. The team have done an amazing job to bring these upgrades.

“I think Aston and Ferrari probably underperformed a little bit in the race [in Spain]. So let’s see what the next races bring, but definitely a great step forward.”