F1 technical expert Gary Anderson fears Mercedes will begin the F1 2024 season as the fourth-fastest team “at best” after making no discernible progress since the start of 2022.
Having won a record eight Constructors’ titles from the beginning of F1’s V6 hybrid era in 2014, Mercedes have been restricted to just one race win since the ground effect regulations came into effect last year.
Mercedes entered 2023 aiming to return to title contention, but were forced to redesign their W14 car after an alarming display at the season opener in Bahrain and have made only limited progress since a heavily revised chassis arrived in Monaco at the end of May.
Mercedes tipped to stay behind McLaren and Ferrari in F1 2024
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were more than a second off Max Verstappen’s time for pole position at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, with the former 49 seconds adrift of the winning Red Bull at the chequered flag.
Hamilton appeared demoralised at the end of the race, describing the car as “such a handful and basically the exact same as last year.”
Writing for The Telegraph, former Jordan designer Anderson fears Mercedes’ predicament could get even worse next season having shown no sign yet that they understand how to get back to the top – with McLaren and Ferrari tipped to stay ahead of the chasing pack behind Red Bull.
He said: “You would expect a team of Mercedes’ stature, experience and budget – they are there to win, not finish fifth and seventh – to improve their car during the season but they have not. It is very unlikely that the team will have miraculous development over the winter.
“Looking at the current rate of progress within the top five teams, I would expect Mercedes to be at best the fourth fastest team at the start of next year. You have to prove to yourself that you understand your problems and after 20 months and 38 races since these ground effect rules came into play I am yet to see this. A team cannot just put all their hopes into the winter.
“Not much has changed since the start of last year. They appear to go into a race meeting not having a clue what to expect. If I was at the team I would not have confidence that the direction they are taking next year – whatever it is – is the correct one.
“They will probably be heading in the visual direction of Red Bull, but the visual side is only a small part in the overall performance of the car.
“It is important to note exactly what McLaren – and to a lesser extent Ferrari – have done and what Mercedes have not. The most important area on these ground-effect cars is what happens under the surface with the underfloor, but what we can see still makes a difference.
“You would struggle to find two cars more different visually than the W14 and the RB19, especially if you examine the radiator intake detail on both cars. The visual concept is completely different.
“McLaren, meanwhile, have shifted away from their previous concept in this area to one that essentially looks like the Red Bull, but then you also need to understand the design philosophy to get the best from it.”
Anderson explained: “The overall package is just not working and I do not see that they have a route planned out of this. Pinning your hopes on development between seasons is a little blind and is concerning.
“If they are not making progress when the cars are on track, how are they going to do that when there is no running in the off-season?
“You need to read between the lines of what you see in the wind tunnel. Last year Mercedes came out and, as far as they were concerned, had a car with twice the downforce of anyone else but could not get it into its working window and spent six months trying to do that.
“Their overall approach appears to have changed little since last year.”