‘Mercedes problems nowhere near as bad as they want us to believe’

Jamie Woodhouse
Mercedes' George Russell at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2023.

Mercedes' George Russell at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2023.

It has been suggested that Mercedes’ showing at the Australian Grand Prix proves that the team are overplaying their F1 2023 issues.

The eight-time Constructors’ Champions had hoped to be challenging for number nine this season following a disappointing 2022 campaign which produced only one pole position and victory.

But a poor F1 2023 season opener in Bahrain would rock the team, with Mercedes going on to write an open letter to their fans, while their seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton was critical of the W14 challenger and the team, accusing them of not listening to his feedback.

Mercedes has already committed to major alterations to the W14, with the “layout” of the car set to change at Imola, Round 6 of the F1 2023 campaign, though the Mercedes chaos narrative has certainly tailed off since Bahrain.

The third outing of the season in Australia brought most of the positivity, George Russell having qualified within a quarter of a second of Red Bull’s Championship leader Max Verstappen, while both Russell and Hamilton would pass Verstappen at the start of the race, Verstappen later overtaking Hamilton.

And, if it were not for untimely red flags and then a power unit failure for Russell, then Wolff believes his driver could have even won the race.

So, F1 Nation podcast host Tom Clarkson has suggested that while he cannot foresee Mercedes defeating the currently dominant Red Bull over the course of the season, he thinks the team are overplaying the extent of their issues.

“I don’t think Mercedes’ problems are anything like as bad as they want us to believe,” said Clarkson.

“Do you remember after the first race in Bahrain, when Toto Wolff wrote a message to the fans, he was very negative in the media after the race, as was Lewis, saying that he had no feeling for the car, he was sitting too far forward, all of those things.

“But ultimately, in Formula 1, the stopwatch never lies, and look at the last two races, the gap to Red Bull in Australia was point two of a second in qualifying I think, that’s what George Russell was behind.

“And it was the same as that in Saudi, admittedly, that was Sergio Perez on pole and he made a mistake on his final Q3 run and there was no Max Verstappen involved, but a car that’s only point two of a second off a Red Bull is not a bad racing car. So for me, the starting point isn’t that bad.

“Can they improve it? Yes, absolutely they can. It’s just a question of how much and they’re talking about changing the concept and they’ve had this period between Australia and Baku to do that.

“Toto Wolff is talking very positively about the gains that they’ve made, but equally, no one else is standing still, everyone else is going to be using this gap to improve as well.

“So in conclusion, I think they will close the gap. They will win races, but I can’t see them beating Red Bull over the balance of the season.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

Suspicions raised over Lewis Hamilton ‘mind games’ against George Russell

Driver ratings: The best and worst performing drivers of the F1 2023 season so far

Max Verstappen delivers savage comment about Jos Verstappen’s F1 career

1996 World Champion Damon Hill meanwhile proposed a scenario which he could see potentially unfolding, whereby Red Bull decide the 2023 titles are in the bag for them, and then look towards their 2024 campaign.

At which point, Hill sees the current P2 team in the Constructors’ standings, Aston Martin, potentially becoming a race-winning outfit.

“Let’s be a little bit optimistic and say that Red Bull hit a glass ceiling,” he began. “They’ve pretty much got the Championship done and dusted, but they need to split the resources and make sure they don’t overspend and then think about next year.

“There’s nothing in the cost cap that says the money you spend this season has to be spent on this year’s car, as far as I’m aware, so basically resources, they may decide to sacrifice some victories towards the end of the season in favour of investing in next year’s car.

“So yeah, it may be that the others push and spend all of their resources unwisely on trying to beat Red Bull towards the end of the season, and that’s another fascinating dimension to this new era, which is we don’t know how it’s going to pan out, we don’t know how it’s going to work.

“But the theory is that teams will catch up. We might have the situation [where] Aston Martin is winning races at the end of the season.”

Red Bull has won all three races so far in F1 2023, Verstappen winning from pole in Bahrain and Australia, while Sergio Perez pulled off the same achievement in Saudi Arabia.

Verstappen goes into the Azerbaijan GP with a lead of 15 points over Perez in the Drivers’ Championship.

Aston Martin, meanwhile, are 58 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors, but nine ahead of Mercedes, the team which courtesy of Hamilton in Australia broke the early streak of Red Bull and Aston Martin exclusive podiums.