Heading into race day at the Australian Grand Prix, Toto Wolff is giving his Mercedes team a 20% chance of retaining their title.
The Silver Arrows have endured a very difficult start to this new regulatory era, with the 2022 Bahrain and Saudi Arabian GPs seeing them comfortably down on the leading pace being set by Red Bull and Ferrari.
But as Formula 1 moved on to Australia, returning to Albert Park for the first time since 2020, would Mercedes come back strong in different conditions and on a smooth surface?
Well, the answer after qualifying was no. Lewis Hamilton will line-up P5 and George Russell P6, though both drivers were narrowly either side of a second slower than Charles Leclerc’s pole time in the Ferrari.
So, Mercedes do not look like a contender to win the Constructors’ Championship for a ninth season in succession, but Wolff still sees a 20% chance pre-race.
“I think we are on the back foot, if I look at it from a mathematical standpoint and probability I would say the odds are 20/80,” said Wolff after qualifying, as quoted by ESPN.
“But this is motor racing and in motor racing anything can happen.
“Teams can DNF and if we unlock the potential of the car we are right back in the game. So as a racer I would say it’s probably 40/60 and as a mathematician I would say the odds are worse against us.
“But it’s the third race of the season and we are not going to write the title off, so it’s just the current status quo – we are 0.9s off.”
Russell has previously said that if Mercedes can cure their bouncing problem, then they would suddenly unlock a chunk of extra performance.
However, Ferrari were suffering with this bouncing too during qualifying at the Australian GP, yet Leclerc secured pole.
So, Wolff admits that this is not the only reason why Mercedes are off the pace, even if Mercedes suffer worse with it.
“You can see many other teams, like Ferrari, still have some bouncing but they have done many other things right that we missed out on or didn’t perform very well with,” Wolff stated.
“It was the same for Red Bull, their car got quick from one to another in Bahrain testing by bringing the update.
“Our bouncing is worse [than Ferrari’s] because we carry it into the corners and the high-speed, so you can see where we lose performance. When you look at the overlay in sector one we are very competitive, sector two we are competitive and then in sector three, through Turns 9, 10 and 12 we are losing all our margin — it’s almost like a second through a couple of corners.
“So is curing the bouncing going to miraculously unlock a second within the car? No, for sure not. But there are many other little improvements we can make on weight and other things we can optimise and we just need to chip away the small gains while understanding the car.
“I’m optimistic that eventually we will get there, whether it is two races or five … we need to stay humble and my time horizon is not a race weekend or a year, it is more like ten years and I want to look back and have a competitive team and there will be more difficult years and this is one of them.
“This car is very difficult to correlate because you can only move the car with a certain frequency in the wind tunnel where it is limited and on track it does something completely different, so this is a new way of analysing aero data and correlation between the simulations and the real world, which needs to be understood.
“We believe we have the tools and the people to understand that, but we haven’t found that yet.”
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