Mercedes ‘learning with every kilometre’

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said his team is continuing to learn the intricacies of its 2022 Formula 1 car despite a recent uptick in performances.

After a sluggish start to the season, the squad has shown improved pace since the Miami Grand Prix weekend, with George Russell leading for a time during the Spanish Grand Prix.

That followed the introduction of an upgrade package that went some way to addressing the porpoising that has blighted the team throughout the early part of the season.

“I think we’re learning at the moment at every track,” said Wolff.

“It’s literally every kilometre that we’re going is an important lesson on how we can improve the car.

“But we need to get out of this no-man’s land in which we are at the moment.”

It’s been argued in some corners that Mercedes has adopted a fundamentally compromised design concept, accentuated by the minimalist sidepod design on the W13.

That’s a position that has not been rejected by Wolff, indeed he’s effectively acknowledged it’s a possibility, though he argues that before binning the concept, it’s critical the team understands the issues in order to avoid repeating them.

“The changed concept, you need to understand what’s going to make a new concept faster than the current one,” he explained.

“I think if we would have known, we would have done it.

“So at the moment it’s still very much believing in the structure and organisation, and trying to bring development and understanding in order to increase the pace of the car.

“I think we just need to continue to grind away and then if decisions for next year need to be taken that can’t be changed on the current car, whether it’s architectural or dynamically, then these decisions need to happen, but we’re not at that point yet.”

Complicating the team’s battle is the cost cap regulations in place, with trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin suggesting meeting that challenge is “insurmountable”.

“Early on, we had a plan to land on the budget cap and work within it, and I’m sure everybody did,” he explained.

“And then as costs like the freight were coming in at being multiples of that, or energy, and just the effect of inflation, that’s gone from being looking at ways to peg it back to stay within, to a point where the challenge becomes insurmountable.

“You have got levers that you can push and pull your spending, but the impact of those is not immediate, and the effect of them is now all-powerful.”

It leaves Mercedes in the same boat as Ferrari and Red Bull, which have both also gone on record that they expect to exceed the cost cap this year amid calls for it to be increased.

“Everyone’s facing a position where, even with best will in the world, it’s almost impossible to bring the teams in,” Shovlin reasoned.

“People have talked about development budget, but development budget also goes to provide the parts that you’re racing, so it’s not this huge stash of money that you’re only spending on wind tunnel parts, or go-faster bits.

“We’re racing parts that are more worn out, we’re carrying a lot fewer spares than we used to.

“Every weekend we’re in situations where serious incidents could see us being either unable to field the car or you’re really cobbling together a car.

“If we’re not constantly replacing parts with faster ones, we’d just be spending a considerable amount of money on the same parts.

“We’re not the only one, as you know, it’s probably the majority [of teams].”

Mercedes currently sits third in in the constructors’ championship, 101 off Red Bull at the top of the standings, while 75 clear of McLaren in fourth.

Formula 1 heads to Azerbaijan this weekend, with Free Practice 1 set to begin at 21:00 AEST.

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