Why Mercedes is telling a cautionary tale

Will Mercedes be competitive in 2023?

Will Mercedes be competitive in 2023?

There was an underlying theme running through Mercedes as it launched its 2023 F1 challenger.

From Team Principal Toto Wolff, through to drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, on to Technical Director Mike Elliott and High Performance Powertrains Managing Director Hywel Thomas, the feeling was the same, one of caution.

After winning a record-breaking eight consecutive constructors’ titles from 2014-2021, Mercedes was brought crashing back to earth last season.

Wolff has openly admitted, and he did so again after the wraps had come off this year’s W14, that he and his team simply “got it wrong” last year with the new aerodynamic regulations.

Mercedes at least improved over the course of the campaign. The fact George Russell finished in the top five in 19 of 22 races, including claiming the team’s sole win in the penultimate race in São Paulo, cannot be sniffed at.

Russell was on the podium a further seven times, Lewis Hamilton nine, including five times as a runner-up.

For the majority of teams, such a campaign would be classed as a success. But not for Mercedes given what it had previously achieved.

Perhaps scarred by the experiences of last year, it was perhaps understandable then that its quintet of leading figures sang from the same understated hymn sheet with regard to the W14.

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Mercedes has retained its concept from 2022

The leading figures behind Mercedes

Mercedes will “eventually” be competitive

Yes, the car is an evolutionary improvement on the much-troubled W13 that was plagued by such violent porpoising and bouncing issues that left Hamilton and Russell in pain after many of the grands prix over the first half of the season.

It was noted that in the team’s launch press release, Wolff used the word “eventually” as to when Mercedes will be competitive this year.

The suggestion from Wolff was that the W14 will likely be initially lagging behind Red Bull’s RB19 and Ferrari’s SF-23 before finally coming good.

Is that what Mercedes is genuinely expecting?

“I was contemplating about that word for 15 minutes when we talked about the press release,” remarked Wolff.

“On one side, you want to say we will be competitive. On the other side, you need to stay humble and realistic.

“So you could say, ‘I hope that we will be competitive’ and the midway, going around the houses way is saying ‘We will be competitive. We just don’t know when’, and so [the use of the word] ‘eventually’.

“I think we are on the slope that we want to be in terms of our performance but then you don’t know where the other teams are.

“I think humility is most important. We’ve always tried to be humble, especially after last year.

“We need to remind ourselves we were quite far off for a long time in the season.”

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Lewis Hamilton insists he will not be silenced by the FIA

Lewis Hamilton is hopeful in Mercedes’ potential

Hamilton – Mercedes “a lot more grounded”

Seven-time F1 champion Hamilton has rightly conceded the events of last season were totally unexpected.

The sight of him holding his back and requiring assistance to extricate himself from his car at the end of a brutal Azerbaijan Grand Prix as Baku’s bumpy streets had wreaked havoc was one of the abiding images of last year.

Hamilton is now wary of avoiding falling into the trap again of over-promising and under-delivering.

“The conversations we had last year, definitely I was bullish because they [the team] were bullish,” said Hamilton.

“They had big upgrades coming, and I was like, right, we’re going to hit hard, but obviously, it [what happened] was a shock to all of us.

“This year everyone’s a lot more grounded, more of the approach that perhaps we won’t be the fastest out of the gate.

“But we have the potential to be close. Hopefully, we will be closer and hopefully, we will have the potential to close the gap early on in the season.”

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Mercedes driver George Russell has criticised "a silly regulation"

George Russell has trust in Mercedes procedures

Russell wary of curveballs

The W14 certainly looked menacing, retaining its ‘zero sidepod’ concept that was so eye-catching last year, one that Wolff has insisted was not at the heart of the problems.

Wolff, though, has stated that with planned upgrades, the sidepods may yet change.

It seems a decision will depend on how the car performs in testing in Bahrain next week and over the first three grands prix before a spring break as there is a four-week gap between the races in Australia and Azerbaijan following China’s axe.

Russell is confident the team has done all it can given the information that was learned from last year.

“I fully trust in my team and the way everybody’s working,” said Russell.

” I think we feel like we’ve done everything possible with what we know.

“But as we learned last year, there are sometimes curveballs and in life, you only learn with these experiences.

“Are we going to get another curveball thrown at us? Who knows? We’re not sure.

“You’ve got to do your talking on the track, and ultimately, we’re only really going to know until once we’ve done the test, probably not even then.”

Thomas, meanwhile, at least declared himself “pretty sure” the W14 is “going to be a better car than the one we had last year”. A degree of optimism.

In fairness, though, it cannot be any worse. But as to how competitive it will be compared to Red Bull and Ferrari? Now that is the question.

You can imagine there will be a fair degree of trepidation inside Mercedes in Bahrain across the test and opening grand prix.

The team has every right to be cautious.

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