Mercedes now facing real challenge after years of dominance

Mercedes start to the new F1 season has led Toto Wolff to proclaim this is the real challenge to his tenure

The start to the new F1 season for Mercedes has led Toto Wolff to proclaim this is the real challenge to his tenure

Toto Wolff feels Mercedes is now facing the ‘real challenge’ of his time in charge in comparison to the years of dominance it has previously enjoyed in F1.

Wolff oversaw the most successful period in F1 history from 2014-2021 as Mercedes won eight consecutive constructors’ championships, and seven drivers’ titles – six for Lewis Hamilton and one for Nico Rosberg.

Last season, Mercedes’ reign came to an end as it suffered at the hands of new aerodynamic regulations.

Following a long recovery over the course of the campaign that culminated in a win for George Russell in the penultimate race in São Paulo, it was widely anticipated Mercedes would take the fight to new champions Red Bull this season.

Instead, the W14 was arguably only the fourth-best car behind Red Bull, Ferrari, and a resurgent Aston Martin in the opening race in Bahrain.

There is now talk of Mercedes revising its current concept and ditching the much-discussed ‘zero sidepods’.

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin has also promised ‘visible and radical changes’ to the car going forward.

Wolff insists the “high targets” that were set by his team over the winter were achieved.

Instead, it is now about adopting a different mindset. He said: “It’s where we set those targets, all of us collectively, and how we maybe need to change the perspective.

“That’s an interesting exercise and something that I’m looking forward to.

“Of course, I’d rather win every single race and continue to win championship after championship but this is now the real challenge and, for me, an interesting one – as painful as it (the performance in Bahrain) is.”

Mercedes has pursued other design ideas

Whilst Mercedes opted to keep faith with its current concept of car, Wolff has confirmed other avenues were explored over the winter that are now open to it going forward.

Wolff has confirmed the budget cap, which this year is set at $135 million, will not be a limiting factor, albeit any new concept will only be adapted on one car initially.

“We’ve looked at other ideas,” said Wolff. “We haven’t stood still.

“That’s not only in the two weeks (across the pre-season test and opening GP) when we saw that we haven’t been able to close the gap.

“We’ve done it for a while, just to be open-minded but still with an emphasis on making this work, obviously.

“But we have already looked at different concepts.”

Wolff concedes that adopting anything new will not be the work of a moment, however, adding: “This is not a matter of finding three-tenths (of a second) and polishing the car.

“This a matter of serious performance we have to find in order to put us back into a situation to fight for race wins and championships.”

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