ercedes can be quick, the team just currently don’t know how and why.
The surprise strugglers of 2022 looked to have turned the corner as George Russell enjoyed a blistering practice session on the Friday of the Miami Grand Prix, showing out-and-out pace for the first time all season.
Come qualifying and the race, whatever tweaks were made once more reduced the W13 to being a pig of a car to drive. And for all the engineer masterminds assembled back in Brackley, the team remain at a loss to explain how they had gone from front-runners to also-rans in the space of just 24 hours.
The porpoising may not have been as bad as at the previous four races but that was more down to the nuances of this new race track than Mercedes’ boffins having found any sort of solutions.
The reality is that Mercedes still only have the third quickest car on the grid and its pace is some way off that of Ferrari and Red Bull. And five races into 2022, they are no closer to understanding their problems.
“We’re the same speed as we were in the first race,” said a clearly frustrated Lewis Hamilton. “We haven’t improved in these five races but I’m hopeful that, at some stage, we will. It’s quite difficult when you’re not really going forward.”
Mercedes have always pushed the boundaries when it comes to its car design. When Formula One decided to rip up the old regulations, the dominant force of the sport opted for a car concept not in keeping with the rest of the grid.
You can see it on the sidepods – different to the rest of their rivals – and the upper floor of the car.
Where the frustration comes in is that all the data from the wind tunnel and the race track are not in keeping with what Hamilton and Russell are reporting when they’re behind the wheel. In essence, the data says they have a quick car, their drivers are living proof they don’t currently.
Of the drivers, Hamilton has tried everything to try to find a solution, opting for the bolder set-ups come qualifying and the races. At times, it has meant sacrificing his race for the mid to long-term good of the team while Russell has been put on a safer set-up, a sensible decision for a newcomer to the team.
Whatever Hamilton has tried, it hasn’t worked, and the car is increasingly being described as a diva by those at the helm of the team.
Looking back on another difficult weekend, Russell said: “We’ve got the brightest engineers in the business trying to understand it and we still don’t have a clear answer why. This weekend may turn out to be one of the most important weekends. There’s a fast car there.”
If Miami seems important, then the next race in Barcelona in two weekends’ time is even more so. It was at the Circuit de Catalunya that the teams did half of their winter testing, and Mercedes will have a base of data to which they can compare when there next week.
Whether that brings a solution and marks their turnaround, Mercedes are hopeful but genuinely have no clue.
Team principal Toto Wolff said: “The car is quick when it’s in the sweet spot. Understanding where the sweet spot… if that’s Barcelona or not, I don’t know. We’re flying in the fog a little bit. It’s clear that there’s potential in the car and she’s fast but we just don’t understand how to unlock the potential. It’s a car that is super difficult to drive and dipping in and out of the performance window.”
One option is to scrap the concept and start again for 2023. Currently that is the nuclear option and one Wolff is reluctant to pursue. It would be an official admission of quite how wrong they got the new regulations. But impetus for that suggestion will only heighten with more repeat weekends.
“We are still committed to the current concept,” said Wolff. “We are not looking at the lady next door whether we like it or not. We need to understand before switching to another concept where did this go wrong? What’s the good of the concept and what is the bad?”