Mercedes is a manufacturer with considerable pedigree. Buy a top-of-the-range Mercedes and Mercedes gap insurance, and you can be reasonably confident of the quality you’re going to be enjoying.
For the better part of a decade, the company has also managed to dominate the highly-competitive world of F1. Mercedes has won eight consecutive constructors championships, thanks in large part to its star driver, Lewis Hamilton.
But, if the start of the 2023 season is any indication, then this period of dominance might well be coming to an end. Last year, the team lost their constructor’s crown, after a lacklustre showing from the W13 car. It was the first time that the manufacturer had missed out in the powertrain era.
This time around, the successor, the W14, has been seriously off the pace. So, what conclusions can we draw from this?
The W14 In Detail
A number of changes have been made for this season, which set the new car apart from its predecessor in a number of key ways. The most obvious is that it’s black. This is a result of the paint being scraped away, to save weight. The team suffered several penalties last season for being overweight, and it is keen not to repeat the mistake.
The ‘size zero’ side-pods from last year have made a return – though, at the launch, team principal and CEO Toto Wolff claimed that the side pods would be considered at some point.
Any enthusiasm about the new car was dampened by its underwhelming opening to the season, where Hamilton and Russell came in fifth and seventh respectively, some distance behind their counterparts in the Red Bulls.
Where do Mercedes go from here?
Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin was unimpressed by the car’s performance in Bahrain, saying ‘you will see visible changes to the car over the next few races’.
The sentiment was echoed by Wolff, who called it one of his ‘worst days in racing’. Hamilton claimed that the car was ‘lacking downforce’, urging his team to ‘push massively to tryand close that gap’.
Given the strength of all this rhetoric, we might conclude that the car isn’t just about to be given a few choice tweaks, but replaced entirely with a different concept. Morale in the Mercedes camp might well be low, especially since the car shares so many common elements with the Aston Martin, which is performing relatively well.
Whatever changes are in the offing, the earliest hint at them may arrive at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, which takes place on the weekend of March 17th.