Lewis Hamilton was a dejected figure at the Brazilian GP, making a pessimistic forecast about Red Bull’s chances for 2024 and beyond.
Mercedes failed to live up to expectations heading into this weekend’s action in Brazil. The Silver Arrows managed an impressive victory at Interlagos last season, but this year’s W14 was sorely lacking in all areas over the three days of action.
The Sprint Race format was likely a limiting factor, preventing Mercedes from fine-tuning their set-up. A lack of straight-line speed was one of the first concerns, although a variety of other problems became clear on Saturday.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the German outfit suffered from significant levels of tyre wear. This was a slightly bizarre development, given that this is typically a strength for the team. Moreover (as evidenced by the speed trap figures), the W14 was running a high-downforce set-up.
Generally speaking, this helps protect and extend tyre life.
Unfortunately for Lewis Hamilton, this was not the case. Within a few laps of the Sunday Grand Prix, the 7-time Champion found himself on the defensive. In an effort to extend his stint, he was forced to control his pace – allowing Alonso to break ahead with relative ease.
Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin also made light work of the Mercedes, with two of the German outfit’s customers exposing their weaknesses.
Hamilton warns of Red Bull’s advantage
Speaking to the media, Hamilton made some negative predictions about his team’s chances of closing the gap with Red Bull:
“I knew that we would have a difficult day. Nothing changed in the car from yesterday to today, so I knew it would be tough.
“The tyres were overheating, the car was] slow on the straights, no grip in corners.
“Ultimately, all I can do is try and remain optimistic.
“The Red Bull, I think, is so far away – I think they’re probably going to be very clear for the next couple of years.”
Hamilton’s fears are not totally unfounded. While showing signs of promise in the later stages of 2023, Mercedes is still several steps behind Red Bull. The German outfit is also susceptible to swings in performance across different circuits – which must be addressed to fight Red Bull consistently.
For Toto Wolff, McLaren (a customer team) has been a frustrating example of what is possible with strong development. Although Mercedes is second in the championship, it is clear that McLaren is now the closest challenger to Max Verstappen.
It would be unfair to write off Mercedes’ chances for 2024. After all, most of this year has been dedicated to correcting mistakes from winter. By doing this, James Allison and his technical team are laying new foundations for next season’s car.
With that said, the window of opportunity under these regulations is rapidly closing.