Toto Wolff made no excuses after a nightmare Sunday for Mercedes in Brazil, with the W14 performing well below expectations.
The last eighteen months have been exceptionally difficult for Mercedes. After setting the target of reclaiming the F1 Championship in 2022, the German outfit has faced consistent struggles in their efforts to thwart Red Bull.
In some ways, it is surprising that Mercedes has clung to P2 in the standings. Aston Martin’s mid-season development has been detrimental to their campaign, whilst McLaren’s revival started too late to trouble the Silver Arrows in the standings. Meanwhile, at Ferrari, several issues have kept them behind the German constructor.
Still, the W14 is certainly not the second-best car on the grid – that title belongs to the MCL60. Looking ahead to next year, the Brackley-based team must take a major step forward. Since the start of these regulations, they have been incapable of achieving this.
There have been positive signs for Mercedes, as evidenced by their strong pace in COTA and Mexico. Whilst Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification overshadowed their pace in Austin, the feeling within the team is almost certainly worse post-Brazil.
Although all teams experience relatively stronger and weaker circuits, this is not a luxury Toto Wolff’s team can afford.
Red Bull already has a significant advantage, so dividing the season into “strong” and “weak” tracks cannot be a winning Formula. Even at Mercedes’ more competitive weekends, the supremacy of the RB19 is evident.
In a post-race interview, Toto Wolff didn’t hold back in his analysis:
“Inexcusable performance. There’s no words for that,” he told Sky Sports.
“That car finished second last week and the week before. Whatever we did to it was horrible.
“Lewis survived out there, but George… I can only feel for them driving such a miserable thing.”
Whilst most team principals wouldn’t describe the second-ranked car in the standings as “miserable”, it is no surprise that Mercedes holds themselves to such a high standard.
For a team that dominated for so long, playing second-fiddle is unacceptable. More concerning for the Silver Arrows, however, is that the gap to Red Bull is not getting any smaller. As it stands, Lewis Hamilton is not optimistic the Austrian squad can be caught in 2024.
Considering Red Bull has hardly introduced any improvements this year, Mercedes’ failure to close the gap is a source of frustration.
In theory, Red Bull’s wind tunnel penalty left them vulnerable to rivals this season. However, the Silver Arrows have been preoccupied with changing direction – rather than pushing ahead.
The current predicament is clear – the question is whether the team can reverse its fortunes.