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Formula 1

Hamilton knew Mercedes was still adrift when he first tried W14

by Matt Beer, Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Lewis Hamilton says he knew from his very first laps in the Mercedes W14 that its 2023 Formula 1 car was not going to be quick enough at the start of the season.

From its launch event through pre-season testing, Mercedes has been tentative to the point of pessimism about its chances of returning to the front of the pack this season.

Whether it has been deliberately downplaying its prospects or remains in real trouble will only become completely clear at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, but all analysis of testing suggests Mercedes is at best third-fastest and likely to be under pressure from Aston Martin for that position.

Hamilton’s own assessment is along those lines, and he says he formed that judgement as soon as he tried the W14 – though with the caveat that he was relieved last year’s key problems of bouncing and porpoising were resolved as he felt that would make solving the outstanding issues more straightforward.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1 Bahrain

“I knew from the moment I drove the car, the challenge we’d be facing,” he said.

“On a positive note, not having the bouncing this year is a huge, huge plus. Trying to understand what the problems were while having bouncing made it difficult to figure out what those were.

“We don’t have that now so now we can just focus on pure performance. I’m encouraged to see the focus and courage of everyone in the team, just so focused on getting us back to the top.

“We’re not where we want to be to start the season, but this still is a multi-championship-winning team and group of people.”

Told by journalists that his team-mate George Russell appeared to be “more bullish” about Mercedes’ prospects now than at testing last week, Hamilton said he “wouldn’t use those words” to describe his own stance.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1 Bahrain

But Russell did seem more positive about Mercedes’ prospects in the medium term.

“The way you saw our development last year with Mercedes was pretty spectacular, over the course of the year,” he said.

“I trust in our team and if we develop at the same rate as we did last year, we’re definitely starting at a higher point.

“The good thing is, there are not too many races at the start of the season so it gives us some time to develop in the windtunnel and back at the factory, to fight for when the main block of races comes.”

Mercedes had encouraging first and third days of pre-season testing sandwiching a more puzzling and concerning Friday.

Asked if that meant the team had created another ‘diva’ – the term team boss Toto Wolff first coined to summarise early problems with getting the best out of the 2017 Mercedes – Russell said the current situation felt like an isolated blip in testing than a sign the W14 was fundamentally flawed or going to be troublesome all season.

George Russell Mercedes F1 Bahrain testing

“We had a really good time between the test and the race to analyse what happened throughout the test,” he replied.

“There were a few things going on with the car that we didn’t quite expect, but we’ve been able to resolve pretty easily. Just working in slightly the wrong window.

“So we’ve put that change in for this weekend, we were running a different rear wing in the Bahrain test, just for some correlation work. And that wasn’t an optimal rear wing for Bahrain either.

“So there’s definitely positive signs but I’m not going to sit here saying we’re going to find that laptime deficit to Red Bull. But I’m definitely sitting here in a more comfortable place than I probably was on Friday night.”

George Russell Mercedes F1 Bahrain

When asked what Mercedes needed to do to get its 2023 car closer to Red Bull, Russell said it came down to the fundamentals of more downforce and better straightline speed.

“Naturally everybody’s always looking for more downforce,” he said.

“And the tricky thing with these new regulations of car is trying to get the car as low as possible and gain that downforce.

“Probably being a little bit more efficient in a straight line – Red Bull have been very strong, generally-speaking, in their drag and I think we may have made a small step improvement this weekend.

“I hope that’s reflected in the speed traps and that’s almost a bit of free laptime.

George Russell Mercedes F1 Bahrain

“I think we need to trust in our process. Mercedes have built a world championship-winning car for eight seasons in a row.

“We’ve still fundamentally got all the same guys there. And they haven’t just forgotten how to build a fast race car.

“We were obviously on the back foot following the challenges of the W13, but I absolutely believe as this season progresses we’re definitely going to close that gap – and there’s no reason why we can’t fight as the season hots up.”

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