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Formula 1

How long has Mercedes got to salvage its 2022? Our verdict

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

Mercedes is adamant it’s nowhere near 2022 Formula 1 title contention given its performance gulf to Ferrari and Red Bull right now.

But many are sceptical about its pessimism given that relentless run of championships under Mercedes’ belt.

At what point do we count Mercedes out of this title fight?

Here are our writers’ thoughts:

It may be doomed already

Glenn Freeman

George Russell Mercedes F1

This is an absurd thing to say two races into F1’s longest ever season with brand new rules where the scope for development is huge, but I’ll say it anyway: I think Mercedes’ title shot is already gone.

Sure, if it had a fast car and the first two races had just gone badly for other reasons, then you would back a team this good to go on a run of results at some point and haul itself back into contention.

But the car isn’t quick enough. And at some point it would need to chase down two cars that are very quick, both with superstar drivers in them.

I don’t expect it to be the work of a moment for Mercedes to get fully on top of its problems, and with the way the cost cap has clipped the wings of the biggest teams, it can’t just throw endless resource at solving its dramas overnight.

Even when (or if?) it gets on top of what’s wrong with the W13, I can’t see it being so far ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull that it can charge past them in the championship race. But the sooner we have three teams battling for victory every weekend, the better.

Expect surprises, from Mercedes or others

Matt Beer

F1 Saudi Arabian GP start

Logically this is a Ferrari versus Red Bull title fight and Mercedes will be fortunate to win at all in 2022.

But given how new these rules are, and how wise people have suggested the nature of the ground effect cars could lead to some pretty big performance swings over the year as teams happen upon what makes their car work – or doesn’t – I don’t believe we’re anywhere near 2022’s set pattern yet.

That doesn’t mean I think a Mercedes surge is inevitable, though – it’s in uncharted territory in a restricted era. Just that we should expect surprises ahead. Much of 2009 looked very little like its early races.

History offers mixed messages

Edd Straw

Brazilian GP F1 2007

With every point that Mercedes falls behind during this difficult early-season phase, its prospects take a hit. Even if it does turn the W13 into a leading car – and that’s not a foregone conclusion – history tells us that playing catch-up is not easy.

Historically, it is rare for a significant points deficit to be overturned. Looking just at the drivers’ championship, the largest deficit overturned was Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel in 2012, who went from 44 points behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso after the German Grand Prix.

George Russell is already 23 points behind leader Charles Leclerc, with Lewis Hamilton 29 points down. While those deficits aren’t massive right now, if they continue to grow even for another three or four races they could be too far behind to regain ground without staging an unprecedented turnaround.

Of course, we also need to look at reversals under older points systems. The biggest turnaround pre-2010 was James Hunt overcoming a 35-point deficit to beat Niki Lauda to the title in 1976 – and that was an opportunity created by the Austrian’s life-threatening Nurburgring crash.

In ‘normal’ circumstances, you have to look to Kimi Raikkonen turning around a deficit that peaked at 26 points in 2007 – the equivalent of 65 points today – for a more representative recovery. Remarkably, at the end of the season Raikkonen came back from 17 points down with two races left.

Time is still on the side of Mercedes. There are still 22 races remaining so the opportunity is there. But history reveals that overcoming deficits even that stretch beyond two victory’s worth of points is a huge challenge.

Not what Mercedes was built for

Mark Hughes

George Russell Mercedes F1

It hasn’t got very long. By its own reckoning even with its new wing and associated changes coming for Melbourne it’s not suddenly going to be Ferrari/Red Bull-beaters. It’s a longer-term fix – and even then it’s not certain that those two teams won’t have found a lot more performance of their own.

But let’s assume that the W13 really is a rocketship which when sorted will be the fastest car in the field. One of either Lewis Hamilton or George Russell then has to not only overcome the points lead of the Ferrari/Red Bull guys but also do so while possibly giving points away to his team-mate. My instinct is that the incredibly scientific, measured methodology of the team which, in combination with massive resources, has brought them eight world titles may not be the most appropriate for a left-field unexpected problem.

Talk to any aerodynamicists who worked on ground effect cars and they tell you that any porpoising problem they ever encountered was solved by either restricting the venturi inlet or expanding its outlet. Surrendering some theoretical downforce that’s forever inaccessible for some real-world downforce.

Maybe in this occasion the thing to do is get on and do a new floor, and work out why it’s better later… I worry for them that doing it the ‘correct’ way round may take too long.

The one luxury that will quickly run out

Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Practice Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

It’s far too early to write off the best team of the V6 turbo-hybrid era, but each race that ticks by without a big step is a problem for Mercedes.

George Russell has taken solace from the fact the calendar is not too dense early on. The final test leading into a double-header wasn’t ideal but then Mercedes had a week off, now Australia, then a week off, Imola, then a week off, Miami, and another week off.

That’s at least a bit of time to try to crack the problem and start working on bringing a performance-unlocking upgrade to the car. Let’s assume it could muddle its way through to Spain and then have the W13 working as it desires – that 18 races left to go, plenty of time to get back into championship contention.

Time is a luxury that will quickly run out if Mercedes has not found a solution to its problems though. Then its title shot would rapidly fade.

Mercedes has done a good but not stunning job of maximising the points in the interim. Russell has a couple of top-five finishes and that means he’s got almost as many points as Max Verstappen, because of Red Bull’s double DNF in Bahrain. Lewis Hamilton is just a few points further back after his troubled weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Ferrari and its drivers have a nice little early points buffer, but they can be caught. Assuming the Mercedes W13’s performance ever stops being theoretical.

Recall the last massive F1 reset

Sam Smith

Nico Rosberg Mercedes Sebastian Vettel Red Bull F1

Did Mercedes’ title ambitions ever exist in the first place? Not as far as I’ve seen.

Just because you have been the preeminent force over the last eight years doesn’t mean an automatic entry into the title fight, and so it has proved so far.

Merc is feeling a similar pain to Red Bull in 2014 when the then reigning champion was completely disassembled and routed, 16 wins to three.

Rules changes nearly always shake up the order, especially in terms of outright winners.

This could mean that Mercedes has to face up to a similarly paltry return this year as Red Bull in 2014. It looks that way at present, to such an extent that any notion of even a title challenge feels like fantasy.

But a warning to Ferrari and Red Bull. If any team can dramatically turn around fortunes it is Mercedes. Its rate of development is sensational and finding 0.5s, while not easy, is possible in the space of a few months.

That though is much too long a timeframe to get back into the thrust of a title challenge.

Perhaps more of an objective will be to keep Hamilton’s motivation buoyant as he faces the double challenge of a young, rapid team-mate and a first campaign since 2013 where aiming for fourth or fifth place in the standings might be as good as it gets.

Red Bull has bailed it out

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Sergio Perez Red Bull Sakhir F1

Given how horrendous Hamilton’s Jeddah weekend was, it is genuinely remarkable Mercedes is second – second! – in the constructors’ standings.

The picture in championship terms would be far, far bleaker had Red Bull not imploded at Sakhir, but as it stands the damage has been minimised. Yeah, a lot of early points have been surrendered to Ferrari and Charles Leclerc in particular, but the current margin absolutely does not reflect the gap in the performances of the F1-75 and the W13.

That absolutely won’t matter if the car isn’t much faster very soon, within the next three or four races. And what happened at Jeddah should be a huge concern – if the car is this easy to get out of its operating window and render completely uncompetitive, then a couple more runs to 10th place for Hamilton or Russell will absolutely brutalise any chances of either title this season.

But for now, the damage hasn’t been done. And you get the feeling that, coming out of pre-season testing, Mercedes would’ve gladly accepted this kind of championship situation for the first two races.

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