Lewis Hamilton has spoken candidly about the struggles Mercedes will face in 2023 – as the new W14 machine seems to have inherited many weaknesses from last year.
We reported as early as December 2022 that Mercedes were committed to keeping their ‘zero sidepod’ concept, determined to understand the potential of their new philosophy.
Persistent issues plagued the Silver Arrows last year, but a late-season resurgence seemed to confirm the team’s confidence in their radical sidepods.
However, the team has been pessimistic about their chances throughout the winter break – with Toto Wolff outlining Mercedes’ ambitions to introduce changes to their sidepods before the Bahrain GP weekend.
The concerns surrounding the W14 – which started in testing – were confirmed last Sunday, with the German squad struggling with overall performance and tire wear.
Lewis Hamilton, 7-time Champion, gave his post-race analysis:
“It was a fun race today, just wasn’t fast enough. I genuinely just love racing, so I’m happy that it was kind of smooth sailing.
“I had a great start, got Fernando in turn 4 and was like – oh jeez – this is a great start to the race. It felt like one of my better opening laps.
“But then I just was sliding around, I had so much understeer at the beginning, I took so much wing out, I couldn’t get around some of the corners, and I just couldn’t keep up with the guys ahead.”
“We definitely can’t fight them [Red Bull] at the moment. They were much quicker than us. As were the Astons.
“So we’re the fourth-fastest team now, as opposed to the third last year.
“Yeah, we’ve gone backwards. We really have a lot of work to do, to try and close that gap.”
Hamilton was able to compete with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz by the end of the race, perhaps a pleasant surprise for Mercedes given the W14’s limitations so far.
With that said, this speaks more to Ferrari’s regression than any progress from Mercedes, who – as Hamilton explained – have lost ground since the end of 2022.
Aston Martin’s resurgence, especially considering they are a Mercedes customer team, seems to have increased the scrutiny on the aerodynamic direction Mercedes are pursuing.
Toto Wolff has already stated the team cannot progress further with their current concept, forcing Mercedes to make changes to avoid a potential dead-end.
Considering the constraints of the budget cap – alongside the resources and time necessary to make a concept change and optimize it – Mercedes has a long road ahead.
F1 is an ever-evolving sport, so it would be premature to discount the Silver Arrows after such one round.
However, unlike Red Bull – or even Aston Martin – Mercedes have to change course if they are to make significant strides in terms of development.