Mercedes is preparing to trash their car for 2023 – the humiliating concession coming Saturday night in Bahrain, on the eve of the opening race of the season.
Team boss Toto Wolff delivered the astonishing news after the Silver Arrows qualified six-tenths of a second behind pole-sitter Max Verstappen in a machine – the W14 – which he admitted cannot take Lewis Hamilton to an eighth world title.
“I don’t think this package will be competitive in the end,” he said.
The turnaround came 24 hours after Hamilton questioned whether it made sense to continue with the flawed design. That was before he qualified seventh, one spot behind teammate George Russell.
It seems likely that the floor of the car and the attached ‘zero’ sidepod will be discarded. None of their rivals have taken a similar approach, and it’s clear why not. The stopwatch gives the unequivocally damning answer.
Toto Wolff says Mercedes is going to announce they will ditch their 2023 car design
The news is heavy for driver Lewis Hamilton, who wants to make history by taking eighth title
So there is a long, difficult road ahead for the team that has dominated the last decade of Formula 1. Their halo slipped last season when new rules were put in place. Red Bull stole a march, while the Mercedes bounced ineffectively as the sole third best on the grid.
Yesterday they were fourth fastest, behind Red Bull – on their own with a front row lockout achieved with the second fastest lap of Sergio Perez – Ferrari and Aston Martin. Embarrassingly, they supply Aston’s engines and share the same wind tunnel. The rear of both cars are also the same. So that points to the floor-sidepod combination being the main concern.
Experimenting with a new concept takes time to hone in on, probably months, and involves taking a step back to take two forward.
Wolff talked about having the right infrastructure in place to make things right. This is a moot point. Are they still a super team? James Allison is lost as technical director. Andy Cowell has disappeared as a motorcycle guru. Eddie Bladin has left as head of aerodynamics.
The news comes just 24 hours after the British driver questioned the car’s design
Blandin is now at Aston Martin where, significantly, he appears to have barely advocated using the Mercedes concept there.
It may also be crucial that the decisive, no-nonsense Niki Lauda passed away in 2019. His directness was crucial in countering Wolff’s more methodical and cautious approach.
Speaking calmly at the Mercedes paddock chalet, Wolff said: “We’ve done our best over the winter, and now we all just have to sit down with the engineers, be totally non-dogmatic, ask what development direction we want to take. to win races.
“On this team, we blame the problem, not the person. I have responsibilities. I have to fire myself if I want to do anything about it.
We have all the ingredients to be successful. Last year we were wrong. We thought we could solve it by sticking to the concept of the car, but we couldn’t. So we just need to shift our focus to what we think is the right direction.
The news comes on the eve of the start of the new F1 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix
His rival Max Verstappen (pictured) had said he didn’t think the car was ‘competitive’
‘We see on the GPS where we are performing and where we are good.
“Last year we started with six-tenths and this year we started with six-tenths.
‘Every day counts. We’re losing these days. It will be difficult to catch up, so we need to make the right decisions now to set the sails in the right direction.’
Starting position Grand Prix Bahrain
1. Max Verstappen – Red Bull
2. Sergio Peresz – Red Bull
3. Charles Leclerc Ferrari
4. Carlos Sainz Jr. – Ferrari
5. Fernando Alonso – Aston Martin
6. George Russell-Mercedes
7. Lewis Hamilton-Mercedes
8. Lance Stroll – Aston Martin
9. Esteban Ocon – Alpine
10. Nico Hulkenburg – Haas
This is all disheartening for Hamilton. At 38 years old, the sand is running out of the timer in his quest for an eighth world title. It seems very unlikely that will happen this year when his £40m per season deal expires, although he says he wants to sign an extension to continue racing.
Wolff promised to help his star man realize his dream. “Even if I have to drag him around the track to get eighth, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Asked about that happening in the 23 races ahead between now and the final round in Abu Dhabi on November 26, Wolff said: ‘You know motor racing is crazy. I don’t know what will happen this year.
Maybe next week we’ll find a silver bullet and win five-tenths. I’ve never seen silver bullets. But you never know. Certainly in the medium and long term we need a car that can make us fight for an eighth world championship.
“We are racers. We never give up fighting every session to be on top.’
That honor fell to Verstappen yesterday when he took his 21st career pole, cementing his position as heavy favorite for victory at today’s floodlit race at Sakhir to start his bid for a third consecutive title.
The Silver Arrows qualified six-tenths of a second behind pole-sitter Max Verstappen
Hamilton will start Sunday’s Grand Prix in seventh place, while George Russell will start sixth
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was third fastest, three-tenths off the pace. His teammate Carlos Sainz qualified fourth. Fernando Alonso was fifth best for Aston Martin.
Lance Stroll, in the other Aston, just escaped Q2 on his final run and condemned McLaren’s Lando Norris to qualify eleventh. McLaren’s second driver, rookie Oscar Piastri, was 18th, a learning curve for him.
Stroll finished eighth. That wasn’t a bad attempt at all after he had to have surgery on his wrist a few weeks ago due to a cycling accident. The Canadian wore a plaster and brace on his left hand, where the procedure was performed, while the other wrist was sore, as was the big toe of his right foot.