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What’s Going On at Mercedes?



Something seems to be horribly amiss at the once all-conquering Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team. A season to forget followed by the worst possible start to a season that they’ve had in years, has led many, including the staff and drivers themselves, to question the direction the team has taken in the last two years. What has gone wrong at the German outfit that was notorious for steam-rolling its competition and posing near insurmountable challenges to the other teams?


 

Post-2021 Woes

As if the controversial end to the 2021 Season, which Mercedes and its fans termed a ‘robbery’, wasn’t enough pain to the Brackley squad, it was followed up by a season which can be termed as lackluster at best, and a disaster at worst. The W13 E Performance was a mere shadow of the mighty cars which preceded it. Mercedes’ minimal side-pod concept raised eyebrows and turned heads when it first appeared in Bahrain, but as it would soon turn out, it would seem to be more of an aesthetic look rather than an actual performance enhancer, which Mercedes were expecting it to be. More than the sidepods, Mercedes’ overall aero concept seemed to be for the first time, vastly inferior to the other top teams, if not to nearly half the grid. The W13 was plagued by porpoising as a result of the new ground-effect regulations for the 2022 season. Mercedes would protest the problem of porpoising by declaring it a driver safety hazard, and which had to be dealt with immediately. They would lobby with the FIA and other teams to change the regulations to allow for the cars to be raised by 25 mm, which ended up being agreed to just 15 mm, as the FIA noted that many other teams had quite clearly reduced their porpoising problems, if not eradicated it completely, as in the case of Red Bull, who of course went on to have a dominant season.


Not Listening to their Drivers…?

The heart of an F1 team of course lies in the people actually driving the machinery in the first place, pushing it to its absolute limit, and get the most out of it on any given race weekend. This means that the functioning of the technical team and the car itself, relies not only on data gathered from the simulations but also from the drivers themselves, who have an innate sense of judging a cars characteristics once they get behind the wheel. However, it would seem that this specific work ethic has been missing at Mercedes, at least in the last two development seasons. With both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell having major dissatisfactions with the car’s design and development, and the former reportedly having told the team to “drop their ego”, and adopt a philosophy similar to Red Bull’s RB18, which allowed numerous teams lower down the grid to reap massive benefits, especially Aston Martin, which turned a backmarker of a car into a more refined, point-scoring machine. Mercedes Technical Director, Mike Elliott, reportedly has been given a deadline to sort out the cars woes by Imola. This was followed by the bringing back of star-designer James Allison, who had been Elliott’s predecessor from 2017-2021, and oversaw constructors championships in each one, and drivers championships in all but one of the seasons.


Lets not forget that Lewis Hamilton has still not signed a new contract for the 2024 season with the Silver Arrows, which understandably would be dependent on whether the German outfit could provide him with at least a competitive car for the 2023 Season, if not a championship-winning car altogether. With the current state of shambles that the team is in, it would be no surprise if Hamilton considers abandoning ship, and moving to another team or hanging up his boots entirely, the former being the more likely of the two scenarios. Mercedes desperately needs to step up its game this season, if it wants to retain the driver behind all but one of its driver’s championships, and the driver who was part of every constructors championship-winning year.


Poaching of Technical Staff

Considering Mercedes through the entire turbo-hybrid era was almost unstoppable up until this point, it would be of no surprise that its technical staff would always be on the radar for other teams on the grid. 2022 saw many key Mercedes staff leave for Red Bull and Aston Martin, to oversee the development programs at Milton-Keynes and Silverstone respectively. Understandably, this means that Mercedes would have been suffering from a lack of minds to successfully guide its projects forward. However, pinning the blame solely on this would be in reality would be far from the truth. Red Bull itself lost key staff to other teams, most notably Dan Fallows who left the team to join Aston Martin in 2022, and after having such a dominant start to the 2023 Season, nearly a second clear of every other team, it is easy to see why a loss of minds cannot be the primary reason behind the teams struggles.


Stakeholders Shifting Focus

As if things could not get worse for the 8-time world champions, rumours are rife about investors and stakeholders shifting focus away from the works team and towards the customer team of Aston Martin. This is sure to leave a sour taste in the mouths of many, including drivers, technical teams, management. However, this is all dependent on the performance of the W14 in the forthcoming Grands Prix. The team is on a mission to try and solve the cars technical issues by Imola, failing which Mercedes would look to provide customer team, Aston Martin with higher quality equipment and power unit, which would have otherwise been reserved for the works team itself, allowing them to at least compete with Red Bull as an engine supplier.


Another role being brought into question is that of the team boss, Toto Wolff, who has started to have his position and stake in the team increasingly brought into question. One must remember however, that this is the same Toto Wolff that led the team to each and every one of its championships. Toto is the last of a generation of Team Bosses, that in a way truly tied themselves to the team, by owning a large stake in the team, either as an external investor, or founders/chairpersons themselves. While lacking a certain level of internal democracy, it allows for a much higher level of administration stability, shared by the likes of Red Bull under Christian Horner, and which Ferrari has lacked ever since the departure of Jean Todt many years back. In my honest opinion, if there is anyone who is more than capable to lead Mercedes back to winning ways, it is Toto himself. Of course, while he still has a small amount to gain in the rise of Aston Martin, by being a stakeholder in Aston Martin Lagonda himself, he still possesses a responsibility to the team which he would more than gladly call, ‘home’.


Concluding Thoughts

Even with the air of doom-and-gloom surrounding the Brackley boys, it would be jumping the gun at best, and downright foolish at worst, to completely write off Mercedes’ chances for a decent performance this season. While it would be a herculean task to convert the W14 into a championship contender, winning races still remains very much in the ballpark for Mercedes. Of course, this article could age horribly by the end of the season, should Mercedes pull off a turnaround similar to Red Bull last year, but regardless of the final outcome of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix should serve as a wake-up call to the Silver Arrows, that they are not invulnerable, and the only way to fight in this championship, is to fight hard and to the death.

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