Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admits the “reality” that his Formula One car is not good enough to challenge its main rivals this season.
At least he knows where the W14’s flaws lie.
“We understand, quite frankly,” Wolff said at Friday’s Saudi Arabian grand prix. “There are no miracles in this game. . . I don’t think we can beat the teams in front of us, that’s the truth.”
Wolff’s comments come a day after seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes was so off the pace it would need three teams to pull out of the race to have a chance of winning.
Red Bull dominated the season-opener two weeks ago in Bahrain with a 1-2 finish from two-time defending world champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez.
Fernando Alonso surprisingly finished third for Aston Martin and Carlos Sainz Jr. was fourth for Ferrari.
Hamilton was 51 seconds behind Verstappen in fifth, and teammate George Russell was 56 seconds behind in seventh. Both places would have been worse if Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc had not had an engine failure towards the end of the race.
“We need to do a better job,” Wolfe said. “We have to set strong targets for ourselves internally, because we know where the deficit is. But I don’t want to talk about it publicly because it will just put (more) pressure (on) him.
Hamilton was critical of Mercedes after Bahrain, telling a BBC podcast that Mercedes had not listened to him about the development of this year’s car.
Wolfe understood his desperation.
“We know there are emotions in sports. With him, with me, with so many others on the team. We wear our hearts on our sleeve,” Wolff said. “We know emotions can run high. . We have tough love. , , And no one is going to take it on the chin in the team.
Wolff knows that Mercedes made a mistake in the development of the car after Russell took his only race win last year. Mercedes struggled with a ground effect known as “porpoising” and Russell was fourth in the 2022 standings. Hamilton was sixth.
The 2023 W14 car features very narrow bodywork, known in F1 as the “zero-sidepod” concept, but Mercedes essentially produced a flawed car.
Wolfe said of sticking with the same concept after misreading the information, “We were very simply proven wrong.” “The stopwatch never lies and we see the data where we are missing and need to fix it.”
Although it is not possible to change the chassis due to budget limits, he believes that the aerodynamics can be improved.
“Overall we are not happy about the amount of downforce, the mechanical balance,” said Wolff. “We can reduce a lot of performance losses because we know (the direction to go).”
Hamilton said he was still determined to negotiate a new contract and remained firm in his belief that he could win again.
“I have every confidence (he will stay),” Wolff said. There is no reason to doubt each other, even though it is a difficult step.”
But Wolff admits 38-year-old Hamilton – who holds the F1 record with 103 wins – may eventually look elsewhere if he doesn’t find a competitive car that can win races in the next few seasons.
“As a driver, however, if he wants to win another championship he has to make sure he has the car,” said Wolff. “And if we can’t demonstrate that we’re going to be able to give them a car in the next few years, then they need to look everywhere. If that happens, I won’t complain.”