Mercedes has accepted it needs to change the philosophy behind its Formula 1 car after starting the new season almost no closer to the front than it was 12 months ago.
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton claimed sixth and seventh on the grid for tomorrow’s season-opening race, getting within 0.632s of pole-winner Max Verstappen. The team was 0.68s off the pace at the same track 12 months ago.
Yesterday Hamilton said he doubts the team will be able to reduce the gap to their rivals if they stick with their current concept. Mercedes have pursued a novel solution to the regulations which were introduced last year, featuring distinctively slim ‘zero’ sidepods.
Team principal Toto Wolff says they have accepted they need to make a fundamental change to their car’s design. “I don’t think this package is going to be competitive, eventually,” he told media including RaceFans in Bahrain.
“We gave it our best go also over the winter and now we just need to all regroup, sit down with the engineers who are totally not dogmatic about anything, there is no holy cows, and decide what is the development direction we want to pursue in order to be competitive to win races.
“It’s not only like last year that you’re scoring podiums and eventually you get there. I’m sure we can win races this season but it’s really the mid- and long-term that we need to look at which decisions you need to take.”
The team suffered porpoising problems throughout last season which it has cured with its latest design. Wolff said the team had realised the performance gains they expected to find from the car, but it hadn’t been enough to make them as competitive with the likes of Red Bull.
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“We hit our targets,” he said. “That’s why we gave it out best shot. And the moment comes and the stopwatch comes out and that showed us that it’s simply not good enough. We haven’t got enough downforce and we need to find solutions to fix that.”
Wolff’s comments indicate the team intends to pursue a change more quickly than the team’s technical director Mike Elliott indicated yesterday. Elliott said the team would wait assess the car’s performance over the coming races before deciding whether and how to change it.
However Wolff made it clear he is not seeking to make changes in the team’s technical department. “In this team we blame the problem and not the person,” he said. “And at the end I have responsibility so I would need to fire myself if I want to do something.
“We have all the ingredients to be successful. It’s people and infrastructure that won eight consecutive championships in a row and we got it wrong last year.
“We thought we can fix it while sticking to this concept of car and it didn’t work out. So we just need to switch our focus onto what we believe can be the right direction, what is it where we are missing.”
The information the team generates this weekend will be “very important” to inform the team’s future direction, said Wolff. “We’re seeing on the GPS where we are lacking performance and we see where we are good.
“So we just need to sort out what that is and whether this is sticking wider sideboards on the car or the really subtle things that bring performance, is a different question. But definitely we will within the group embark on an untreaded path.”
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