ALEXIA’S TAKE: Can Mercedes strike back in 2023?

© Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

By Alexia Tibil

From major regulation changes to new car designs and fresh perspectives within all departments, the 2022 season marked the beginning of a “new era” in Formula One.

And when such a “regulatory reset” season comes along, there is usually one thought that every team has: to try and not get the regulations wrong. Such regulations can vary from being introduced yearly such as the sporting ones (parc ferme, penalties, scoring, flags etc), or a few years apart and those are usually categorized as “major regulation changes” (chassis, engine, tyres or refueling). With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the most important changes that came with the start of the season: larger tyres, frozen developments of each team’s engine, aerodynamic restrictions, lower budgets and safety car changes.

A rewind of Mercedes’ season could be the proper way to analyze their car development throughout the year and maybe come to some conclusions on whether they can return to the top of their game starting in 2023 or not. For a team that has known the taste of success through the whole of the “turbo hybrid era”, it has been rather hard to digest the 2023 season. When pre-season testing kicked off in Bahrain back in March, although we couldn’t really tell how well each team interpreted the regulations, something seemed to be off for a couple of teams including Mercedes. That’s when we were introduced to the term “porpoising”, something that would ultimately haunt half of the grid. However, some team, like Red Bull Racing and Ferrari, seemed to get the whole of aerodynamics regulations right.

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The beginning of the season for Mercedes, if we were to define it with only one word, would definitely be “struggle”. And so, many of those races were simply experiments for the team, with Lewis Hamilton carrying loads of various sensors throughout the first half of the season in order to try and get the car into a “sweet spot”. The Spanish GP saw the Team seemingly make a tremendous step into the right direction, but with the next few races, that step taken in Barcelona seemed to have fully disappeared. Starting with the Canadian GP, the Team got into a prodigious run of competitiveness that followed into the second half of the season, with consecutive podium appearances for both drivers. Nevertheless, it took a while until the Silver Arrows were able to see the checkered flag first, and that only happened in Brazil. In the penultimate race of the season, George Russell not only led Mercedes into its first win of a fairly troubled season, but along with Hamilton got the team its first 1-2 in more than a year.

As one can clearly see, there have been a couple of tracks that have suited the W13, but not to the extent of constant competitiveness as one would expect. As mentioned before, the season for Mercedes could clearly be divided into two parts: one filled with experiments and the “better half”, the part with a good run of podiums and a win. When it comes to Hamilton and his experiments at the beginning of the year, he recently mentioned what exactly are his preferences for the W14.

“I know exactly what I want in the car for next year,” he said.

“Basically things can’t change it’s too big to change this year with a cost cap so I’m able – in advance – to say these are the things I want in the car for next year.

“I hope that the struggles this year really provide us with the tools and the strengths to fight for many more championships moving forward”, Lewis concluded.

This has not been the first time a top Team has gotten the regulations wrong, by all means. So, with that in mind, we could draw parallels between Mercedes’ 2022 and other Teams’ seasons in which they have been struggling. The first such example could be the 2009 McLaren, the MP4-24, a car that has been an utter nightmare for the Team and its drivers back then. Having won the Drivers’ Championship with the same team in 2008, Hamilton has found himself at the start of 2009 with a “horrendous” car. Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director has admitted that “there may well be parallels” between the seasons in question, with both teams struggling with the newest regulations.

“When McLaren started to understand what they had to do with the regulations, the development rate was really impressive,” Shovlin said.

“And a parallel might be that within our team, we’re just starting to really get back the enjoyment for that engineering challenge and the development challenge,” he concluded.

Another such example could be Red Bull back in 2014, when after having won both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships from 2010 to 2013, they slipped way back on the grid at the start of the “hybrid era”. The RB10 has been a challenge to the whole team and while “Mercedes aced this change, Red Bull stumbled”.

Back in 2005, the Ferrari F2005 has turned out to be a proper nightmare for Michael Schumacher and his team mainly because of a major tyre regulation change that put Ferrari into a tough spot.

Having said all of the above, one thing is crystal clear: no dominance can last forever as well as no struggle can. And with the examples listed above, we could draw a couple of solid conclusions. Whilst Mercedes absolutely did not start the season on a high, the progress throughout each race has been immense, meaning that they are on the right path. On top of that, albeit the whole “data gathering” has been awfully tiring, the upgrades that came in the latter part of the season have put the car into a competitive place once more. And so, there is absolutely no reason not to believe that Mercedes can strike back in 2023, or even better, fight for the championships and race wins, as they have for eight consecutive years prior to the 2022 season.

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