Formula 1 Racing

Mercedes may ‘take a step back before making two forward’ to fix car

George Russell, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

Mercedes’ efforts to cure the problems with its W14 chassis may be complicated by the need to stay within the constraints of the cost cap, says team principal Toto Wolff.

Following its uncompetitive showing in the first race of the season in Bahrain the team accepted it needs to change the philosophy of its car, which is an evolution of last year’s W13. But the need to keep its spending within the spending cap, which has fallen to $135 million (£111m) with exceptions and allowances this year, makes it impossible for the team to develop an all-new car this year.

“It’s out of question that you change the chassis because simply there is not enough budget in the cost cap,” said Wolff in today’s FIA press conference. “But changing that the way the aerodynamics work and bodywork is perfectly within the scope.”

Lewis Hamilton said yesterday Mercedes were one-and-a-half seconds per lap slower than Red Bull in the Bahrain Grand Prix. How quickly they can rebound from that will be influenced by the budget cap, Wolff believes.

“The budget cap in a way has more positives and negatives. Obviously if you’re on the back foot like we are at the moment, it doesn’t allow you to build a second chassis.

“But I think our fundamental problem is not building a second chassis or throwing stuff at the car. It’s more about a direction that we’ve taken that’s wrong.

“When we change it now, that’s going to be limited by the budget cap, but not in the way that you would expect like we are not able to develop – we are still able to develop. But it will mean we need to spend time on a new concept, on new ideas and we need to discontinue the old one.

“So in the short term it could mean you make a step back before making two forward.”

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Mercedes had to scale down its F1 operation and reduce its staff numbers in order to operate within the budget cap when it was introduced two years ago. However Wolff has no objections to the constraints it has placed upon their operation.

“These are the rules, they’ve been introduced exactly for the reason to put the field stronger together, which will eventually happen. I mean, Red Bull is showing us that if you do a good job, you can out-perform anybody else. But for us these are the rules and we need to still do a better job.”

Depending on how successfully they can address their problems this year, Mercedes may require a more radical change to its chassis design…

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