Mercedes has endured such a difficult start to its campaign with regard to its car concept that a “civil war” is taking place behind the scenes.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton openly questioned the W14 car concept, an opinion that was also supported by team principal Toto Wolff.
The Silver Arrows were well off the pace last season, which was surprising given just how dominant they have been over the last decade or so.
The team managed to win just one race all season, courtesy George Russell’s heroics in Brazil.
It was personally a very difficult season for Hamilton, who failed to win a single GP across the campaign for the first time in his career.
While Mercedes let itself down with its car concept last year, there was an expectation that this season would be different.
However, both Hamilton and Russell were six-tenths slower than Max Verstappen in the season opener and Wolff admitted that his team got its car concept wrong again.
He also spoke about significant changes that would soon come into place, with the prospect of a ‘Plan B’ car already underworks.
Hamilton, meanwhile, claimed that the team engineers did not take his advice with regard to the concept.
Civil war at Mercedes?
F1 technical expert Craig Scarborough believes there is enough reason to believe a “civil war” is taking place at Mercedes.
“Mercedes have got a really tricky choice now because they already have a development programme in hand,” Scarborough said.
“So we know that there’s a new floor coming for the next race. We don’t know how big a step that is, but if you were to change anything on the car the floor would be the thing that you would change first.
“We know there is this much-talked-about Imola upgrade. This came to light [in] pre-season during testing and they said, ‘yes, we’ve got a big update coming’, which is not unusual for Mercedes.
“It didn’t sound like it was a reaction to any problems they were having with the car and they were talking again about the sidepods and some of the car concept changing ever so slightly.
“So we’ve got that in the pipeline already and now you’ve got Toto and Lewis saying that we’re going to develop a completely new concept for this car to make it win races.
“You do wonder how much these kind of snappy comments in the press are related to what the engineers are doing, James Allison and everyone else back at Brackley trying to decide what to do to get this car to be competitive.
“And you have to guess, given their success over the past decade, that they know how to do that. So there’s almost like a civil war going on.”
Budget cap complicates Mercedes’ road to redemption
For Scarborough, the introduction of the budget cap and reduced development time will hinder Mercedes more than it would expect, thereby painting a grim future for the Brackley-based outfit.
“There’s two ways you can tackle it,” he said.
“It could be mainly an aero update to the car and the suspension, which under the budget cap is kind of doable from a ‘let’s make the bodywork and change the suspension components perspective but then you think they need this out quickly, or else there’s no point spending all of that money.
“And then you’ve then got the aero testing restrictions, which of course their good finish [of] third last year will really restrict them.
“So they can’t just suddenly pile on loads of wind tunnel and CFD testing, which is what you would need to do in order to find a new concept to get it working – find the right concept as well, not just pluck one out at random – and then develop it to a stage where it’s better than something that’s already been quite well optimised.
“That’s the problem. That’s the thing that’s going to hold them back.
“It’s going to take them half a season to get the aero work completed before they start putting bits and pieces into production.
“Not to mention, obviously, all the rig work which isn’t as restricted in terms of suspension as much but it is that problem they have between the suspension and the aero that is the fundamental problem that they’re having. So it’s a big issue.
“The only good point is if they do put a huge effort into this year, next year’s regulations are going to be very much the same. I don’t know of any changes for 2024 at this stage, certainly nothing considerable like we’ve had with the floor over the winter, so any work they put in this year will pay off next year.
“So are they going to go for a good second half of the season and a great 2024? That’s a big risk and that’s a big piece of work.
“I don’t know if going to a B-spec car is necessarily the right direction for where they’re at at this stage.”