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New car, same culture: How Mercedes’ key F1 trait remains in place

But it’s much harder staying true to the path when pain repeats itself weekend after weekend, and the fightback at times struggles to gain momentum.

So as the German manufacturer nears the launch of its all-new 2024 cars after two years where it has faced its fair share of disappointment (although it did enjoy that one win in Brazil), you could expect it to think that it has had quite enough of doing the learning bit right now.

Yet, while other teams in the same scenario have often found themselves unable to avert a change of direction and rapidly detour off into a negative spiral, at its Brackley and Brixworth factories things could not have been more different.

In fact, rather than a blame culture emerging where factions turn on each other, the challenges of the past two years have delivered, if anything, a stronger Mercedes workforce that has been unified rather than splintered by all that has gone on.

As Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff explained when we spoke at the end of last year, back-to-back difficult campaigns have not been a case of requiring a rescue operation from on high to try to keep the troops in order.

Instead, there is a clear sense that there was a desire from the whole team to pull together and sort things out.

“You need to ask the team how hard it was to manage me,” said Wolff, when asked about how difficult it was to deal with things. “And not only the other way around. We’re all in this together.

“We knew that the day would come where it’s going to get more tricky. But it wasn’t as we expected, because the kind of scenario we had in mind was, ‘it’s tough to win a championship, we’re winning races, but we know where we are lacking performance’. And suddenly all of that wasn’t the case.

“Then you have false dawns and managing your expectations. It’s very tricky to keep the positiveness in our daily interpersonal dynamic.

“It was not always straightforward, but I think this is where the strength of the team is.

“We know each other so well that we can kind of live with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Each of us, in a way, carried the baton at a certain stage.

“When it was difficult in the debriefing room because the results were not as expected, it was then George [Russell] that should have all reasons to be upset, but he was about positiveness.

“Or it was Brackley or Brixworth. Hywel [Thomas] and his team were extremely important because they just delivered, they delivered, and they delivered. There was never any finger pointing to Brackley. There was always support.

“And I think that strength in the team is going to continue to give us a robust base of no blame culture.”

Mercedes factory

Photo by: Mercedes AMG

Mercedes factory

Digging deep

But it wasn’t just with the car where Mercedes fell short. There were times its strategy choices were not perfect – like in Austin when it gifted Max Verstappen the undercut because it thought it was not racing him. And then it openly admitted that pit stops were an area of weakness too through 2023.

“We have fallen short of key components and performance,” conceded Wolff. “It’s not only the car’s behaviour, but it’s also, you look at the pitstops, they’ve been very oscillating.

“But it’s nothing to do with the mechanics. They do a brilliant job. I think our equipment just wasn’t up to the levels that are necessary, which we are sorting out.

“Our DRS is not working as it should. We have put wide sidepods on a car that was never designed to have wide sidepods. We had the odd strategical mishap.

“We could have covered for Verstappen in Austin, and we would have been cruising into the sunset. These things happen.

“When shit hits the fan, shit flies at you. You just got to believe in our organisation. The days that we lose are the days we learn the most – and you dig deep.

Evolving challenges

What has perhaps not been so obvious about Mercedes’ two years of disappointment is that there have actually been totally different factors at play.

So while on track the performances have looked quite similar, the contrast inside the factory was notable

Asked if the 2023 campaign had felt different to the previous one, Wolff said: “Yes, because when we started, we started with a certain degree of euphoria into ‘22 because we were excited to have gone for an extravagant car layout, with having the side impact structure at different point to everybody else and no sidepods.

“We had a really good development curve in aero with a car that was very low to the ground. We’d won the constructors’ championship a few months before, and we competed for the drivers’ championship in the last race.

“And then bang! Suddenly all the things that you thought that were in place in the team to in a way guarantee that you would be competing for race wins and the championship, suddenly you find yourself in a situation that not only you are not doing it, but the most clever people don’t understand where they got it wrong.

“In 2023, we knew that there were ingredients in the car that were positive, that we were able to dial out for the end of the ‘22 season. And then different problems came back in ‘23.

“The thinking was like, again, great people, great infrastructure, all the resource that you need, the right mindset.

“But maybe, because we wanted to be compliant with all the financial regulations, John Owen was more involved into making sure that the accounting side was working than in designing a car.

“So put simply, we got the physics wrong. It’s a ground effect car. Our tools didn’t work as good as they did for all the other previous technical regulations. Physics. Nothing mystical.

“To recognise that all the data that you’ve previously relied on and all the equipment wouldn’t correlate with what the car was doing on track. That has been the theme.

“So now we are basically putting everything that you could potentially change in order to dial out the nastiness in this car we are doing.”  

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, George Russell, Mercedes

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, George Russell, Mercedes

Renewed confidence

It is clear that Mercedes feels that it has indeed ‘dug deep’ to get to the bottom of all the issues that culminated in it having a car that was not a match for Red Bull’s best.

And based on early simulator feedback that both Wolff and technical director James Allison have talked about recently, there are some optimistic signs about what could be possible this year.

But as Allison said a few weeks after renewing his contract – an F1 designer would have to be ‘psychotic’ to be totally confident that they had created a winner at this stage of the year.

Wolff has often talked about being a glass half empty kind of man – who is never too optimistic about things.

So what if Mercedes’ learning phase is not over, and the team finds itself facing a fresh set of challenges that leave it unable to bounce back?

“I don’t want to think about it, because I think we need all the positiveness and enthusiasm to come out with a product that works,” smiled Wolff. “If it doesn’t, we’re going handle it.” 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, leaves the garage

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, leaves the garage

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This article was originally published by a www.motorsport.com . Read the Original article here. .

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