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Mercedes Are Back, Ferrari Fall Backwards: 2023 Spanish Grand Prix

With all the speculation about previously introduced upgrades, the Spanish Grand Prix would be the ultimate testing ground. Mercedes found succcess, while Ferrari's struggles continue....

The Spanish Grand Prix was weighed with heavy expectations from teams introducing significant upgrades. Ferrari, Mercedes, and Alpine all saw the Barcelona circuit as a proving ground for their respective development directions. Alpine believed they could finish ahead of Mercedes, Ferrari hoped they had improved their tyre degradation issues, and Mercedes hoped they wouldn’t go backwards. As it turned out, only Mercedes’ hopes would be fulfilled after finishing P2 and P3.

While it was hoped that Mercedes’ upgrades would improve their pace, it wasn’t something the team were banking on. George Russell even admitted after the race that he was “a little bit surprised” come race day after a lacklustre qualifying session.

“Kudos to the team for giving me a great car,” said Russell. “That was a fun race for us, starting in P12 coming all the way to P3 – a sign of things to come hopefully for us and the team.”

Lewis Hamilton echoed these statements saying that the team “didn’t expect to have the result” they achieved.

Mercedes have beaten their current rivals Ferrari and Aston Martin, but acknowledge that they are still well behind championship leaders, Red Bull.

“I think they are still a little bit too quick at the moment, but we’re working at it,” said Hamilton. “Just one step at a time, and if we can get close by the end of the year, that’d be awesome. But, if not, then next year.”

They have improved, but not as much as they hoped as Hamilton explained that they “hoped for more in the sense of a bigger step.”

“The actual performance step they told us was under two-tenths, so it wasn’t like a… That’s still good, not the step that everyone is working so hard towards, but we’ll still take it,” said Hamilton.

Mercedes Doing Well or Other Teams Dropping the Ball?

ferrari spanish grand prix
Getty Images

Did Mercedes do really well, or were Aston Martin and Ferrari simply lacking? 

Ferrari knew that Barcelona wasn’t going to favour their car regardless of any upgrades they introduced. The rough surface and high-speed corners absolutely destroyed Ferrari’s tyres over the course of a race, which is what they hoped they could limit with the upgrades, but which failed to do so. This was never going to be a track for Ferrari to show their best.

“Probably we brought them [the upgrades] to our weakest track of the season,” explained Carlos Sainz.

“With this high-deg circuit I just couldn’t push,” added Sainz, “we know it’s a weakness of our car and coming to a high-deg circuit and a two-stop race we were just managing the whole way, trying to make it to the target laps and still falling short of some of them.”

Aston Martin also didn’t have the pace in Barcelona in part to the circuit and as a result of the upgrades other teams brought. It was only the second time this season that the team hadn’t appeared on the podium and it was due to a simply tough weekend.

Fernando Alonso explained that it wasn’t as if they were unlucky or made poor strategy decisions, they were simply slow.

“… I think we were slow compared to the Mercedes – slow on the soft, slow on the hard,” he said.

“I think the track was a little bit not the best for us,” Alonso continued. “From FP1, we were on a completely different setup from what we predicted, so we had to work a lot during the weekend to be happy with the car, which was kind of new for us.

“… And then the upgrades from other people, I think maybe they didn’t show their full potential in Monaco and Miami – street circuits. So here, we saw today that maybe they are a little bit stronger.”

The Development Race

For those fighting for second in the World Championship, the development race is well and truly underway. The first results of this race should have been present in Imola, but after that race’s cancellation, we were only teased with significant upgrades from Mercedes and Ferrari in Monaco.

Mercedes have moved on from their previous concept with the W14 to great results, while Ferrari are taking a different approach. The Italian team are so far refusing to completely move on from their initial car concept believing that it would be counterproductive having to start from scratch part way through a season.

For example, the sidepods. While Ferrari have different sidepods, the general concept hasn’t been altered that much. The sidepods have taken inspiration from Red Bull, the bathtub elements of their previous iteration are still present.

As it stands, it seems Mercedes’ gamble on a B-spec car has provided dividends, while Ferrari seem to have remained somewhat stagnant.

Aston Martin haven’t introduced significant upgrades just yet but it’s becoming clear that if they don’t introduce a package soon, they may fall behind the likes of Mercedes.

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