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Mercedes Hope to Break “Vicious Circle” and Beat Red Bull in 2024 

Mercedes understand what went wrong and believe that Red Bull will soon reach a developmental plateau....

Mercedes have received something of a black eye these last two years after their almost decade long period of dominance. Their zero sidepods concept was daring and bold, but ultimately flawed. Now the team have to play catch-up with Red Bull, but Mercedes is confident that Red Bull can be caught and have a plan to do so.

Team principal, Toto Wolff, explained that last year they “didn’t understand why [the] car was so bad” but that things were better in 2023, though they “couldn’t capitalise in terms of race results.”

“I think particularly in Austin, we could have had a win, but we made mistakes, we had an off weekend in Brazil, where we can absolutely reconstruct what happened, and it is not what would happen to a top team,” Wolff explained.

“We also had the quickest car in Singapore – but the results don’t show it, but it was a year of, let’s say, moving forward with the car and understanding for next year.”

He went on to say that next year’s car will basically be completely new with “a different chassis, different aerodynamics, different characteristics, different suspensions.”

“So far, the results in the virtual world are positive, but we need to be careful in terms of managing our expectations,” Wolff continued. “We need such a step in order to catch up to fight for a championship, but obviously if you make a radical step, that means lots of new knowledge.”

It's Only a Matter of Time

Wolff is convinced that Red Bull can be caught as the ground effect rules mature, Red Bull will be left with a smaller development pool. It’s partly the same reason as to why Red Bull could close the gap to Mercedes in 2021.

“You get out of the blocks in a good way, you are leading, you are the benchmark, you understand the car, you’re adding performance, like if you put an aero update on the car and it materialises like you’re expecting it to, and then you are in the lead by half-a-second,” Wolff said.

“We’ve been there in 2019, 2020, and then you are in a cycle of positiveness where you’re gaining an advantage – and this is one of the headwinds that we’re having at the moment.

“You have the law of diminishing returns, your development or performance curve flattens, that is clear.

“The more mature the regulation are, the more you can extract and maybe our development curve is steeper because we are behind, but that is industrial theory, and whether you can apply it to the world of sports, I’m not quite sure.

“[Red Bull’s] engineering team has just done a good job, they came out of the blocks, for whatever reason, much better than everyone else – and they have a driver who is on top of his game.”

What About Aston Martin & McLaren?

Hang on? Didn’t Aston Martin and McLaren, Mercedes’ own engine customers, make huge gains in 2023? They did, but Wolff explained that because of how the aerodynamics work and the relationship they have with the Pirelli tyres, if you get it wrong, you get caught in a “vicious circle.”

“Aston Martin said that between the autumn car of 2022 and the start of 2023, [they found] two-and-a-half seconds,” Wolff explained.

“They were pretty much last, and they were the second-quickest team at the beginning of the season. McLaren expected an upgrade of two-tenths and they got a second.

“The aero works completely differently, you have a ground effect car, which are aerodynamically more fragile, and on top of that, you put a tyre that you need to have exactly in the right window for it to perform.

“We’re talking a few degrees up and down, and if you have a car that is predictable, that is stable, a good solid platform, you’re struggling less in terms of sliding and degradation – it’s a vicious circle.”

Mercedes may understand what has gone wrong with their car, which is an improvement from 2022, but there is still a long road to go, and words won’t be enough to close the gap.

To quote Toto Wolff himself, “The stopwatch never lies, and we will see next year in Bahrain.”

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