Wolff: McLaren and Ferrari’s F1 gains since the start of 2023 is making Mercedes’ life “tougher” as struggles continue

Photo Credits: Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team
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Mercedes’ Team Principal Toto Wolff spoke in Shanghai at the end of the F1 Chinese Grand Prix. He reflected on how difficult the Mercedes W15 is to drive and also reminded people that the similar struggles were clear to see last season but Mercedes ‘were a regular podium contender’ as their rivals ‘dropped the ball’.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team are currently P4 in the 2024 F1 Constructors’ Championship. The Silver Arrows tally of 52 points is just 12 ahead of Aston Martin and with Fernando Alonso scoring 31 of his team’s haul to date this season, Mercedes may have found themselves further down the table if Lance Stroll had found a similar form to his teammate.

Mercedes are history makers having secured 8 F1 Constructors’ Championships from 2014 to 2021 but the last three seasons have been a struggle to say the least. Wolff has made no secret that the W15 is a difficult car to set-up and to drive and was asked during his latest press conference whether it is a more difficult car overall than last year.

“I think the cars were difficult all along these last two years.” claimed Wolff before explaining how other teams masked the lack of performance from the W14. “The advantage that we had is that McLaren was not racing us for most of the first half of the season; the competitor Ferrari wasn’t as quick and dropped the ball on several occasions. And that’s why we were a regular podium contender and closest to Red Bull.

“Now that these teams picked up the performance levels, this is a relative game. And suddenly what was good enough for third last year is just good enough for sixth. And that’s why it’s tougher.

“The car is as difficult as it has been in the past. Tricky for the drivers. George [Russell] yesterday, when we discussed it, said most tricky qualifying car that he’s had so far. So overall, in a way, same symptoms. Same, same.”

Mercedes have not been resting on their laurels and already there is a clear difference between the W15 which started the 2024 F1 season and the one on track in Shanghai. Wolff was reminded that his driver Lewis Hamilton had previously said that if the team could find the answers for the high-speed problems then the car would perform well.

However, Wolff was also asked whether more was needed to be done such as putting more downforce on the W15 and more performance in all areas to get to the front of the chasing pack – with Red Bull so far out in front.

“I think we absolutely achieved that,” Wolff stated. “In the high-speed, we were super competitive also in Suzuka. Through the Esses and day and night, what we had before. The drivers were speaking about the best car they had so far in those last two and a half years. But then we really didn’t perform in the low-speed.

“So, you’re gaining half a second in the high-speed, you’re losing half a second in the low-speed and the equation is back to zero.

“So, that is something which we need to improve. We’re beyond the point of understanding. We just need to improve now. That is what it needs to come to – and we have all the facts on the table.

“We know what we tweaked in order to solve the high-speed. We know where the car was before to be quick through the slow-speed.

“And now we just need to pull the car together that does both of them. As before, we’ve seen those moments of performance. But overall, we’re just not good enough at that stage.” Wolff concluded.

Mercedes’ fan base could also learn from their rivals McLaren due to the fact that the Papaya Army had very few things to celebrate early on due to a very slow start in 2023 before kick starting their season midway and battling at the front on occasion.

With that in mind, and another 19 races ahead, there is plenty of time for Mercedes to turn their fortune around. Key to this will be decisive strategy and learning from the Sprint. In Shanghai, Lewis Hamilton made drastic setup changes between the car used in the Sprint Race and the one used for qualifying and a starting position of P18 on Sunday’s race day showed he paid the price. The seven-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion would later cross the finish line in P9 – but Shanghai is a circuit known for its overtaking. Street circuits are a very different beast and Mercedes need to get everything right to ensure they have a higher starting position to be able to defend.

As well as this, it is known that Mercedes will bring some changes to Miami and Wollf’s remarks showed he is as intrigued as everyone else as he said “It will be interesting to see their impact on the car.”