Max Verstappen, who won his first Formula 1 championship in 2021 in controversial fashion, won his second Formula 1 championship last year with much less fuss and four races remaining. Verstappen, undeniably, had become the most dominant F1 driver in the world, if not the best, and the curious thing, last year, was how little Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton had to say about it.
Hamilton’s campaign was marred by porpoising and by rules changes that Mercedes seemed unprepared for. The W13 car was also unpredictable, as the car seemed to like some grands prix — Hamilton and George Russell finished second and third at Circuit Paul Ricard — while at other tracks — Saudi Arabia comes to mind — the car was well off the pace.
But don’t worry: For 2023, with its new W14 car, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says they’ve fixed all that. Or at least the car parts. Or at least they tried. Still, Thursday was the first day of testing in Bahrain and Mercedes put the W14 through some of its paces and seem to like what they see. From The Guardian:
“You need to provide a good car for a driver that has the ambition to win races and championships and we have that,” he said. “We want to win. At this stage last year, we knew we were in trouble because the car was bouncing around and we were not able to drive it correctly. Today, it is very different. The car seems to be balanced in the right way. There is no bouncing which is good news. It is a good starting point.”
Wolff said Hamilton’s teammate George Russell was happy with the car and its balance, a key area which last year made its performance unpredictable from track to track, another issue they appear to have addressed. “I think we have a solid base now to work from and try to optimise the car, which we haven’t done yet,” said Wolff.
Russell finished with the fifth-fastest time in his session on Thursday, while Hamilton finished with the sixth-fastest time in his session, and Verstappen finished fastest in both, facts which are completely meaningless, especially given Mercedes’ history of sandbagging.
What we can say for sure is that Mercedes isn’t making any excuses about the car this time, and, in the second year under sweeping new rules, it won’t have those to blame, either. They also still have arguably the greatest driver of all time in Hamilton, alongside Russell, who is as technically gifted a driver as they come.
The smart money is still on Verstappen to take home his third consecutive title this year, and if that happens this era of Mercedes is probably well and truly over. Mercedes also won’t have anyone but themselves to blame.