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Mercedes

What is behind Mercedes' terrible start to the season?

With just 26 points after three races, Mercedes has had a dramatic start to the season. What is going wrong at the Silver Arrows?

Hamilton Australia
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

Mercedes entered the 2024 F1 campaign full of hope and optimism that they finally had a competitive package in the W15, yet it has been a case of déjà vu for the Germans.

"It's the worst season start of my career," said Lewis Hamilton. The Briton has scored just eight points after three races and retired from the Australian Grand Prix after suffering a rare power unit failure.

For team-mate George Russell, things are not much better, with eighteen points and a huge crash in Melbourne being his most recent on-track action. It means that for the third consecutive season, Mercedes face a tall order to challenge for podiums or even victories.

Mercedes' struggles date back to 2022, the year the ground effect regulations were introduced in F1. As is well documented, the Brackley-based team opted for a zero pod concept in 2022 and stuck to it for 18 months, unsuccessfully.

Hamilton and Russell bounced around in the first season, but after one victory by Russell in Brazil, the team was convinced with the concept.

This was ultimately, their biggest mistake. Red Bull was even more dominant at the beginning of last year, while Mercedes kept running into the same problems. Drastic action was taken and the zero pod concept disappeared at the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.

Last season was therefore one of development with a mid-season concept change, but with an entirely new concept for 2024, the general feeling was that a positive turn had been taken.

Hamilton's departure

The first bombshell, however, was dropped before the season had even begun. Hamilton announced he is moving to Ferrari in 2025, leaving the team after 12 years.

The timing raised some question marks, as Hamilton had extended his Mercedes contract until the end of 2025, as recently as August 202,3 and not much later chose to abandon ship.

Did Hamilton see the ongoing problems coming? It didn't seem that way at first. The seven-time world champion was jubilant with the press in Bahrain.

"Finally a decent race car again!" Hamilton said. He would not maintain this positive attitude for long, because despite all the modifications, Mercedes has once again encountered considerable setbacks. That hurts, even for Hamilton, who walks around dejectedly, particularly at the Australian GP.

The problem with the W15 does not seem to be so much in the potential of the concept. At times the W15 looks very competitive, for example, in the third free practice session in Australia.

In that session, Hamilton and Russell were in fourth and fifth place and the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari was catchable. However, performing well over consecutive sessions is seemingly a real issue for Mercedes, as they just can not get the W15 into a sweet spot.

When Hamilton in particular tries to seek the edges of the set-up here and there, the imbalance is once again present. This was visible at the opening corners in Melbourne, which he occasionally cut.

Mercedes is really just a year behind Red Bull and Ferrari. Those teams know how to maximise the performance of their car, whilst Mercedes is still working on the finding a good operational window.

Hope of a turnaround

Team boss Toto Wolff also expressed concern after the Australian Grand Prix. Wolff said: "We started this season believing that our car would be better. But if we look at last year, we saw that McLaren was 17th, 18th, or 19th and now they were 40 seconds ahead of us.

"With numbers like that I do want to punch myself in the nose, but on the other hand that's also the proof that if things are right you can also make a turnaround very quickly. But right now it's just very, very tough."

Wolff hits the nail on the head, because things are simply not right yet at Mercedes. There is clearly a difference between performance in simulations and actual speed on the track.

McLaren showed last year how to recover from a dramatic situation at lightning speed, but at Mercedes the omens are not yet in their favour. McLaren had announced at the start of 2023 that they would struggle, whilst Mercedes had expected a strong start to this year.

The situation surrounding Hamilton should also not be underestimated. The question is whether the 103-time race winner can still find the motivation to really make something of it, if the problems keep piling up.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes will no longer involve him in all technical meetings from the summer, and you are left with only one driver in Russell who will play a major role in development.

It is perhaps too soon for Mercedes to fear a dramatic year, there are still 21 rounds remaining. Something has to start changing very soon. There is no doubting Hamilton's commitment to extracting the most from a package, and the last thing he will want is to leave the Silver Arrows on a limp. Nevertheless, much more is needed to catch Red Bull and Ferrari

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