Red Bull's dominant Formula 1 campaign saw it win 21 out of 22 races this year but ex-Formula 1 driver Christian Klien believes the Milton Keynes-based squad is set to face stronger competition going forward.
Mercedes, who dominated the turbo-hybrid era for several seasons, has struggled ever since new technical regulations were introduced last year.
After finishing second in the Constructors' Championship this season, the German manufacturer is set to unveil a completely revamped car in 2024 compared to its predecessor as it goes in pursuit of rivals Red Bull.
RacingNews365 spoke with former Red Bull driver Klien, who is hopeful that Mercedes will be closer to Mercedes when the new season gets underway.
"They have to start from scratch,” Klien said. “That's tricky, you have to know the direction you are going. Hopefully they've got enough ideas and collected enough data to create a new car that works perfectly under these regulations.
"The problem with this and the previous car was that in terms of aerodynamics, Mercedes did not yet know which way to go and where the sweet spot lay.
“Moreover, there was probably a fundamental problem with the chassis, wheelbase and geometry, so it just didn't work. So they have to build a whole new car. It's not an evolution like the McLaren was this year, for example."
You should not underestimate Lewis. He is a top-class driver. He hasn't lost any of his qualities.
Does Hamilton still have it?
Despite his difficulties at the wheel of the W14, Lewis Hamilton drove the car to third place in the Drivers' Championship and even offered a moderate threat to Sergio Perez for the runner-up spot.
In his second season with Mercedes, George Russell slipped to eighth place in the standings as he endured a more difficult campaign. How does Klien view the internal battle?
"This year Hamilton was much better than Russell. Last year the roles were reversed. Maybe Hamilton was not 100 per cent motivated last year, because he was a seven-time World Champion with a car that was not performing.
“He invested a lot of time helping the team improve a car that was not competitive.
"Lewis showed his class, with some very good races where he showed what the car was capable of. He was more consistent than George. George was unfortunate, but also had some problems with the way the car worked."
Hamilton went head-to-head with Max Verstappen for the F1 title in 2021 and lost out in controversial circumstances.
Having been out of the competitive spotlight for two years now, Klien is confident that Hamilton can still offer Verstappen a challenge if the car is capable of competing at the front.
"You should not underestimate Lewis. He is a top-class driver. He hasn't lost any of his qualities. A bit like Fernando Alonso - give him the right car and he'll show what he's able to do. If he has the right car and finds extra motivation, then he can definitely be one who gives Max a run for his money.”
Klien is also confident that once Hamilton hangs up his helmet, Russell will be poised to take over the leadership role at Mercedes.
"I think so. Russell is good. He showed that last year that he is ready. This year he struggled, but that's part of the learning curve. He's still young and has many years to go. I definitely think he can be the captain at Mercedes in the future."
Red Bull must watch out for McLaren
While Mercedes' Team Principal Toto Wolff argued that his driver line-up is the strongest in F1, Klien pointed to another squad that can claim such a label.
"They have one of the best lineups, especially in terms of experience. McLaren also has a very good lineup. I'm really curious about [Oscar] Piastri next year. I've been talking to Mark Webber [Piastri's manager] about Oscar regularly and he too can't wait to see what his driver can show in 2024.
"Piastri has already shown what he has to offer, how steep his learning curve is, really great. He still lacks the race experience to understand all three types of tyres. They can be different and the tyre management involved is not the same. [Lando] Norris still has an advantage in that area.
“Ferrari should not be forgotten either, when we talk about the lineup. Both drivers are very good. So Red Bull must be careful and get the best out of [Sergio] Perez, because the other teams are narrowing the gap."
With McLaren deploying a successful development programme throughout the year that saw it rise from back-of-the-grid competition to podium-scoring form, Klien didn't rule out the possibility of the Woking-based squad making a push for the title.
"Everything is possible! Red Bull has shifted the focus very early this year to 2024. They have the best car, but not by miles, so it could be the case that they (McLaren) will be competing for the Constructors' title."
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