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Why Mercedes still need to make radical updates despite recent W14 form

Mercedes showed encouraging form in Australia by appearing to be the second team behind Red Bull. But a combination of factors led to this temporary increase in performance.

The 2023 Australian Grand Prix offered a glimmer of hope for Mercedes as they try to understand where they went wrong with their current car concept. George Russell took a surprise front row in qualifying in P2 with Lewis Hamilton in P3, as the team capitalised on poor timing from Ferrari and a crash from Sergio Perez. The Briton stayed true to his word and "went for it" into Turn 1 at the start, snatching the lead away from Max Verstappen, who struggled with tyre temperatures. This was a common theme throughout the weekend in Albert Park, which enabled Mercedes to show better form than they had in the scorching temperatures of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Tyre warm-up proved difficult

Getting the tyres into the correct working window was the key challenge in Melbourne, as the temperatures fluctuated between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius. In Qualifying, this was made difficult due to the inherent traffic issues around the relatively short 3.2-mile track, while in the race, the two restarts presented the next hurdle for those up front. Verstappen was not happy with Hamilton's efforts to back the pack up on the formation lap during the first restart, which contributed to his inability to challenge the Mercedes into the first corner. But the advantage was short-lived for Hamilton, who eventually conceded position to the Red Bull which had superior straight-line speed. The gap stayed within a relatively modest 11 seconds - by RB19 standards - between Verstappen and Hamilton. Could Mercedes have been a credible threat to Red Bull had Russell not dropped out, given their tyre warmup advantage? "I think it was the nature of the track, with the very low deg. So, I think that all made it a bit closer," said Verstappen after the race. "The warm-up was also quite tricky. Some teams probably nailed it a bit better than others." There was a period midway through the race when Hamilton and Fernando Alonso traded fastest lap times, as the Aston Martin driver attempted to pile pressure on him for P2. "We were very close to Lewis, also through the race – but every time that I tried to get close, yes he seemed to pick up the pace," said Alonso. "I try to put some pressure but, he had an incredible race, no mistakes at all, as you probably expect from him, a champion."

Mercedes gains not 'seismic'

Mercedes have yet to make any major upgrades to the W14, but it was clear after Bahrain that they want to change their approach, given the limitations that have been exposed by their current car concept. Toto Wolff has been vocal about getting the concept wrong , while also claiming that the team could end up going down a similar development route to Red Bull after admitting their pace in a straight line was "mind-boggling." The team did a lot of work on the car setup during the Australia GP practice sessions to ensure they could manage the tyres better, but Chief Technical Officer James Allison admits that there was nothing 'seismic' that they managed to unlock. "If you look at the relative pace of our car to the Ferrari, our car to the Aston Martin, it's been close-ish all year and yes, we are a little bit on the better side, but it wasn't seismic," he said in Mercedes' Strategy Debrief video. "We'll go to some more very different tracks in the next few weeks, and we'll see whether this was the sort of initial bellwether of general uptick in our performance which we hope for, or whether it was related to the quite unusual track conditions that we saw this weekend in Melbourne." By this admission, it's clear Mercedes must still consider a radical car concept change if they want to close the gap when they reach the European leg of the season.

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