Mercedes team photograph, Yas Marina, 2022

Will Mercedes finally conquer porpoising – and regain their lost crown?

2023 F1 team preview

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When winning becomes a win of life, nothing is more painful than losing.

For almost 160 grands prix and eight seasons, Mercedes’ supremacy in Formula 1 was near-absolute. Any who dared to challenge their might were quickly humbled. Until Max Verstappen and Red Bull fought them to the brink of defeat in 2021.

The final laps of the deciding race “robbed Lewis Hamilton of a deserved world championship”, in the words of team principal Toto Wolff. Disgusted by the events which cost their driver an unparalleled eighth championship – while nonetheless acknowledging Verstappen as a worthy champion – Mercedes channelled that anger over the winter. The W13, the first of a bold new ground-effect era, was to be the most aggressive car Brackley had produced.

But that intense desire to remind the paddock who the best in the world truly was only made their eventual failure all the more painful.

The 2022 season was nothing short of a disaster for the former all-conquering Mercedes team. Rather than fighting to reclaim what Red Bull took from them, their radical design approach produced far more problems for their drivers than benefits it provided. Hamilton and new team mate George Russell rarely found themselves capable of competing for wins.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022
It was a tough 2022 for Hamilton
A long and frustrating year followed. The headaches of the drivers caused by their car’s brutal porpoising and stiff ride were matched only by the headaches of their factory staff from pouring over terabytes of race data searching for solutions. Despite their struggles, they were at least flattered by Ferrari’s own failures which allowed them to regularly stand on the podium.

But the autumn winds carried with them great progress for Mercedes. By season’s end, they held the consolation prize of a single race victory in Brazil and a car that was able to out-perform Ferrari’s at some tracks. Third place was not what the team had envisioned, but it was what Mercedes had to accept as they watched Verstappen and Red Bull produce a season more dominant than any Mercedes had enjoyed over the previous decade.

With the dawn of 2023 comes a new opportunity for Mercedes to re-establish themselves at the very front and renew their fierce rivalry with the new world champions. The team’s pride will not allow for another year of humiliating mediocrity. Fortunately, team principal Toto Wolff is confident that his team have learned the hard lessons that such a disappointing year can bring.

“I think we have understood how we fell back and where the shortcomings are, where we have gaps in understanding or had gaps in understanding and we’re working hard on putting a car on the ground that has addressed all of that,” Wolff said.

“But we will only see when starting testing whether we have unlocked the potential that we believe has always been in the car.”

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Mercedes have not forgotten how to win and neither, of course, has Hamilton. From being just 5.2 kilometres from reaching previously unscaled heights in 2021, F1’s most successful driver endured the most fruitless campaign of his career last year. No wins. Not even a pole position.

Hamilton was put to heavy development work in the early season last year, becoming the guinea pig for a myriad of experimental parts and settings as Mercedes threw darts at the board hoping to find a solution to their ails. It was natural to judge Hamilton as underperforming in those early rounds, especially as Russell built up a significant gap over him in the championship, but Hamilton’s form in the later races suggested that there may have been more to his early performances than met the eye.

Much like Verstappen or Charles Leclerc before him, Russell quickly established himself as a genuine contender in his first season at the front of the grid. From outscoring Hamilton as often as he did to his impressive qualifying pace, snatching pole out of nothing at the Hungaroring, Russell more than justified Wolff’s decision to choose him over Valtteri Bottas.

(L to R): Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Mercedes; Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari; Interlagos, 2022
Mercedes picked up momentum by the end of last year
With no chance of pursuing championship challenges of their own, Hamilton and Russell had to work together to build their team back into contention. The one time the pair fought directly for a win, in Interlagos, Russell showed he will not be easily intimidated by the most decorated driver of all time filling his mirrors. How their dynamic may changed if they find themselves both in contention for victory more regularly in 2023 remains to be seen.

That is, if Mercedes can produce a winning car this year. They may be boosted by the FIA’s intervention on ride heights and minor regulation tinkering to curb porpoising, but even the progress they made over the course of last season was not enough for them to draw level with Red Bull. The scale of the challenge Mercedes face to overcome a formidable, well-disciplined Red Bull team should not be underestimated.

Mercedes is also undergoing change. Head of strategy James Vowles has departed to lead Williams into their new era, with extensive structural changes to personnel expected to follow. Some of its other talent have also migrated to rivals like Red Bull or Aston Martin. But Mercedes has instilled a strong team culture within its ranks and must have faith that their ‘next person up’ mentality will prove its worth.

It would be foolish to suggest that Mercedes will immediately follow up their worst season in a decade by leaping back up to being the dominant force in Formula 1 once more. But there are also no excuses for Mercedes not to be fighting for the championship in 2023. No team with the resources, staff, drivers and pedigree that Mercedes possess can have their sights on anything but the greatest prize.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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20 comments on “Will Mercedes finally conquer porpoising – and regain their lost crown?”

  1. It’s not their crown. it’s the best team’s crown. And Mercedes were emphatically not the best team.

    1. …and you’re not emphatically very clever.

      1. What a reply, what a lovely argument. You were certainly raised well as a child. And to insult someone over some F! team, owned by and named after a global conglomerate, dear God…

    2. I would argue they were the best team, with the 3rd best car, Red Bull was the 2nd best team with the best car, and Ferrari was the 3rd best team with the 2nd best car.

      But your anti-Mercedes screeds are such a commonplace fixture of the comments section on Race Fans that it’s hard to believe you would ever post anything even mildly complimentary about Mercedes, Hamilton or Wolff.

      1. Naughty Neutral
        14th February 2023, 23:38

        2nd best team with best car? Please explain. Wait, I’ll get some popcorn first because this is going to be mighty interesting…

      2. But if they were the best team, then why they couldn’t do the very best job? Design and produce the best car? So many questions…

      3. Maybe they would be the best team if they made the right pit calls during the British GP to give Lewis the win, or made the right call on tyre compounds in Zandvoort and Hungary to give their drivers a better shot at the win. They were not as strong as Red Bull strategically this year.

        So for me, Mercedes will be the 2nd best team with the 3rd best car, as compared to Ferrari, who were the 10th best team with the 2nd best car, and Red bull, who were the best team with the best car. You can’t take 17 wins out of 22 races without being absolutely on point as a team.

        1. That to me seems more accurate indeed @todfod, there were some clear Misses where they could have scored more.

        2. All good points there @todfod. Mercedes made mistakes in development of their car, but they lost out at several key moments in the season due to the wrong calls (“too conservative”? – that has also been their weakpoint when they were under pressure from say Ferrari in the last few years).

          Red Bull won because they did the best team job with having had overall the best car. And the driver to do it.

  2. Last year was the first time that teams couldn’t spend their way out of a poor design.
    Mercedes wasn’t the only team that came up short and I expect that at least one of the so called big players will hit the track this season and find out they’re lacking just like Mercedes did last season.
    It’s a by product of budget caps – get it wrong at the start and you’re unlikely to catch up for the entire season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that initial designs need to be much more carefully prepared.

    Let’s wait and see who ends up with a little egg on their faces after the first couple of races.

  3. I hope they don’t. After MB and RB it’s now Ferraris turn.

    1. Everyone wants to see ferrari win the championship, but in reality please dont dream that far up.

  4. It will take a few years to get more parity, this year will be interesting to see if the budget cap is going to bring more people towards the front.

  5. Hopefully not. Being competitively in the mix would be nice, but a repeat of the cars dominance is not something I look fwd to since it distorts peoples perception of driver quality leading to unnecessarily fierce and irrational debates on forums like this.

    1. Fully agree, and it’s very true that this leads to distorted views on perception of driver quality, spot on.

  6. I wonder the extra 15mm is rather a big thing in the Mercedes design which has to run as low as possible. But we will see if there is any differance in the cars performance.

  7. Mercedes dominance and the 8 WCC championships where always driven by the far best engine of the grid. In 2022 the MB engine wasn’t dominant anymore porpoising was only part of the problem last year. That seems to be solved with some help of the new rules

    1. Errr…?

      There were a number of cars using that engine over the eight years

      And I recall a couple of years where it could not get near the Ferrari and was equally matched by Honda?

      I am ever stunned at the tripe people put forward for what was a huge and sustained effort by the team and it’s drivers.

      1. If you call it tripe you should read this

        Mercedes had by far the best engine after the introduction of the V6 in 2014 and the engine freeze made it difficult to catch up. That other teams also used that Mercedes engine doesn’t change the fact that it was the fastest engine.

        It is part of the game so I don’t deny the succes of MB and I doubt they would be 8 time WCC in a row without Lewis. They lost that power advantage to Ferrari and RB and thats a big part of the problems last year in my view

  8. “Mercedes had to accept as they watched Verstappen and Red Bull produce a season more dominant than any Mercedes had enjoyed over the previous decade”?

    Mercedes won 84% of the races in 2014 and 2015 and 90% in 2016 while Red Bull only won 77% on the 2022 races.
    So Mercedes certainly had the more dominant car – in terms of qualifying gap Mercedes was often over 1 second a lap ahead while Red Bull never was 1 second a lap ahead in qualifying in fact Ferrari had 4 more poles (12 to 8).

    Only when looking at their best driver RB/Max had more race wins in number and % than Mer/Lewis managed to achieve during 2014-2021 but all other in measures of dominance, Mercedes was clearly more dominant than Red Bull.

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