Mercedes’ deficit to Red Bull has “doubled or tripled”, admits Wolff

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Mercedes will tackle the question of how to respond to their poor start to the 2023 season “straight at the beginning of the week” said team principal Toto Wolff after Sunday’s race.

The team’s hopes of shrinking its deficit to Red Bull were shattered in Bahrain where the reigning champions scored a dominant one-two. The first Mercedes home, driven by Lewis Hamilton, finished fifth and was 50 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen.

After beginning last year in uncompetitive shape, Mercedes regained ground over the course of the season and took its sole grand prix win of 2022 in the penultimate race. But Wolff admitted much of that progress has been reversed at the start of this season.

“When you look at where we were at the end of the season when it seemed like we caught up a lot and it was just a matter of which circuit suited us and which not,” Wolff told media including RaceFans.

“I think we’ve almost doubled if not tripled the gap to Red Bull. And this is what we need to look at.”

Hamilton admitted Mercedes had the fourth-quickest car in Bahrain but Wolff said the sheer scale of their deficit to Red Bull is more troubling. “Everything in between – the Ferrari, the Aston – that’s just a sideshow.

“Having said that, I mean, what Aston Martin was able to achieve is a good inspiration because they came back from two seconds off the pace to be the second-quickest team, probably, on the road.

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“With us, everything’s bad. The single-lap pace was still good but in the race we saw the consequences. To put it bluntly, it’s just we were lacking downforce and when you’re lacking downforce you’re sliding the tyres, and when you’re sliding the tyres you’re going backwards.”

Race start, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
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Earlier in the weekend Wolff admitted the team will have to rethink its entire car concept in order to produce a machine which can compete for wins.

“As a matter of fact the gap is very big and in order to catch up you need to make big steps, not the conventional ones by adding a few points [of downforce] every week because everybody else is going to do that.”

Mercedes have “lost a year in development” compared to their rivals, said Wolff. “In order to have a steeper development curve you just need to take these decisions.

“As I said before Aston Martin took that decision and they came back strong. So if we start from our base, maybe we can come back strong and chase the Red Bulls. That’s the ambition.”

Wolff confirmed the team realised soon after its launch that it wouldn’t be competitive at the start of this season and has begun appraising alternative designs.

“We’ve looked at other ideas and haven’t stood still,” he said. “And that’s not only since two weeks when we saw that we haven’t been able to close the gap, but we’ve done it since a while just to be open-minded. Still with an emphasis on making this work, obviously, but we’ve already looked at different concepts.”

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2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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20 comments on “Mercedes’ deficit to Red Bull has “doubled or tripled”, admits Wolff”

  1. Actually Toto, you’ve lost 2 years.

    It seems nothing was learned from last year and you’ve made the same mistakes twice.

    Now you’ll have to “manage” two very unhappy drivers.

    1. First, he’ll have to manage firing the person or people responsible for chasing mirage downforce over real data.

      No holy cows. Data is king. And if you lose the team at least two years, you go find yourself someone else to sabotage.

      1. Mike Elliott said that they reached their development targets over the winter. Someone has set the targets to low.

  2. “I think we’ve almost doubled if not tripled the gap to Red Bull. And this is what we need to look at.”

    Nonsense. Mercedes ended the season 7 tenths down on the Red Bulls in qualifying and started the new one 6 tenths down.

    1. Maybe he compared race pace in Bahrain to last year’s?

      1. I think the point is that they overhyped their performance at the end of last year like they’d massively closed the gap when in actual fact the circuits just suited their car better and they solved most of the porpoising issues that had made the car more difficult to drive. Sure they seemed closer at the end of the year but Ferrari were running detuned engines and Red Bull had packed up last years development at the half way point. Taking that into account they haven’t really lost huge ground to Red Bull, they’ve just made zero progress forward while Aston Martin have leapt above them.

        As bad as the current situation is for Mercedes, the Ferrari situation seems even worse. Their car seems equally no faster relative to Red Bull, still poor on race pace and still unreliable. They can’t fix the engine now so that’s their season done if they have a systemic fault. Mercedes can if they choose release a b-spec car to resolve their aero issues and given Aston Martin pace the engine seems decent this year.

        This just seems a baffling piece of sensationalism by Wolff, maybe so he can big up the achievement of his team when they deliver improvements later. Make the situation seem more dire in the short term knowing they have some big improvements in the pipe line.

    2. Yet, no Journalist confronts him with his perpetual lies…

    3. I can’t believe the media doesn’t understand that this is Toto starting up the 2023 PR campaign again. The strategy is clear: shout that the season is already over to force Liberty/FIA to act, step in, change things. He currently hasn’t got a ‘safety card’ to flail around as with the purpoising (2022) and the tyres (2021). So this is what he does now. I am sure his lobby will lead to some kind of advantage for Mercedes somewhere this year.

      1. @Mayrton
        I think it’s worse. They do know, but instead of a rebuttal it yields a better return to show what he said to Horner et al so they can write down another cynical comment from him also…etc etc

  3. It’s quite intriguing that Mercedes seems so convinced of their concept. Now granted, it’s not bad and they’re still the 3rd best team and won a race last year on merit, but it’d be interesting to read what exactly they believe they can do if they can ‘make it work’. It must be good to have them so determined to spend years chasing that illusive state.

    That, or Someone Important is convinced and the internal culture doesn’t allow people to say it’s a fool’s errand.

    1. Yeah, I’m going with the latter. It’s unfathomable to me that everyone at Mercedes has collectively decide to become actively resistant to real-world data.

      1. *decided

    2. They’re now the 4th best team.. and, rather embarrassingly, they’re not the leading Mercedes car.

  4. petebaldwin (@)
    6th March 2023, 11:37

    Well if he’s looked at the data and has decided the gap to Red Bull has tripled then I can see why Mercedes are having major problems with actual performance not matching up to what their data says…. Their data is clearly spectacularly wrong! If they can’t even get basic calculations based on timing information to vaguely match up to reality, how are they supposed to calculate downforce levels etc?

    1. Exactly. Seems they do not have a single piece of data that is correct if this is the team boss’ conclusion after one race. Maybe Toto should focus on his task at hand rather than perpetually playing the media.

    2. I think it’s fair to say that the race pace deficit has doubled/tripled to Red Bull no?

      The W13 was a poor qualifier but was generally better on a Sunday and was definitely not this far behind Red Bull in race trim. The W14 doesn’t seem to share the race pace stength, although I do think they sacrificed their race setup to qualify higher in Bahrain.

  5. As to how Mercedes got to this point, they had a model going into the 22 season which showed their concept worked best which everyone bought into but in actual fact it deficient in 1 or more areas. It took them a while to adjust the model to the real world data they were getting back from the W13. Towards the later part of the season their model aligned pretty well with the car but I suspect rather than an accurate model for these regulations, they just had a good model of how the W13 was working. When they designed the W14 on that basis, the model fell apart again.
    Mercedes will definitely have to review the personnel in their aerodynamics dept. They didn’t understand all the factors initially in 21/22, they reacted quite slowly in fixing it during 22 and they still don’t fully understand the aero now as evidenced by the W14 and the still incorrect model. This is not what is expected at any team regardless of budget!

  6. I think Mercedes were deceived by themselves last year, that they were making huge strides in performance. So they thought their development path is jutified and right. But in reality, Ferrari ran out of money at about September (I think there was an article were they said that), and Red Bull ceased to develop their car after summer break, cause more or less it was obvious they were going to win both WDC, and also they were expecting penalties for exceed bugdet limit in 2021. So Mercs imagined it’s not worth pursuing other routes, because they are catching their rivals rapidly, and they solved their purpoising issues as well. Now they realised reality and will have to choose other development path, which is more costly at the second year of new regulations, where others are advanced with theirs.

  7. They could be further behind next year and be the leading midfield team for this rounds regulations. George will love that…

  8. Mercedes is done. A whole year of development and understanding of their woes to come up with such an unimpressive car must hurt. At the moment they are just a glorified midfield team.

    It’s time to go to the market and bring some names to work on the next project. The people they got there atm is clearly lacking.

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