Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2023

Mercedes unsure whether gains seen in Melbourne were ‘track-specific’

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Mercedes’ most competitive performance of the season so far in Melbourne last week left its drivers wondering whether this is the shape of things to come.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton claimed second and third on the grid in Australia. Sergio Perez’s elimination in the first round of qualifying handed them the opportunity to line up immediately behind Max Verstappen.

Although the two Mercedes drivers passed Verstappen at the start, they were unable to contain the Red Bull over the race distance, and Russell didn’t see the chequered flag due to a power unit failure. But Hamilton held Fernando Alonso off to take second place, the team’s highest finish of the season so far.

After qualifying on Saturday, Hamilton suggested Mercedes’ performance was “perhaps track-specific,” having finished off the podium in Bahrain and Jeddah. However Russell believed it was a product of improvements the team has made with its car.

“For sure, we maximised the job [on Saturday], no doubt about it,” said Russell, “but we had a good qualifying last week in Jeddah. I didn’t put my lap together in the last run in Jeddah, and was only a tenth off P3.

“So no, I don’t think it’s necessarily track-specific. I do think we’re making some improvements with the understanding of the car.”

He also believes the difficulty of extracting the best from Pirelli’s tyres in the cool conditions of qualifying provides part of the explanation.

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“The tyres play a big factor,” he noted. “When you get those tyres in the sweet spot, you make a big jump, and I think even I improved four-tenths maybe on my last run in Q3. So unfortunately, it’s all tyres, tyres, tyres.”

After the race weekend Mercedes’ chief technical officer James Allison said the team made a slight gain which was flattered somewhat by the performances of others.

“We didn’t have huge breakthroughs but we moved forward a little bit,” he said in a video produced by the team. “We put a small amount on the leaders, Red Bull, and we’re starting to get on terms with and maybe just nose a whisker in front of the Ferraris and the Aston Martin.”

“Was it expected? Broadly, yes, because actually the performance level in Australia was not markedly different to that in the other two tracks so far this year. Different, yes, to Red Bull, but not a completely different animal compared to the rest of the field.

“I think probably the biggest shift in Australia was actually that Red Bull were a little bit more off-form in qualifying compared to the rest of the grid and that sort of closed up the grid. But 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. Yes, we’re a little bit on the better side, but it wasn’t seismic.”

The team’s performance wasn’t far beyond what it thought was possible going into the weekend, said Allison.

“We expected to be in the fight with Ferrari and Aston Martin and it’s pleasing just have our noses in front. But we did expect to be there. How much of of the overall good result of the weekend was track-specific and how much came from things we did, I guess time will tell.

We’ll go to some more very different tracks in the next in the next few weeks and we’ll see whether this was the sort of initial bellwether of a general uptick in our in our performance, which we hope, or whether it was related to the quite unusual track conditions that we saw this weekend in Melbourne.”

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2023 Australian Grand Prix

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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...

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12 comments on “Mercedes unsure whether gains seen in Melbourne were ‘track-specific’”

  1. I think probably the biggest shift in Australia was actually that Red Bull were a little bit more off-form in qualifying compared to the rest of the grid

    The problem with Mercedes is when their drivers (like Russell) start to believe their own understatements. Red Bull – and some other teams – just couldn’t get their tyres warmed up. So much so that Perez couldn’t control the grip level, span off in Q1 and started last. That’s what counts as ‘a little bit off-form’ I guess.
    It was track dependent and they need a radical re-design still. This is where Wolff needs to keep focus and ensure elements of the team don’t start convincing themselves, yet again, that the current design is ultimately workable. Or they’ll lose another year. And another.

    1. Thats what amuses me about Russell, always happy to get 3 or 4 instead of aiming to fight for wins..

      1. Completely agree. This is why he was satisfied with finishing second in Interlagos last year. Oh wait…

        PS: Or do you have even shorter memory? Russell just said in Australia that they should try to win. And he did his part of the job.

    2. That makes a lot of sense imho.

  2. Not track specific per se but definitely improved by the numerous red flags giving the cars a rest and the pit crew an even chance to change the tires at their leisure.

  3. So often the Australia result is an outlier. I expect RBR gap to increase in Baku and Alonso finishes third with the mercs 10-15 seconds behind the last Red Bull.

    1. Aston is quite draggy though, which might hurt them in Baku. I think it will be tight again for second-fastest honours but Mercedes may well hold the edge.

      1. Yes, Aston is going to have one of their hardest weekends there. Monza will be a nightmare too, unless they’ve made some big aero evolution, which I actually think they will. M

  4. More Ferrari is terrible and Merc is about where they were at the end of last season. Redbulls aren’t really in this conversation as when they needed to they destroyed the Mercs. Reminds of ’15 or ’16 when the uproar started with Merc dominating and by the next few races they had turned the wick down and just won by enough. I think we’ll just see snatches of Redbulls using their full speed potential when they need it.

  5. isthatglock21
    10th April 2023, 14:24

    Given the way 21 panned out Merc need to be conservative & not carried away which is how they ended up in this prolonged mess with lack of clear direction. Brazil 21′ to any neutral fan was clearly a case of RB having a rare off day & getting their ride heights wrong which they couldn’t change due to sprint race format & naturally not bringing updates when they had no competing. Merc took Russell’s win as some sort of basis of justification for their concept which proved fatal.

  6. It is temperature dependent I feel.

    The only race post Imola’22-spec Red Bull lost on pace is Austria 2022. And that was the race where it rained before the main race and left the track and air temperature cooler. This is similar situation to Australia’23

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