George Russell is confident that Mercedes will be able to start the 2024 Formula 1 season stronger than they have the last two years.
Mercedes arrived at pre-season testing in Bahrain hoping to have made up significant ground to rivals and champions Red Bull. However, the team endured another frustrating test and after Red Bull dominated the early season, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitted that the team would look to move away from their ‘zero sidepods’ aero concept from the 2024 season.
With two rounds remaining in 2023, Mercedes are yet to win a grand prix. The team endured a deeply disappointing Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, with Russell retiring with excessive power unit temperatures and team mate Lewis Hamilton falling from fifth on the grid to finish down in eighth. However, Russell says he has more confidence that his team will start off much stronger in 2024 than they have the previous two seasons.
“What has caught us out this year stems from the winter development,” Russell explained. “We took a wrong direction, we made some mistakes and that was evident as soon as we hit the track in Bahrain.
“Going into the third year now, I’m confident we’re not going to make those same mistakes. I’m confident we’ve got some good gains over this winter that we’re finding it at the moment, but it’s a relative game and we don’t know what our rivals are going to bring.”
Mercedes stuck to their ground effect concept for the 2023 season. Despite the major changes Mercedes made to the W14 compared to its predecessor, Russell says there were fundamental similarities to both ground effect cars the team has produced.
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“Last year’s was definitely a trickier car to drive,” he said. “But as it probably was for some many teams, we’ve made some big improvements.
“It’s definitely a very different car this year than it was last year aerodynamically, but mechanically it’s still very much the same car and the traits and the trends seem to be similar. When we look at Bahrain, Austria and Spa – they were probably our weakest races last year and this year. Then last year, Mexico and Singapore were two of our strongest tracks – Barcelona as well. I’m confident about our race pace, but the qualifying side of things is a flip of a coin.”
Despite two seasons of struggling to fight for victories and watching rivals Red Bull lay waste to the competition, Russell says the progress Mercedes have made this year leave him far more confident about their prospects for 2024.
“I think 12 months on, we have 12 months further information, direction, and we’ve managed to implement some of these changes we want for 2024 in certain tests so far this year – they work as we anticipated,” he explained.
“I think the work that we’re putting into 2024, we’ve been a lot more thorough with our assessment of every single decision. The car was nowhere close to where we wanted it to be for the last season and we felt a lot needed to change. We perhaps rushed a couple of decisions without thoroughly testing them on the simulator, going through the potential consequences. We were just trying so many different things and it was more quantity over quality testing last year. Whereas this year, we’ve really nailed down on the direction we want to go. We’ve thoroughly tested that process to kind of triple check that this is the direction we’re taking.”
Although Russell falls short of predicting that Mercedes will be able to fight for next year’s world championship titles or draw level with Red Bull, he believes his team will start from a much stronger position in 2024.
“I’m confident, 12 months later, we’ve now two years’ worth of learning,” he said.
“I think and I hope we’re not going to be caught out by anything going into next year. This doesn’t mean that we’re going to have the fastest car on the grid. It just means I don’t think we’re going to stumble at the first hurdle.”
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