November 13, 2022: George Russell holds off Lewis Hamilton in Interlagos for his first GP victory in Formula 1. A one-two punch gave everyone at Mercedes hope for a successful 2023.
November 5, 2023: Lewis Hamilton takes 8th place in the Brazilian GP, George Russell has to retire with an overheated engine after dropping out of the points positions. The contrast couldn’t be greater.
“This was a GP to forget as quickly as possible,” was Hamilton’s response. “This is by far our worst weekend of the year,” his teammate summarized.
The face of team boss Toto Wolff already spoke volumes during the race, but after that Wolff did not mince his words. “This was our worst weekend in 13 years. This is unacceptable, there are no words to describe it. It was hell.”
However, Mercedes had had encouraging weeks with the United States and Mexican GPs. The new floor of the car seemed to work, Hamilton finished 2nd behind Max Verstappen in Austin and Mexico. Although he was disqualified in Austin.
“We finished second in Austin and Mexico and a week later we are nowhere,” Wolff himself was surprised. “We are a solid team, but you couldn’t notice that in Brazil. We must have done something very wrong.”
Wolff stood up for Hamilton and Russell. “I can only sympathize with the drivers that they have to drive such a bad car. It seemed as if they had to drive on 3 wheels instead of 4. This car does not deserve a victory.”
For enthusiasts: Mercedes had set the car slightly too high in Brazil, which meant it generated too little downforce. This had to be compensated with a larger rear wing, but that hindered them on the straights. The result was that tire wear was far too high.
This year, Mercedes never knows in advance whether the car’s setup will work or not. “The developments on this car have actually been plasters on a wooden leg. The car is so unpredictable,” Wolff sighed.
Mercedes also announced last week that head of technical department Mike Elliott is leaving the team. Elliott, very successful at Mercedes, was responsible for the radical and unique design of the Mercedes in 2022, which they stuck with this year against the wishes of Lewis Hamilton.
Wolff: “Mechanically there is something fundamentally wrong with the car. We will have a fundamentally different car next year and this weekend proves that is the right move.”
Whether that will be enough to play for victories and the championship again in 2024 remains to be seen. “I have to remain optimistic, but Red Bull has so much of a lead that they may be able to maintain that lead in the coming years,” Hamilton looked into the future.