After just one race of the 2023 season, Red Bull’s special advisor, Helmut Marko, has dealt a crushing blow to Mercedes, stating that they can forget about the world title. This comes after Red Bull enjoyed a perfect weekend in Bahrain while Mercedes endured the exact opposite.
Mercedes’ team principal, Toto Wolff, described the Bahrain race as one of the worst days of his racing career as Lewis Hamilton finished P5 and team-mate George Russell P7, with the W13 looking well off the pace of the frontrunners. However, major changes to their car concept are already in the works with rumours that they will ditch the ‘zero-pod’ style and move to a Red Bull or Ferrari style.
According to Marko, Mercedes has not been able to find a solution to their issues during the winter and they are faced with a hard task to fix the car so dramatically that they are able to fight for the World Championships. Marko believes that designing two or three different cars will be difficult with the budget cap in place. A new car doesn’t just work either, because you have to be competitive from the start. He suggests that they lack the test days and race experience, making it hard to design a car that can fight for the World Championship.
However, even though Mercedes may be out of the title race in Marko’s mind, he has not already handed it to Red Bull. He believes that Bahrain provides a unique challenge and the race was good, but it doesn’t mean it will be like that in the next races. He also suggests that Ferrari still has a problem with tyre wear and that they will take pole position at times, but it’s not something where they are making much progress.
Mercedes may still have time to pull themselves back into contention for wins, but if they have any hope of competing for the World Championship, they need to progress quickly and effectively. The question now is, with a Red Bull or Ferrari style sidepod set-up, how much quicker will the W14 be if they choose to go in that direction?
In qualifying, Hamilton was half a second off the pace with Russell only fractionally quicker, indicating that even in perfect conditions of a one-lap run, Mercedes are way off the required mark. The race itself was a disappointment, with Hamilton finishing 50.977 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen.
It remains to be seen whether the 2023 title is already out of reach for Mercedes. They have too much credit in the bank to suggest they will not be able to work their way out of the hole they find themselves in, but if there is any realistic chance of a title push, it needs to happen fast.