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The Highs And Lows Of Mercedes’ 2023 Season

The entire Mercedes team posing ahead of the final grand prix of the season at Abu Dhabi, 2023.

 After a disappointing 2022 campaign, Mercedes had hoped that 2023 would be a far more positive season for the team. However, an unpleasant start to the 2023 season in Bahrain left a bitter taste. It seemed like Mercedes were back in square one – right at the start of the new regulations implemented in 2022.

Slow start and zero-pods

After a disappointing 2022 campaign, Mercedes had hoped that 2023 would be a far more positive season for the team. However, an unpleasant start to the 2023 season in Bahrain left a bitter taste. It seemed like Mercedes were back in square one – right at the start of the new regulations implemented in 2022.

The Silver Arrows had returned with their zero-pod concept. Seemingly cementing their confidence in the design despite doubts swimming around the paddock.

Mercedes had spent the 2022 season as the third-best team, unable to put up a strong fight against the Ferraris and Red Bulls up ahead. It was a stark comparison to the W12’s pace in 2021, but the Brackley-based team had the consolation of new regulations as a soft pillow for the landing.

The start of the 2023 season showed that Mercedes were yet again the third-best team – occasionally rotating between third and fourth with Ferrari – but this time, one of their customer teams was ahead of them. The Red Bulls were very much in a league of their own from the start of the season, but to the demise of Mercedes, Aston Martin were second-best and were the only team that looked capable of giving Red Bull competition.

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The first podium

Mercedes spent the first two races away from the podium, before finally catching a break – somewhat – in the chaotic Australian Grand Prix. After a good qualifying session with P2 and P3, a drama-filled Australian Grand Prix with three red flags saw George Russell retire with a power unit failure and Lewis Hamilton finish the race P2. It was a fairly good weekend for Mercedes despite George’s retirement.

The Azerbaijan GP was rather dull compared to Mercedes’ weekend in Melbourne, with a loss of pace. As for the Miami GP, it was a Saturday to forget with P6 and P13 for George and Lewis respectively. Come Sunday, it was a slow first stint for the team, but halfway through the race the car came alive with George finishing P4 and Lewis driving a great recovery to P6 – something that would grow into a pattern throughout the season.

Hello…side pods?

Early into the season, there were questions being asked of the Mercedes team. Most were regarding the side pods, or rather, their lack of side pods.

Mercedes had hinted that their car would change significantly, suggesting side pods. At the Imola GP, the whole paddock anticipated marvelling at the ‘changes’ made to the Mercedes. But an unfortunate and tragic natural disaster led to the cancellation of the entire Imola weekend.

Mercedes therefore had to settle with testing a new concept at the street circuit of Monaco – or so the paddock thought. The paddock was right though. As per rumours, Mercedes turned up to Monaco with a whole new look – side pods!

Mercedes' new car at the Monaco Grand Prix, 2023

There was excitement for all those pro-Mercedes, and all eyes were on them, waiting to see if the change would reflect on their performance. But then again, it was just Monaco. Monaco is not the circuit to test out new concepts. To make matters worse, it rained during the Monaco GP. Amidst the chaos of it although, Mercedes were able to claim P4 and P5 as theirs.

The Spanish Grand Prix was next – a proper racetrack for Mercedes to test out their ‘Spec B’ car. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a difficult circuit, but Mercedes typically perform well there. And maybe that makes this circuit not the best for Mercedes to see the true colours of their new car.

Nonetheless, a double podium with Hamilton in P2 and Russell in P3 was more than enough to put a smile on the faces of Toto Wolff and co.

Now it was all about whether Mercedes could carry on with that momentum into the next races.

Heading into Montreal, expectations weren’t high for Mercedes due to the low-speed corners. However, Lewis securing a P3 was a positive sign for Mercedes.

One step forward, and three steps back

To put into context just how up and down it has been for Mercedes, just before the final race of the 2023 season, George had this to say about Lewis Hamilton and the W14:

“We’ve never been on the same pace, either I’ve been 4 or 5 tenths ahead or he’s been 4 or 5 tenths ahead. It’s really strange to understand because he’s never 4 or 5 tenths off the pace, clearly, this car is really hard to get in the sweet spot.”

For much of the season, it had felt like Mercedes had not been making steady progress.

Following a fairly decent Canadian Grand Prix weekend, Mercedes struggled for pace in Austria – a weekend to forget. All eyes moved to Silverstone.

Silverstone is more similar to Barcelona and Montreal than to Austria, therefore, Mercedes had something to look forward to. Not to mention, it was a home race for both drivers and the Brackley-based team.

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Unfortunately, a disappointing qualifying session was a painful welcome back home. Race day was a bit better for Mercedes, with a podium finish for Hamilton in P3, and Russell in P5. Despite the positive results for Mercedes, this might have been the weekend that saw Ferrari start to cement themselves as the third-fastest team, ahead of Mercedes. Even more painfully, the McLaren’s had made massive progress and were the second-fastest team – another Mercedes customer team – with Aston Martin who had a massive downshift in terms of performance since Canada.

A surprise pole in Hungary for Lewis Hamilton was a nice triumph. However, P4 and P6 were the best Mercedes could manage that same weekend and the following one in Belgium.

For most of the season, Mercedes developed a pattern. A disappointing qualifying on Saturday, followed by a great recovery to anywhere between P4 and P7 on Sunday. Podiums became a rare occasion, with the W14 always too far off the pace of those ahead.

Learning points

Flashbacks to 2016 have been brought about by team tensions. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton have had a few tense moments on track, despite having a great relationship off track. A few heated radio transmissions from Russell have happened in a few races this season, but the true tipping point was in Qatar.

At turn 1 on lap 1, Hamilton, Russell and Verstappen were in a three-way fight. The Dutchman and the young Brit got away safely, but after contact, Hamilton had to retire from the race. In the heat of the moment, Russell erupted on the team radio, and post-race interviews indicated that the team anticipated the incident and, therefore, discussed ways to avoid it, which they apparently did not follow.

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A repeat of the high tensions in Mercedes’ 2016 must be on the itinerary for problems to solve before the 2024 season.

Pit stop practice

Mercedes’ pit stops in 2023 have been below par. With 2.9s pit stops being considered slow for other teams, that same time is on the faster side for the Mercedes pit crew. Most of Toto Wolff’s team’s pit stops have been in the above 3 seconds, and have even reached as low as 6.3s.

One season of slow pit stops can be overlooked – perhaps – but two seasons is a call for concern. These past two seasons – 2022 and 2023 – have put the spotlight on the Mercedes pit crew.

In the overall standings for the 2023 DHL fastest pit stop awards, Mercedes have ended the season 7th, and 8th in the 2022 awards!

In a sport where the fine margins matter, where every microsecond counts, you cannot afford to slip up. Mercedes especially who have not had a brilliant car, have not helped their drivers by providing slow pit stops more often than not. It is an area that needs to be looked at, and change needs to happen if Mercedes want to have better results in future seasons.

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On a more positive note, Mercedes had one of the most if not the most reliable power units since 2022 and has been proven to be a strong package. Despite Mercedes themselves not being fast, Aston Martin’s surreal pace at the start of the season and McLaren’s sudden outburst in pace from the halfway point onwards have shown the potential of the Mercedes power unit. Additionally, Williams‘ straight-line speed as well as one-lap pace can be partly credited to the Mercedes power unit.

Results after round 22 of 22

Drivers’ Championship – Lewis Hamilton P2 with 234 points, George Russell P8 with 175 points

Constructors’ Championship – P2 with 409 points

Bahrain – Lewis Hamilton P5, George Russell P7

Saudi Arabia – George Russell P4, Lewis Hamilton P5

Australia – Lewis Hamilton P2, George Russell DNF

Azerbaijan – Lewis Hamilton P6, George Russell P8

Miami – George Russell P4, Lewis Hamilton P6

Monaco – Lewis Hamilton P4, George Russell P5

Spain – Lewis Hamilton P2, George Russell P3

Canada – Lewis Hamilton P3, George Russell DNF

Austria – George Russell P7, Lewis Hamilton P8

Great Britain – Lewis Hamilton P3, George Russell P5

Hungary – Lewis Hamilton P4, George Russell P6

Belgium – Lewis Hamilton P4, George Russell P6

Netherlands – Lewis Hamilton P6, George Russell P17

Monza, Italy – George Russell P5, Lewis Hamilton P6

Singapore – Lewis Hamilton P3, George Russell DNF

Japan – Lewis Hamilton P5, George Russell P7

Qatar – George Russell P4, Lewis Hamilton DNF

United States – George Russell P5, Lewis Hamilton DSQ

Mexico – Lewis Hamilton P2, George Russell P6

Brazil – Lewis Hamilton P8, George Russell DNF

Las Vegas – Lewis Hamilton P7, George Russell P8

Abu Dhabi – George Russell P3, Lewis Hamilton P9


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