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Toto Wolff: “Trauma of Austin” still affects Mercedes set-up

Toto Wolff admits that previous set-up mistakes are impacting Mercedes’ approach to start the F1 2024 season.

Since Formula 1 ushered in new regulation in 2022, Mercedes have been a shadow of their former selves. One of their better showings was in COTA last year, but Toto Wolff explains that their post-race disqualification is still fresh in the memory.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line 5th and 7th in the first race of 2024.

In isolation, this result is confirmation that Mercedes is still several steps behind Red Bull.

It also indicates that the Silver Arrows could pay the price for essentially wasting last winter’s development on the flawed W14 car.

However, there was more potential in the team’s current iteration than the final timings suggest.

Russell’s qualifying position is the first piece of evidence – proving that Red Bull and Ferrari are within striking range on low fuel.

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Mercedes still unsure about set-up

This performance is especially encouraging because, unlike the Austrian team, the Brackley-based outfit knows very little about their current baseline.

On this note, the relatively unknown nature of the W15 is something Toto Wolff’s team must come to terms with.

Producing a fast car is one thing, but extracting its potential is another.

Bahrain was a perfect example of this, with an overly aggressive cooling configuration limiting Hamilton and Russell on race day.

Overheating issues cost the team several tenths per lap.

Ironically, the team was too conservative with their ride height.

The Mercedes team principal explains that past errors contributed to this incorrect choice:

“We were a little too low [in COTA 2023]. The trauma from Austin is still in our bones,” Wolff explained in Bahrain.

“So we wanted to stay a little on the conservative side with a new car.”

Despite this confession, the 52-year-old is still optimistic about the season ahead:

“We were caught on the wrong foot two years in a row, and now we have a car that suits us better.”

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Steep learning curve necessary at Brackley

As it stands, all the evidence suggests that Red Bull and Max Verstappen already have 2024 in their control.

It will take a monumental effort from the rest of the field to challenge for the Championship.

However, this does not mean Verstappen is guaranteed to repeat last year’s dominance.

For Mercedes, starting the penultimate year of these regulations, it is imperative they learn quickly.

As McLaren proved last season, an effective development can radically improve performance.

Whilst last year’s progress from Woking is not a common occurrence, it must be what Mercedes aspires towards in 2024.


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