One word speaks volumes as Mercedes plot return to form

LONDON: Mercedes Formula One boss Toto Wolff said his team’s 2023 car would ‘eventually’ be competitive enough to fight at the very front of the grid and the Austrian chose the word carefully.

The once-dominant team are playing catch-up to champions Red Bull and runners-up Ferrari after slumping to third overall in 2022 following an unprecedented run of eight successive constructors’ titles.

With a limited three days of pre-season testing still to come at Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit next week, bold statements can wait.

“I was contemplating about that word for 15 minutes, when we talked about the press release,” Wolff conceded to reporters at the team’s car launch.

“On one side you want to say ‘we will be competitive’, on the other side you need to stay humble and realistic. So you could say ‘I hope that we will be competitive’.

“The mid way round is ‘we will be competitive, we just don’t know when’.

“I think we are on the slope we wanted to be in terms of our performance but then you don’t know where the other ones are. I think humility is most important. We’ve always tried to be humble, and especially after last year.”

Mercedes won only one race in 2022, with George Russell in Brazil, after starting the season with a notably bouncing or ‘porpoising’ car.

For seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton it was the first time in his career that he had gone through an entire campaign without a victory.

Mercedes have retained the standout narrow sidepod design of the W13 car, but with a significantly lighter chassis and revised front suspension geometry.

“There is so much energy and so much motivation,” said Wolff. “After many very successful years you always run the risk that it becomes normal.

“We were taught a tough lesson last year… getting it wrong last year I believe will be good long-term.”

The Austrian said in November that the 2022 cars would be placed in the reception areas of the Mercedes factories in Brackley and Brixworth as a daily reminder of how difficult the sport can be.

At Wednesday’s launch, however, the boss put a more positive spin on it.

“I have changed my approach a little bit,” he said.

“I wanted to put it in the lobby as a reminder that you must not rest on your laurels. But actually I want to place it in the lobby because it is a symbol of boldness and courage for me.

“We took a radical design direction last year and we dared and we failed.

“For me, that shows a lot about the mindset of the team – how it is important to cope with success and failure at the same time and I wouldn’t want us to go in any shape or form conservative in the future.

“I want us to take calculated risks and be bold.”

The season starts in Bahrain on Mar 5.

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