END OF YEAR REPORT: Another challenging season for Mercedes as they look to climb ‘Mount Everest’ for 2024
Mercedes are used to winning, and winning well. Despite (just about) clinching P2 in the constructors’ standings, the team will look back on 2023 as another disappointment. Since the new ground effect ruleset was introduced for 2022, they have struggled with their car and its consistency – Team Principal Toto Wolff even branding this year's W14 "miserable" at one stage. Here’s their end of year report…
Lewis Hamilton – 2nd in Australia, Spain and Mexico
For the second consecutive season Lewis Hamilton failed to register a Grand Prix victory to his name, having done so in every F1 season prior to that after entering the sport in 2007. But that hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
The seven-time world champion took three runner-up spots this year, and could well have ended up with a fourth had he not been disqualified from the results in Austin. Overall the Brit registered six podiums in 2023 in a car that was consistently inconsistent.
For George Russell, it was also a topsy-turvy year – one he dubbed “strange” with a string of “missed opportunities”. The Brit only made the podium twice this season – a pair of third-place finishes in Spain and Abu Dhabi – but of course crashed out at the final moments in Singapore, which could have scored him another third place result.
Lewis Hamilton 11-11 George Russell
Neck-and-neck in the qualifying head-to-head, it has been hard to fault the Mercedes drivers despite the difficulties the W14 has presented. There were also some noteworthy efforts, including P2 and P3 slots on the grid (for Russell and Hamilton respectively) in both Australia and Qatar – although those Qatar hopes were dashed as the pair collided at the first corner in the race, knocking Hamilton out.
The honour of the highest qualifying result does, however, go to the 38-year-old, who magically took pole for the Hungarian Grand Prix. His reaction over the radio let every fan know just how much that meant.
Lewis Hamilton 15-6 George Russell
When it comes to race day, the experienced Hamilton had the edge over his team mate, with Russell being very self-critical of his own performances throughout the campaign. Following his collision with Max Verstappen in the penultimate race of the year in Las Vegas, he took full responsibility and called it the “story of my season”.
Russell did have his unlucky moments too, with four DNFs in 2023 – one of them being that aforementioned crash in Singapore as he chased down the top two in the closing stages – but there is still endless amounts of potential within him. No doubt he will hope for more in 2024.
Similarly Hamilton will also want more in 2024, despite not getting the results he has been used to down the years. But it can’t be ignored that the Brit continued to make the most of the machinery at his disposal and pulled some remarkable finishes out of the bag.
At one stage it even looked like he might pip Sergio Perez to runner-up in the drivers’ standings, though he did take second in Formula 1’s Power Rankings – a score that takes machinery out of the equation.
Securing P2 in the constructors’ standings at the end of the season has to be seen as one of the best moments of the year for Mercedes, but they will be the first to admit that they can’t see this as a success.
Their double podium in Spain is also a contender for this, but in terms of sheer emotion – and the loudest cheers – Hamilton’s pole at the Hungaroring probably trumps it. His lap was simply stunning, at the end of a nail-biting session, as he secured a memorable first pole since 2021.
There may be a few contenders for this, but you have to look at the aftermath of the Brazilian Grand Prix when the mood at Mercedes felt really low.
What made it worse is that there had been waves of positivity at the previous race in Mexico where Hamilton took second, and Russell finished sixth. But in Brazil, Russell was forced to retire while Hamilton could only finish in P8.
It was clear that neither car could compete in Sao Paulo in terms of pace and it prompted Wolff into giving one of his most emotive interviews, calling the performance “inexcusable”. He went on to call the W14 a “miserable thing” and insisted it “didn’t deserve a win”.
Sure enough it never went on to achieve a victory, but Brazil proved to be a really tough day for all at Mercedes. Just when they thought they had been making progress, that weekend helped to knock the wind out of their sails.
Mercedes are still a team capable of winning – the key for 2024 is to get the car right after two missteps following the 2022 rule changes. Hamilton has frequently spoken about how, when he first drove the W14, it felt exactly the same as their 2022 effort despite asking for “certain changes” that weren’t done.
There is now an acknowledgement from Mercedes that their design philosophy for 2022, which they stuck with going into 2023, hasn’t worked and – with James Allison also back as Mercedes’ Technical Director following an April reshuffle – the direction seems more clear.
That said there is a lot of catching up to do. As Wolff put it, the team have “Mount Everest to climb” if they are to truly challenge Red Bull next season.
The slightly more optimistic view, put forward by Hamilton, is that Mercedes have their “North Star” now. Where that star leads remains to be seen…