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ANALYSIS: Mercedes have the stomach for the fight – but are they back on track?

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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Mercedes-AMG F1 W15 E Performance Launch - Finn Pomeroy

Losing sucks. It’s even more irritating when you’re so used to winning and being consistently right. That’s how Mercedes have felt during the last two years, going from near unbeatable world champions to chasers with a machine that didn’t do what their drivers wanted it to do.

So, over the course of last season and the subsequent winter, the Silver Arrows have accepted their errors and binned much of last year’s car, opting for, what boss Toto Wolff calls, a “complete relaunch”.

FIRST LOOK: Mercedes unveil their 2024 F1 car ahead of Silverstone shakedown

The public-facing changes are visible. Gone is their quirky sidepod philosophy and in comes a shape that most of the grid have pursued, following the immense success rivals Red Bull have enjoyed with it. That’s one of several outward facing changes. Underneath, the team say there are a suite of mechanical changes.

The hope, says the team, is that the W15 is a car that behaves itself and cuts out the unpredictability so that seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell can push to the limit and not have the car throw a tantrum and force them to back off or worse, lose control. It’s a very similar target to that of rivals Ferrari, who launched on Tuesday.

Mercedes-AMG W15 E PERFORMANCE - Lewis Hamilton - Front High.jpg

Mercedes have launched the W15 ahead of the 2024 F1 season

“A big focus has been on improving the previous car’s unpredictable rear axle, which the drivers often referred to as spiteful,” said technical chief James Allison. “We have worked on that to try and create a car that is reassuring to the drivers.

“At the beginning of a corner when you're hard on the brakes and turning in, the rear needs to feel rock solid. And then as you get towards the apex, the car needs to feel progressively more nimble, and eager, to turn. We have been trying to build that into the car.”

A large chunk of Red Bull’s advantage came via their superior rear wing and efficiency of their DRS device, which meant their rivals struggled to battle them on the straights. This is an area Mercedes have tried to work on – while also trying to give drivers more confidence in the turns – and improving other operational areas.

TECH ANALYSIS: The major changes Mercedes have made with their W15 in a bid to catch Red Bull

“We’ve also worked hard to create a less draggy car, and to add performance in the corners. There’s also been some housekeeping on areas in which we had room for improvement, including the DRS effect, and pit stop performance. We were always very good at delivering a pit stop in a repeatable time, which is the key thing for a pit stop.

“The repeatable time that we could do our pit stops in was still three to four tenths slower than the best teams, though. So hopefully we will have moved in the right direction there.”

ZANDVOORT, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 27: Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff looks on, on the grid

Wolff is being "realistic" about Mercedes' chances for 2024

'When it stings, it sticks'

Mercedes know that, as Wolff puts it, they have “a mountain to climb” in order to get back to fighting at the front of the grid, but they have admitted their mistakes and thrown everything at trying to fight back.

“On one hand, you need to be realistic about the odds of beating a team that is a fair chunk ahead under these regulations, and who got things right over the last two seasons whilst we have not. There are no miracles in the sport,” added Wolff.

“On the other hand, our ambition is strong. It is Red Bull and a very successful car that are the benchmark we are aiming to beat. I do not know when that will happen, we do not have any crystal ball. But we will know soon enough how far ahead they are and the task in front of us.”

READ MORE: Mercedes W15 hits the track for the first time at a wet Silverstone

Mercedes have been humble when launching their 2024 car and looking ahead to the coming season. They’ve admitted they made mistakes with their last two cars and have resolved to reset and change things up for this season. Wolff believes they have learned from their mistakes.

“As the saying goes: when it stings, it sticks. I believe the previous two years were necessary for us to readjust, recalibrate, and reinvent ourselves in certain areas,” he says.

“For me it is about: when you fall, you get back up. And that is what I have learned most in the last three years: it’s about the ability to recognize the learning when we fail to meet our objectives and this is the key to long-term success.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23: George Russell and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain

Will Hamilton and Russell end their final season as team mates at Mercedes on a high?

With regulations staying pretty stable from last season to this one, massive jumps in performance are unlikely – but Aston Martin last winter and McLaren during last season showed you can add huge amounts of performance onto the car if you’ve got the right direction.

Mercedes have form of doing just that – so there’s no reason why they can’t be more of a thorn in the side of F1’s frontrunner Red Bull this year. But such dramatic changes usually mean a lot of time is required to understand what they are working with and how to get the best out of it – and thus this rebuild will take time.

Mercedes know that, which is why they are remaining cautious. Leading the chasing pack behind Red Bull is their more realistic target.

READ MORE: Hamilton 'mega-motivated' as he prepares for final season with Mercedes

The Silver Arrows have the stomach for the fight – with Hamilton keen to end his 12-year stay with the team on a high and Russell focused on showing himself as the driver to lead the team into their new era.

We’ll have to wait for Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia, though, which are two very different tracks, to get the first real glimpse into whether they really are back on track.

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