Mercedes will take the significant risk of bringing a concept-changing upgrade to this weekend’s (May 27-29) Monaco Grand Prix in a desperate attempt to get its season back on track.
The German marque realised early this year that its W14 car wouldn’t be able to take the fight to Red Bull Racing. While the bouncing problems of 2022 had been solved, the team’s unique approach to the new regulations was already showing limited development returns in the wind tunnel while Red Bull Racing was skipping further ahead up the road.
It was at the first race of the season that team boss Toto Wolff declared the car would be put in the bin and a new design would be tested.
The fruits of the intense labour that followed amounted to a significant upgrade that touches virtually every component of the car - the bodywork, the floor and the suspension - in the hope that a fresh start would deliver a pathway back to the front.
Ferrari, meanwhile, is likewise pinning its season on a big development push, albeit one that works with its current concept rather than wiping the slate clean in the Mercedes style.
The first tranche of new parts was brought to Miami earlier this month, but to get the most from the revised aerodynamics the team needs new suspension geometry.
Both Mercedes and Ferrari targeted the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, the first of a European triple-header, to test and hopefully race their new parts - until the race was called off in the deadly floods sweeping northern Italy.
But with the Monaco Grand Prix following this weekend, the matter isn’t as simple as just pushing the updates back by a week.
The twisting streets of Monte Carlo are unique on the F1 calendar in forming the most extreme circuit the sport visits. It’s the slowest, lowest energy track of the year, and while car performance is of course important, driver confidence and daring makes far more of a difference between the walls than on other courses.
Teams rarely bring anything more than minor updates or track-specific car parts to Monaco lest drivers lose crucial practice time to evaluation.
That old wisdom is what Ferrari is considering in its decision not to bring its potentially pivotal new suspension to Monaco.
But Mercedes has thumbed its nose at convention and is going all-in on its new car.
It’s a sign of just how desperate Mercedes is to rescue itself from its current poor form that it’s taking this considerable gamble. Every week it doesn’t try the revised car is another week lost in the pursuit of Red Bull Racing - and it’s already effectively a season and a half behind.
But it’s not without logic either.
While the team is optimistic of a performance boost, the upgrades are more directly targeted at making the car more predictable to drive.
A more complaint car will give drivers confidence to push harder - confidence both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have said they’re lacking with the current machine.
At a track like Monaco, confidence can be measured in tenths of a second. The reward may well outweigh the risk, especially as this weekend is perhaps the only one at which the paddock thinks Red Bull Racing could have less of an advantage that usual.
However, the risk remains. Plenty of times teams have brought upgrades to the track only to discover they don’t work as intended or require hours of set-up work.
That’s certainly been the case for Mercedes several times over the last year or so after several false dawns under these regulations.
But the tie for conservatism is over for Mercedes. It’s now or never for the team’s revival.
There’s a great deal on the line in Monaco.
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