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Pressure on Mercedes to save its 2022 season

Pressure on Mercedes to save its 2022 season

FORMULA ONE: Mercedes is halfway through a crucial month that will decide the fate of its troubled 2022 car, but it’s made little progress towards understanding its ultimate potential.

Formula-One
By Michael Lamonato

Friday 22 July 2022, 09:30AM


Lewis Hamilton (left) and George Russell with Mercedes chief Toto Wolff (centre) showcase the new Mercedes-AMG F1 W13 during the launch of the Mercedes car for the 2022 F1 season in Silverstone on Feb 18, 2022. Photo: AFP

Lewis Hamilton (left) and George Russell with Mercedes chief Toto Wolff (centre) showcase the new Mercedes-AMG F1 W13 during the launch of the Mercedes car for the 2022 F1 season in Silverstone on Feb 18, 2022. Photo: AFP

After 11 rounds of the 2021 season Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton had returned to the top of the championship standings and suddenly had the wind at their backs in a fraught title campaign.

After 11 rounds in 2022 the team and its star driver are still unsure whether they’ll be able to win a grand prix this season.

The W13’s crippling problems have been well documented after four painful months. It’s too peaky a performer, workable in only an extremely narrow set-up range and on a limited array of circuits.

But after nearly half the season troubleshooting, the four races of July were to put the car, equipped with rectifying upgrades, to the test to learn how much of it could be salvaged this season - or decide whether a clean sheet would be required for next year.

Two races down and the results have been limited.

George Russell was wiped out at the start of the British Grand Prix, and Lewis Hamilton’s race was compromised by a late safety car that jumbled the order when he otherwise looked on track for a possible victory tilt in a duel with the Ferrari drivers.

The team expected to be less competitive in Austria, but in first practice and early in qualifying the car looked like a genuine contender for the front row of the grid - until both drivers crashed in Q3.

The synchronised smashes were similar sudden snaps of oversteer - a sign that the drivers were probably overdriving but confirmation too that they felt they were within reach of a headline result.

But the sheer amount of damage to both forced the team to cobble the two machines together with a combination of each other’s broken parts - an engineering achievement, but it ensured that neither car could reach its ultimate potential in the sprint or the race.

“For sure [the qualifying crashes] didn’t help, because even though you can set the car up and measure the car, it puts you on the wrong foot straight from the get-go,” Mercedes chief Toto Wolff said, per the Formula 1 website.

But the team boss took heart from the fact that even his pair of damaged cars managed to secure third and fourth, even if Hamilton was 41 seconds off the pace on his way to the podium.

“If I tried to pick the positives, in race pace today, if we would have - which we didn’t - started right in the top six, probably we could’ve held on to Max (Verstappen) and not been so far away,” commented Wolff.

Considering Verstappen finished only 1.5 seconds off the lead, that’d be a considerable improvement to the team’s fortunes.

“We are starting to see we are chipping away performance from the leaders, which is good,” Wolff said.

“We are missing a few tenths here and there. I think we’ve halved the gap over the last few months. We understand better, but we’re still third, fourth - we’re somewhere right in the middle of nowhere.

“We just need to continue to grind away.”

What the team needs is a complete weekend for both drivers.

The French Grand Prix should offer them a good chance at one. Fast and smooth, it suits the car well, and vast asphalt run-off and distant walls mean repeat crashes are highly unlikely.

Not that just being in the hunt thanks to circumstance is much more than cold comfort.

“On paper at least it looks like we can have a good performance there,” Wolff said. “But we find ourselves in a situation which we have always discussed, which is, one day, after eight consecutive titles, that series is going to break.

“We want to make it a blip and not some kind of long cycle.”

The following weekend in Hungary will be the sternest test given the Hungaroring is tight, twisty and bumpy - everything the W13 hates. A morale-boosting result in Le Castellet followed by a decent performance in Budapest would be an important milestone in ensuring this season remains a blip.

But with little more than a week to go until the chequered flag in Hungary and the start of the midseason break, time’s fast running for Mercedes to turn its car’s alleged promise into real performances.

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