What caused Mercedes to suffer the ‘worst weekend in 13 years’ at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sao Paulo? | F1

What caused Mercedes to suffer the ‘worst weekend in 13 years’ at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sao Paulo?  |  F1

Mercedes was cautiously optimistic heading into the weekend, given that George Russell had led the Silver Arrows 1-2 at Interlagos last year, and the team arrived in Brazil after a pair of encouraging races.

Although Lewis Hamilton was ultimately ruled out of the US Grand Prix, his impressive run to second place in Austin, followed by the same result in Mexico City, raised Mercedes’ hopes.

But any dreams of claiming a first win of 2023 were quickly dashed to the ground in what turned out to be a miserable, deflating weekend for Mercedes.

After a disappointing competitive display during one lap of qualifying on Friday, Mercedes suffered a sudden loss of pace in the sprint race on Saturday, which was highlighted by Hamilton falling to seventh place as he suffered unexpected and excessive tire wear.

There were fears of a repeat of what happened on Sunday, as things went from bad to worse. Hamilton dropped to a disappointing eighth place, while Russell was running outside the points in 11th when he was told to retire with a cooling problem that left his engine on the verge of failure.

It has been an agonizing afternoon for the once dominant force in Formula One, which now faces the very real prospect of enduring a winless season for the first time since 2011.

But what was behind the performance that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described as “unforgivable”?

Hamilton suspected that the floor of his Mercedes W14, which was upgraded for the US Grand Prix, was the main factor to blame.

“I think the floor isn’t working,” the seven-time world champion suggested.

“It doesn’t pull us down, it pushes us to the higher wing and then we drift too much on the straights and slide in the corners. We have to look at why that happens on this difficult circuit.

“The tires were overheating, slow on the straights, and there was no grip in the corners.”

Mercedes was ultimately at a loss to explain its dramatic drop in form in Brazil, with Wolff describing it as “completely baffling”.

“There are fluctuations (in performance), but the fluctuations are not nearly as fast as where we ended up … in eighth place,” he said. “For me personally, the worst weekend in 13 years.

“Completely puzzling. And at the same time unacceptable for all of us. We are a proper structure and a strong team and it does not appear to be a strong team.

“Within three races in a row, you finish strong second, both challenging Max, and a week later you end up nowhere. I think that’s not on.

Was it just a setup error, or is there a more worrying issue that Mercedes has yet to discover?

Although there is no simple answer, Wolff admitted that Mercedes had acted very conservatively with regard to the car’s ride height, although he stressed that was not the “main reason” for the glaring underperformance.

“We ran the car very high and you keep going. But that wasn’t the main reason for the absolute weekend,” Wolff explained.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong mechanically. It’s not the rear wing or the car being a little high. We’re talking about a millimeter or two. It’s performance but it’s not an explanation for the whole weekend.

“From a really fast car, the best balance and the drivers are happy, to a nightmare. How is that even possible? What is this? What is this not true?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we analyze the cars in the next few days and discover that there’s a mechanical problem with the way they’re set up or something like that. But I don’t know what it will be.”

Mercedes’ setback in Brazil was bad timing. It came at a time when the team felt they were getting the hang of things and gaining some much-needed momentum ahead of a crucial winter in which they hope to close the gap on Red Bull.

It also underscored – if more evidence were needed – the flaws in the W14’s design and underscored the gap between the 2023 competitor and Red Bull’s far superior RB19.

That was the realization that dawned on the pessimistic Hamilton, who gloomily predicted that Red Bull would likely continue to rule the roost “for the next couple of years”.

“This car, it was developed by putting more plaster on something that wasn’t right, and it shows that it’s so unpredictable that it can swing to either side,” Wolff added.

He added: “We will have a completely different car next year and this confirms that this is the right thing to do.”

It remains to be seen whether this is just a misstep or a worrying sign that Mercedes is still lost in understanding Formula One’s new regulations era.

What is certain is that there will be a lot of confusion in Brackley.

    (Tags for translation) F1 

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