04 March 2023

Mercedes to rethink design as Toto Wolff admits car isn’t ‘competitive’

04 March 2023

Toto Wolff has revealed that Mercedes will ditch this season’s car before a race has even taken place.

Defending champion Max Verstappen picked up where he left off to take pole position for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez joining him on the front row.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will start third and fourth for Ferrari, while Fernando Alonso took fifth spot for Aston Martin.

But George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will start only sixth and seventh respectively as the Mercedes men finished more than six tenths behind Verstappen.

On Friday, a gloomy Hamilton said his team are on the “wrong track”, had fallen further behind his rivals and questioned whether Mercedes’ concept will allow him to compete for a record eighth world championship.

And 24 hours later, team principal Wolff remarkably conceded that the Silver Arrows, the constructor which once dominated the sport, will have to abandon their controversial zero-sidepod concept in order to challenge again.

“I don’t think that this package is going to be competitive eventually,” said Wolff.

“We gave it our best go over the winter and now we all just need to regroup, sit down with the engineers, be totally non-dogmatic and ask what is the development direction we want to pursue in order to be able to win races.

“We hit our targets. That’s why I say we gave it our best shot. But the moment comes when the stopwatch comes out and that showed us that we are not good enough.

“At this team we blame the problem not the person. I have responsibilities. I need to fire myself if I want to do something.

“We got it wrong last year. We thought we could fix it by sticking to the concept of car but it didn’t work out. So we just need to switch our focus on to what we believe is the right direction.”

Mercedes claimed just one victory last season with a machine Hamilton said he could not wait to consign to the history books.

Yet they decided to evolve their concept rather than start from scratch, despite seeing rivals Red Bull adopt a completely different sidepod design to win 17 of last year’s 22 rounds.

Verstappen’s 21st career pole on Saturday is further proof that his Red Bull machine is the class of the Formula One field.

“You know motor racing is crazy,” said Wolff. “I don’t know what is going to happen this year. We may find a silver bullet next week and gain five tenths, but I haven’t seen any silver bullets before.

“If you look at the pecking order today, you would say that catching Red Bull ‘is not realistic’.

“But I’m looking at what we can find next week, what is the change of direction that we can implement and how quickly can we do that? Maybe we can turn the ship around this year but it needs a lot to change the pecking order.”

Wolff’s remarks will come as a major blow to Hamilton, 38, and his quest to take another championship before his career ends.

Hamilton is entering the final season of his £40million-a-year deal but earlier this week he said he has no plans to retire, even if Mercedes fail to deliver him a winning machine.

“If I need to push him around the track to get the eighth I will,” said Wolff. “I’m going to do everything that’s needed.”

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