Fernando Alonso is expecting a difficult battle with Mercedes for the rest of 2023 after an impressive qualifying session from the Silver Arrows.
The Spaniard qualified in an impressive P4, finishing just a tenth behind Lewis Hamilton and two-tenths behind George Russell, who was one of the biggest surprises from qualifying.
Toto Wolff has been one of the many senior figures at Mercedes to outline the W14’s faults, admitting that a change in direction will be necessary for the team to fight at the front.
However, the Brackley-based squad can take some encouragement from their recent results.
Although Red Bull is still a few steps beyond reach, Aston Martin and Ferrari are within striking distance.
Alonso is aware of the threat posed by the Mercedes drivers, whose race pace in Jeddah was already a sizeable improvement from the Bahrain GP.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s race in Albert Park, Alonso analyzed the state of play at the front.
“Even Verstappen is not too far away, only four-tenths, and until the last attempt, we were even closer. So it’s probably our best qualifying of the year,” he told Spain’s DAZN post-qualifying.
“With Checo out, logically thinking about the Championship as well, scoring more points than him would be positive.”
“Mercedes, who say they want to abandon the car and are always regretting, are actually very quick. They’ve been hiding.
“Halfway through the year, they will surely be able to fight for wins as they did last year in Brazil.”
Whilst it is too early to make any predictions about how this year’s development race will unfold, it would be unwise to write off Mercedes.
After all, despite their deficit to Red Bull, Mercedes are still equal on points with Aston Martin and second in the Constructors’ standings.
The upcoming Baku GP – featuring the first Sprint Race of the F1 season – should see several teams introducing the first parts of their upgrade packages.
It is no secret that Mercedes is looking to overhaul the W14 and pursue a new direction, so the question is how quickly the team can find improvements.
Mercedes seems to have a better foundation than first anticipated, although it remains to be seen if their current philosophy is a “dead-end”, as described by Toto Wolff.
In any case, the battle between Aston, Mercedes, and Ferrari leaves little margin for error on race day.
Therefore, until updates arrive, it will be imperative for all these squads to optimize their packages.
Speculation about mid-season development will undoubtedly continue, but for now, it seems clear this group of teams are quite evenly matched.