Mercedes found themselves well off the pace at the Brazilian GP, struggling to even cling onto points in the 72-lap race. After a series of competitive weekends in COTA and Mexico, this poor form is a concern.
In isolation, it isn’t uncommon for teams to suffer at specific tracks. Most cars have strengths and weaknesses that – depending on the layout – are expressed at different times. However, the situation is slightly different for the Silver Arrows.
First and foremost, Mercedes are unclear about what caused their lack of pace. It was clear in the Sprint shootout (especially in the last sector) that the W14 was vulnerable in the straight line.
At the time, it seemed plausible that a lack of practice time saw the German outfit choose a sub-optimal setup. This reasoning, however, does not explain their status as fifth or even sixth-fastest team over race distance.
Additionally, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell suffered from tremendous tyre wear. This area is typically a strength for the Silver Arrows, and cannot be attributed to a high-downforce set-up.
In a post-race interview, Toto Wolff admitted the team don’t know the root cause:
“There was something fundamentally wrong mechanically,” he explained to Sky Sports.
“It’s not a rear wing, and it’s not the car being slightly too high – because we’re talking a millimetre or two less…
“What is it that’s not right? I wouldn’t be surprised if we analysed the cars in the next few days and found out there was a mechanical issue in the way we set them up.
“I don’t know what that would have been.”
Heading into next season, this isn’t a deal-breaker – but it is certainly a hiccup. With cars that are so easily put outside their operating window, Mercedes cannot afford to begin 2024 with question marks.
Over the last twelve months, most of the resources at Brackley have been dedicated to steering the team’s development direction back on course. If James Allison and his technical team haven’t succeeded in this endeavour, next year could be problematic.
It must be stressed that the upgrades at Mercedes have been generally effective in 2023. Only a few weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton praised the notably improved handling of the W14 – following the COTA updates.
Still, with such a formidable opponent in Red Bull, there will be urgency at Brackley to understand what went wrong at Interlagos.