(Motorsport-Total.com) – When Mercedes declares after positions five and six in the third qualifying session of the season that they have “overperformed” and should normally be on P8/9, then even the eternal optimists slowly begin to realize: 2022 for the ninth Winning at least one world championship in a row is becoming increasingly unlikely.
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Toto Wolff realizes that Mercedes is slipping away from the 2022 World Cup
An insight that Toto Wolff is beginning to see. Even after the third free practice session in Melbourne (race on Sunday from 7:00 a.m. in the Formula 1 live ticker), he had said that the World Championship should “never be written off”, because: “We saw it at Red Bull: a Double failure and you have zero points. That can also happen to the big ones in front.”
Because even if the performance of the F1 W13 E Performance has so far lagged far behind that of Ferrari and Red Bull, the score looks halfway friendly. In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes is second with 38 points, one point ahead of Red Bull and 40 behind Ferrari. And in the drivers’ standings, George Russell is 23 points behind leader Charles Leclerc.
With 21 races to go, that’s nothing that can’t be caught. Wolff after FT3 in Melbourne: “Last year we were absolutely not competitive until the middle of the year. Then we still fought for the championship. That’s racing, not just science. And what we do is important for the years to come.”
Wolff sees: it’s almost impossible to win the World Cup
After qualifying, in which Leclerc drove to pole in front of Max Verstappen, the Mercedes team boss felt a little more realism: “At the end of the day, we probably won’t be able to fight for the world title this year because that’s easy for us running away,” says Wolff in Interview with ‘Sky’. (AD: Get a Sky ticket now and watch the Australian Grand Prix 2022 live on Sunday with Lewis Hamilton in fifth place!)
A realization that hurts. After the bitter World Cup defeat in Abu Dhabi 2021, the master plan was that Hamilton should win his eighth title in 2022 and overtake Michael Schumacher in the all-time leaderboard. It doesn’t look like that with 16 points from two races. Hamilton is dealing with the situation “really positively”: “It’s not his last year,” says Wolff.
Hamilton (37) has a contract until the end of 2023. Even if it doesn’t work out in 2022, he still has at least one chance of breaking the Schumacher record. “We just have to see these days and race weekends as a test to get the car so far that we’ll definitely be there next year,” says Wolff.
Legendary footballer interview at 0:9 from Austria
These are completely new tones, after he had always prayed that Mercedes did not want to write off the 2022 World Championship fight prematurely. In the meantime, however, even Wolff himself refers to a legendary TV interview by an Austrian footballer when asked whether he is slowly becoming friends with the idea of giving up the title.
The Austrian national team lost 9-0 to Spain in a match in Valencia in 1999. At half time it was already 0:5. When central defender Toni Pfeffer was asked at half-time what was still possible, he replied: “We’ll never win, that’s amoi kloa.” So analogously: This game cannot be won high.
Wolff: “If I look at the situation from a mathematical point of view, then I would say that the odds are 20:80. On the other hand, motorsport is, and anything can happen in motorsport. Teams can drop out, we can suddenly flip the switch and the potential The racer in me says: 40:60. But mathematically the odds are worse.”
“We’re only in the third race weekend of the season. We’re not writing off this title. But that’s our current status quo, you have to be realistic about it. We’re seven tenths down,” Wolff refers to the qualifying result – and even unintentionally embellishes it still: In fact, a whole second was missing in qualifying in Melbourne.
Wurz: Don’t win before “mid-year”
Way too much to expect a quick turnaround. “That will certainly take until the middle of the year,” fears ‘ORF’ expert Alexander Wurz. Wolff nods: “I have to change my time horizon now and not hope for short-term miracles. […] It’s not about a session or a race weekend. It’s now about the next few weeks, a couple of months, to really make a step forward.”
Even with the existing package, without a major update, you can continue to work on the rear wheel suspension, for example, in order to “put a little more stress on the rear tires again,” says Wolff, identifying one of the problems. The Mercedes used to be a “tyre eater”. Times that you now longingly wish for.
For Wurz, given the starting position after three qualifying sessions in the 2022 season, Mercedes is “an absolute outsider. They have to find their way around it. It’s a new task. They’ve always been the top dog for eight years – and now they’re suddenly in a different situation. But I think if a team can develop, quickly and well and purposefully, then Mercedes.”
There was a lot of optimism after the presentation of the W13 with its “zero pods”, the side pods that no longer exist. And the side box concept is still not questioned: “On paper, it’s incredibly fast and good. In reality, the car doesn’t work mechanically and aerodynamically,” explains Wolff im Interview with ‘Sky’.
Correlation wind tunnel race track does not work
“Our car is fast on paper, but it doesn’t translate to action on the track. What we see in terms of performance in the wind tunnel and in our simulations doesn’t translate to the real world at all. This is a new situation for us that we need to understand.”
There are no concrete approaches: “We only learn with the car on the track. In this way we can try to understand this non-correlation. We have no other choice. We have to see the race weekends as live tests. Try things that sometimes don’t are fast on the clock. And accept with the necessary humility that others have done a really good job.”
Because one thing is clear: Even if Russell recently said that 90 percent of all Mercedes problems are solved when the W13 gets the “porpoising” under control and no longer hops around like a wild Easter bunny, which makes the driving behavior completely unpredictable , others also have “porpoising” – and are still faster.
“That’s a good point,” Wolff nods. “Our ‘bouncing’ is worse in that we also take it into the fast corners. We can see where we lose performance. If we overlay the data, we’re quite competitive in the first sector. The second sector too. But in Turn 9/10 and Turn 12 we’re ripping up the whole gap. Almost a second through a couple of corners.”
Wolff: “Porpoising” alone doesn’t make a second
“So can we suddenly unleash a second with the ‘bouncing’ in a miraculous way? No, certainly not. But there is a lot of other potential for improvement. For example the weight. We have to optimize everything, as it is in Formula 1. And understand the car better at the same time. I’m optimistic that we’ll get there eventually.”
“I can’t predict whether we’ll be able to do that in two races or in five or only at the end of the season. But we have to remain modest. My time horizon has changed. I’m no longer just thinking about a race weekend or a season, I’m thinking about the next ten years. There will also be worse years. That’s one of those things right now.”
Red Bull, of all people, encourages him: “They got their car up and running from one day to the next with the update in the Bahrain test.” Despite everything, “porpoising” is considered the key. And that’s difficult to simulate in the factory because there are limits to the frequencies at which the wind tunnel is operated, reveals Wolff.
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“And on the track, the car does something completely different,” he sighs. “It needs a new way of analyzing our aero data. It’s a new way of correlating simulation and real world. We have to understand that first. But we have the tools and the people to understand that. Yet we just didn’t figure it out.”
Motor: Mercedes only the number 3?
However, Wolff does not see the suspicion that Mercedes is now only number 3 behind Ferrari and Honda in terms of the drive train. Wing settings, “porpoising” and the like have so far distorted the top speed ratings too much, he dismisses.
But it is also clear: “A lot of good people have left Mercedes,” says ‘Sky’ expert Ralf Schumacher, meaning, for example, the former engine boss Andy Cowell or around 50 employees who have been poached by Red Bull Powertrains. Schumacher: “Obviously they were very important. It may take a while for the squad to find their feet again.”
But Wolff thinks it’s absurd that half a second should come from the engine alone: ”It’s not that much. It also has to do with air resistance. I think that Ferrari has made a huge step from 2021 to 2022. A step, that we haven’t brought together in the last ten years. But there’s not much between Honda, Renault and us.”
Accordingly, it is rather the little things in many areas that add up. “We’ve had three races without making any progress,” said Lewis Hamilton at a loss. “It takes time to build new parts. As far as I know, we don’t have anything exciting in the pipeline at the moment. I wish I could be more optimistic about the next race, but I can’t.”