Toto Wolff says Mercedes’ W14 car will look “very different” in five-to-seven races’ time after confirming the team is now focused on “one design philosophy”.
After being caught out by the introduction of new design regulations last season and seeing their streak of eight successive constructors’ titles ended by Red Bull, Mercedes opted to stick with the same design philosophy for the 2023 Formula 1 season.
However, a poor performance at the season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain earlier in March led to Wolff admitting the team had got it wrong, and would be taking a different path, with speculation swirling over an alternate ‘Plan B’ car design.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports F1 after Friday practice at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Wolff provided an update on the team’s plans for the coming weeks.
He said: “The question is what do you mean by a Plan B car?
Karun Chandhok takes a close look at Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes ahead of practice at the Saudi Arabia GP
“I think that the car is going to look very different in five, six or seven races based on the decisions that we have taken and the development direction that we have embarked on.”
In addition to coming unstuck under the radical new 2022 regulations, Wolff says Mercedes’ ability to recover from their mistakes has been reduced by the sport’s cost cap, which was implemented in 2021.
“We all voted for the cost cap to kick in with the aim of establishing a more level playing field,” Wolff said.
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton say they’re hoping to ‘maximise’ their performance after another difficult day in practice at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
“We were bitten by that, that’s clear at this stage, but I don’t want to ever say that the cost cap doesn’t allow us to catch back up – it’s more difficult but we simply have to.
“The moment we decide, which we’ve done, which direction to go, where we want to have the car, we’re just getting on with it and pushing hard with that one design philosophy.”
‘Lauda would want us to copy design of other cars’
Neither Wolff nor Mercedes’ British driver pairing Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have provided any detail on how the W14 will be altered, but the team boss appeared to hint that he believes moving towards the design of Red Bull’s pace-setting RB19 is the “simple” option.
Wolff was asked about what former Mercedes chairman and three-time F1 world champion Niki Lauda, who played a crucial role in establishing the team as the sport’s dominant force before his death in 2019, would have advised in their current situation.
“I miss him a lot, but I miss him as a friend foremost,” Wolff said. “We are all missing him as a chairman.
“For Niki it would have been very simple, because simplicity is what brings you to the best decision and I know exactly what he would have said.
“‘Our car looks very different, let’s make it like the others and optimise it. We have a great team, we have great technology and infrastructure, we can do it much better than the others, so why don’t we just get on with it?
“Things are very simple always. You can always cut all the nonsense out, and at the end the simple decisions in life, which are very often instinctive decisions added together with data that supports them, and this is how Niki operated. Don’t overcomplicate things, get the basics right.”
‘There is a lot to learn from Aston Martin’
While Mercedes expected to start the season behind reigning world champion Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, the fact they were beaten by Aston Martin in Bahrain came as a major surprise.
Significant parts of Aston Martin’s car, which took Fernando Alonso to third behind the Red Bulls in Bahrain, are supplied by Mercedes, making their impressive early-season performance more damning to Wolff’s squad.
Fernando Alonso overtook the Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton before getting past Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to finish third at the Bahrain Grand Prix
Alonso’s second-place finish in second practice in Saudi Arabia on Friday suggests Bahrain won’t be a one-off, but Wolff is trying to take the positives and says he is happy to see his friend and Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll enjoying success.
“Why it helps us, they have the whole rear end from our car, the suspension, the engines, the gear box – all of that, so we know there are areas that are really good, that we mustn’t question too much,” Wolff said.
“But it’s other areas where the cars are fundamentally different where we need to set our focus – there is a lot to learn.
“Lawrence has gone through so many difficult years, and now the team is on the up, they’re successful, so it’s for us to learn and not the other way around as it was for many years.”
Formula 1 street racing is back! Watch the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race are live at 5pm. Get Sky Sports