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How low can Mercedes go?

Roar Rookie
31st March, 2024
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Roar Rookie
31st March, 2024
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How the mighty have fallen. While Ferrari basked in the glory of a 1-2 at the Australian Grand Prix with the aid of an uncharacteristic Red Bull reliability blemish, Mercedes suffered the ignominy of a double retirement at the same circuit which commenced their unprecedented eight consecutive constructors’ championships a decade ago.

That George Russell only crashed out on the final lap whilst pursuing Fernando Alonso for sixth place belies the reality that the former heavyweights are as far off the pace as they’ve been since the current regulations took effect in 2022.

For a team which still managed second place in last year’s standings despite failing to win a race, admittedly scoring under half of Red Bull’s tally, their performances over the opening three races are evoking memories of the pre-Lewis Hamilton era operation.

Hamilton, who stunned the world earlier this year when he announced that he’s joining Ferrari in 2025, lasted barely a quarter race distance at Melbourne before engine failure punctuated a forgettable weekend for the seven-time World Champion, after he qualified eleventh.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton. (Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Mercedes lie a distant fourth in the standings, trailing engine customer McLaren by 29 points, and are just one clear of fellow customer Aston Martin, with the latter appearing to have a quicker car on the basis of Saudi Arabia and certainly Australia.

The vote of no confidence from Hamilton, who had been contracted through 2025 before activating an escape clause, coupled with the team’s display over the past month, raises legitimate questions about their placement for the next regulation overhaul in 2026.

One could forgive Hamilton for checking out until next year rolls around considering Mercedes’ reluctance to take heed of his feedback on car development, which will only grow now that he has one foot out the door.

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Mercedes’ swing and miss on the size zero sidepod concept for 2022 has given way to a vortex from which they’ve been unable to escape, not aided by the talent drain that has seen numerous key personnel poached by competitors. Team Principal, Toto Wolff, has appeared bereft for answers over the past twelve months with no visible pathway to turn their fortunes around.

Formula 1, pre-season testing, Day 3: Lewis Hamilton of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team on track in Bahrain

Lewis Hamilton. (Photo by Hasan Bratic/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Once a destination team when the rare vacancy has arisen since their return to the grid in 2010, indeed Mercedes has fielded only four full-time driver combinations across fifteen seasons, there’d be trepidation over the seat to be vacated by Hamilton by those on the market.

With Ferrari’s line-up locked in, unless Max Verstappen alights from the Red Bull juggernaut as a consequence of the internal power struggle which needs no explanation, or they decide to jettison Sergio Perez, seats at the top two teams are unlikely to be available in 2025.

From an investment standpoint, Aston Martin – which has recruited heavily from Mercedes and Red Bull, and Sauber, which will become the factory Audi operation from 2026, currently shape as more attractive long-term options.

Carlos Sainz’s stock has been exponentially bolstered by his outstanding drive to victory at Melbourne just a fortnight after undergoing an appendectomy which ruled him out of Saudi Arabia.

Sainz, who has been discarded by Ferrari in deference to Hamilton, is the logical choice to replace the latter in a straight seat swap. Whether the Spaniard, already in his tenth season in the sport but only just entering the prime of his career, sees the potential in a Mercedes berth is another question.

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His countryman, Fernando Alonso, is more desperate to find a drive which can deliver him the third title which has eluded him since 2006. Soon 43, he would be more willing to punt on an unguaranteed Mercedes’ resurgence under the new regulations, before hanging up his helmet.

If Mercedes conclude that they’re several years off contending for championships regardless of the regulations, investing in the future with prodigiously talented Junior Team member, Kimi Antonelli, somebody they can build the team around for the next decade and galvanise them in turn, would be a sensible pathway.

Mercedes’ past triumphs can’t be forgotten, but for now the team, which not so long ago held an aura of invincibility which the sport hadn’t seen until Red Bull raised the bar, with everybody asking when, not if the German manufacturer would reclaim its former glory, has lost its way.

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