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Formula 1 British GP

How Mercedes has escaped its false dawn F1 curse

Mercedes has reached breakthroughs before, only to fall flat in the current Formula 1 ground-effect era. But the team lays out why this time it is different

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Mercedes is always cautious about reading too much into one-off Formula 1 results, especially when wins like Austria owe a lot to other cars hitting trouble.

Having faced the grim reality of several false dawns in the current ground-effect era, it is always fearful that a leap forward in performance proves to be a flash in the pan before it ends up struggling again soon after.

While it knows the Red Bull Ring triumph was helped by the Lando Norris/Max Verstappen collision, equally even without their crash it would have marked a third consecutive podium anyway for the squad – proving that the progress it has made since Monaco is real.

Such a run of form is not something that it has been able to boast about at all over the past 18 months as it has failed previously to find sustained progress with its F1 challenger.

In fact, there have been plenty of times where on-off good results gave it a wrong picture of where it stacked up – which proved costly and saw it subsequently fall back.

Nothing proved this more than its Brazilian GP triumph in 2022 when it allowed itself to believe it had finally cracked its understanding of the current ground-effect regulations, only to come crashing down again at the start of the following season.

George Russell, Mercedes W13, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, the rest of the field at the start

George Russell, Mercedes W13, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, the rest of the field at the start

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

But as Russell celebrates his and the team’s first victory since that Interlagos weekend, there is a very different mood within the team. In fact, there is a sense that the staff at its Brackley factory finally have the sense of understanding and direction of what is needed for the current cars to ensure it keeps pushing in the direction it is going now.

It is a point Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reflected on as he celebrated the Austria success and looked forward to what he felt was the moment when the team could win a race on pure pace.

“I think we are bringing upgrades now almost to every race,” he said. “The factory is running on full steam. We’ve never had this in the last 12 years that we were able to just develop, design, manufacture, bring it to the track and have the quality in the pieces. I’ve seriously never seen that pace.

“So every single race, we have brought upgrades. Every single race, we will bring upgrades, and I hope that by the summer break, we can make another step.

“Everyone else is working hard and they are formidable teams but if we can eat a bit away from that gap – I think it was 15-seconds in 70 laps – that is ok. That’s a P3 and hopefully, if we can half it, we can race.”

Wolff’s confidence about the current form being genuine is backed up by his engineers, who thinks that things are being helped hugely by a greater understanding of the dynamics at play behind its W15.

And the more the team is able to gather information of what works and what doesn’t, the better it is able to extract more from its package.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, 1st position, guests and the Mercedes team celebrate victory after the race

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, 1st position, guests and the Mercedes team celebrate victory after the race

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: “You get more confident the more tracks you manage. We had a car previously that if you got it in the window, it only took a change of wind direction or track temp, then suddenly the thing didn't balance and that was why we would look good maybe on a Friday and then suddenly we're struggling on Saturday.

“With the changes that we've made, the car inherently behaves a bit more normally. The drivers aren't complaining about oversteering. If there's a general issue with the car, it's easy to chase. If it's understeering everywhere, we can fix that. So it's definitely easier to work with.

“But the key thing is the correlation on the simulator has improved. We didn't stand a chance before, because if five degrees of track temp or a 30-degree rotation in the wind put you out of balance, it's no surprise that the simulator was struggling to capture all of those effects.”

Shovlin thinks that the understanding of the car has snowballed because of the intensity of the season – which allows it to throw a ton more data at its simulations to make its output even better.

“Where you develop cars these days, by and large, it's a lot easier when you're racing all the time and you've got data coming in to confirm that the things you're doing are actually making the car go quicker,” he added.

Ultimately, Shovlin thinks that what is being seen on track now is confirmation that, not only does the team have the right parts on its car to move forward, but it is being fed by a factory that has the right ideas and tools to improve them.

“I think we've definitely found development directions that have made us quicker, as does every team,” he said. “The question is, are you developing as quick as the others?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, in the pit lane

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, in the pit lane

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“When we had a car that inherently didn't really want to balance, you couldn't get it working well around all the corners on a circuit, then it is just a difficult thing to deal with it far beyond the correlation.

“We now have a car that works sensibly in low speed, in high speed, in mid speed and braking's OK. There are always areas to improve and you'll always be chasing someone, or you certainly are most of the time, but it does seem to be that the improvements to the car are the thing that have also helped in that correlation exercise.”

This has all left Mercedes feeling that its run of podiums are a springboard to a better second half of the year where wins will not depend on others tripping up.

As Wolff added: “There is certainly big momentum now in the team to go to a point where we are able to fight on real performance for the win, and I think we will be.”

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