Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022

Mercedes ‘lost 10 months in development’ but know where losses to Red Bull are

2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says they have a long way to go to catch Red Bull but believes they understand the reasons for their performance deficit.

Having started the year over a second per lap slower than their rivals at some circuits, Mercedes have been their closest challengers for victory in the last two races. They believe they understand why the W13 was not competitive and can make significant gains for 2023.

However Wolff isn’t underestimating the difficulty his team faces in cutting the gap to Red Bull during the off-season.

“I’m never confident,” he said. “I always see the glass half-empty. So there’s nothing to really see a positive. They’ve just added nine wins in a row so there’s no reason to be overwhelmed with finishing second and fourth.

“We have a long way to catch up. We have the winter, I think we are doing some good development of the car. Some of the things we are finding might be bigger steps than just adding a few points of downforce. We’re giving it whatever we have and more in order to bring us back in a position to fight for championships.”

Although some changes to the technical rules will come into force next year concerning the cars’ floors, Wolff believes the success of Red Bull’s RB18 means they will “certainly [have] an advantage” going into 2023. “But we believe that we understand where the gap comes from,” he said.

“They will carry over some of their sweetness in the car. We’ve maybe lost eight to 10 months in terms of development because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. So there’s definitely a challenge.

“But we are playing the long game, all of us. Both drivers are playing the long game, the team. And I want to judge about the team performances not based on a single year or weekend but how we’ve been able to win championships over the long-term.”

Although Mercedes have finished second to Red Bull in the last two races, Wolff doesn’t believe they have established themselves as the second-quickest team in F1 ahead of Ferrari, who suffered their least competitive weekend of the season in Mexico.

“I wouldn’t want to say that because they are strong team and we’ve had a few good Sundays now,” he said. “But maybe this circuit also flattered us. After Brazil we’ll have maybe more of a picture, but I don’t think they’re suddenly half a minute slower than us.”

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2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
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30 comments on “Mercedes ‘lost 10 months in development’ but know where losses to Red Bull are”

  1. 2023 mind games…Anyone who wishes to beat RBR must be extraordinary along the year…Hope we can see a 3(or 4) team battle on front

    1. 3 teams maybe of front, but for sure not 4. None of the other teams comes close to RB/Fer/Merc.

      1. I’m aware of that and a true 3 way battle is going to be difficult since Ferrari looks like they’ve take a u Turn Somewhere between Silverstone and France… nevertheless it would be awsome to see it

  2. I suppose the one thing we’ve seen this year is that if a team gets their base design wrong, they’re unable to rectify that until the next season, because they, like the lower budget teams can’t just throw money at the problem.

    it will be interesting to see whether they’re able to design next year’s car better, something they may well have to do from scratch, and then whether that new design can even come close to their competitors upgraded iteration of their car which is fairly mature already.

    Not really feeling confident that they or any of the other teams will get all that close for next year.

    1. Teams don’t usually catch up until there’s a whole new set of regs. Then it repeats.

      1. Cheesbucket, actually, I’d say the opposite is true. In the years leading up to regulation changes, teams get closer, the racing gets better, we get more teams in the mox, and then they go change everything and we are back to one team dominating it.

    2. To be fair to Mercedes, they are not moaning too much about having the least wind tunnel time while it certainly doesn’t help their case. In that context, I’m also impressed that the 2 teams with the least time (Mercedes and RedBull) are the ones with the best in season development in my opinion. No team really sticks out from the midfield and RedBull managed to pull clear from Ferrari while Mercedes had probably the most problems to solve at the start of the season pulling clear from midfield. To be honest, I was expecting more from teams that have done well on performance for the budget in the past.

      @dbradock It is more the development rate of RedBull (and Mercedes) that should be worrying as I join you in doubting anyone can catch RedBull in particular. It is also what made last season so nail biting (excluding the controversy) as both teams were so closely matched and pretty much kept up with each other for the whole season.

      The other aspect is also that RedBull is fully supporting one driver and won’t hesitate to sacrifice strategy from one car to help the other, this will hurt Mercedes or Ferrari even if they are up there. I wonder if this aggressive approach is not even paying off on WCC over the season.

      1. Mercedes and Red Bull, are historically great teams.. Mercedes suffered a setback.. Still great. Hopefully next year they can battle Verstappen more regullarly.

        1. Not so sure what historically great means.
          We always seem to have a sense that some teams have the right to be on top or eventually return to the top because of their history. Yet, world wide sports history has been very short indeed.

          In the nineties, I remember an article that was talking about ‘the big 4’ and how they always had and always will dominate F1 and how they always return to the top after setbacks. Those teams were Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Benetton.
          Williams has completely faded into a consistent backmarker. Beneton has had reincarnations of team Enstone but even Team Enstone has only challenged for the title in 4 seasons at best. McLaren hasnt been a front runner since 2012 and Ferrari has been chasing a championship since 2007.
          They still may come back of course, but Lotus didn’t Brabham didn’t, Tyrell didn’t…

          Teams can attract some talent and investment based on reputation alone but at some point it has to be backed by results,
          Mercedes and Red Bull currently run an highly effective race team but this is no guarantee for endured success.

          1. That’s true, I don’t see mclaren coming back (but I wouldn’t mind, as they were one of the 2 most competitive teams when I started watching), nor renault and I don’t think ferrari has what it takes to really beat merc or red bull, see what happened from 2010 to now.

      2. @JeanRien: “I’m also impressed that the 2 teams with the least time (Mercedes and RedBull) are the ones with the best in season development in my opinion.”

        I miss the old days when an important element of F1 was the way the cars developed throughout the season. I’d suggest that one reason for Mec and RB showing so much in-season progress is down to their two lead drivers being able to understand the car and give the feedback to the engineers. The Alpine has gradually improved too, and I wonder if that is the benefit of Alonso’s experience. Remember how at the start of the year everyone was saying Bottas had struck lucky because the Alfa Romeo looked so good compared to the Merc.

    3. I don’t think Mercedes got their base design wrong. They’ve made huge progress this year, and are the second fastest car at this stage of the season.

      So more a case of the implementation being unrefined at the start of the season.

      Making a lot of noise about porpoising to sympathetic ears probably helped.

      It will be interesting to see if Mercedes stick with the zeropod next season or if they make something more like the Red Bull.

      1. Clearly I’m not a F1 designer but from the outside it looks like the Mercedes concept was flawed from the beginning due to the impact of the introduction of ground effect. I think the Mercedes due to the zero pod concept ended up with a lot more floor exposed that allowed them to create a more powerful floor. The problem is that the balance seems to be such that the pace they’d have gained from having a more powerful floor is being lost in drag and also made them more susceptible to porpoising which means they’ve had to run the cars very stiffly.

        When you combine the fact they’ve lost a lot of the suspension travel that used to be in the old 13″ tyres they’ve been left with a car that can only run in a very stiff configuration and hence loses a lot of setup and tuning options that they’ve had historically. Ultimately it seems their car has a very limited setup window, is unable to get the most out of the tyres for most of the time and has a very slow top speed comparatively.

        Mercedes do have a lot of low hanging fruit to pick for next year including a big weight reduction that Red Bull have already claimed. Will be fun to see how everyone lines up again come testing, I expect Ferrari to make a big step as I suspect they gave up on this year some time ago.

        1. No, the problem with the Merc design, and the other car designs, is they all assumed perfect laminar flow under the car to get the most out of the venturi tunnels by running them low. This works great in a perfect simulation world where chickens are round and roads are perfectly flat without bumps. However, in the real world this downforce is unstable. What Red Bull did from pictures of their floor is rely on turbulet flow which produces less peak downforce but is more stable over a range of ride heights.

          The zero pod concept only hurts Merc in the sense their floor bends – but they could fix that with reinforcement – but they didn’t have the budget.

          The problem is the floor. That’s where the most downforce comes from.

          1. But why does the rbr18 have so much less drag than the competition?

        2. @slowmo, I wondered if the reduced side pods created cooling issues for Merc which means they run their engine at lower power than last year. I think what we’ve seen this year is you are better running the engine too high, getting some extra top speed, even if it means a couple of extra engine penalties during the year.

          1. What surprises me the most about Merc this season is it seems to me, total spectator opinion here, that they focused their limited budget on the wrong thing. They went for maximum downforce. If it was me
            1) Knowing I had a 5 year ban on engine development, I would have blown the roof off the spending for more power because then you have 4 years to fix everything else.
            2) I would have favored less drag over more downforce because of the new regs designed to allow closer racing. Before now, a following car could never get close enough to use a speed advantage to DRS pass on the straights on most occasions. But now, it’s easier to stay close and come out of a corner with enough momentum to get passes done on the straights so top speed rules the road.

            Both the extra engine power and the lower drag give you more top speed, and we’ve seen what Red Bull has done with that advantage this year. Both Merc and Ferrari went for downforce this year. And yes, there are tracks where that’s useful. But ANY track with a medium or long straight has been a Red Bull runaway this year.
            So IMO, RBR just picked a better strategy to match the new rule set.

    4. I suppose the one thing we’ve seen this year is that if a team gets their base design wrong, they’re unable to rectify that until the next season, because they, like the lower budget teams can’t just throw money at the problem.

      I remember 2009 when McLaren started with a lower midfield car and ended the year on par with RB. They even where championship contender with both of their drivers in 2010.
      So, in way, I think it’s a pity that teams with the budget cannot work their way out of their problems and challenge the dominant force. But I fully understand the goal of the budget cap.

  3. So next year 63% development rate for RBR… About 13 wins total?

  4. Fair assessment from Wolff. Major slip up for them in how they developed the new car for this season, but now they likely understand better where to go and what will work, they can make up more of the deficit next year. They have relatively low-hanging fruit that Red Bull has already picked.

    Completely catching up, or surpassing, Red Bull is a much bigger task. Whilst returns will diminish as regulations stabilise, there’s probably still plenty to find in Year 2 for everyone. The only way to shortcut that is to find an innovative solution to something that no one else has noticed – and actually works on the track – and pick up a lot of time very quickly.

    1. One of the fruits the Mercs are going to pick for next year is their suspension…and it’d be a very big fruit if they can innovate in this area. Having a suspension that stabilises the car on the straights and into corner entry would be a big win for them. The removal of dampers / inerters for this year has really hurt the Mercs; they need a clever innovation for their suspension to stand a chance of challenging the front runners!
      The other area, which is also link to the suspension, is to have a car that can generate the downforce they need by running it a bit higher without the drag penalty. One of the problems for the W13 is that it was designed to run flat to the ground, which they quickly realised it wasn’t possible. That meant they have to run it a bit higher, which induces more drag because it wasn’t designed to run outside that very small optimum window.
      Ferrari surely should also sort out their high tyre wear problem over the winter…and with it, translate their 1-lap pace into a better race pace.

      2023 will be fascinating; can’t wait!

  5. As everyone knows Red Bull is going to use a new chasis next year the one which was much lighter i hope the rest can reduce their weight also otherwise i fear for the worse.

    1. @mcleod I’d be amazed if all teams don’t run a new chassis next year as they have to homologate a new chassis so there is no reason not to tweak it to be lighter at the very least for next year. The amazement for everyone was that Red Bull somehow had the budget to do that work this year given how difficult everyone else is finding it to stay within budget. I’m still not sure if they have run it or not as I’ve never seen it confirmed either way.

      1. Indications from CH about 6 weeks ago was that they were not finishing nor planning to run the lighter chassis. Seems they figured they didn’t need it and there would be a cost associated. Read as Cost-Cap induced planning and confidence in your drivers.
        The longer term impact of the Cost cap is not yet showing itself. Teams will probably cut back on manufacturing spare parts beyond an absolute minimum. Brings to mind the Last-Minute inventory philosophy. Knock-on effect, and Haas is a good example, hire drivers that don’t crash and you can save you money. Funds you can use for development. Next year as Haas is anticipating being closer to the cap. Should be a team to watch.
        It would be expected that every team will run a new chassis in 2023. Cutting weight and going under is a guaranteed performance boost. Running under gives you (really wanted to say Wings ….) an opportunity to move ballast around. Always a nice to have.
        Yep, 2023 is going to be interesting, but the cost cap, minimal test time and more sprint races will reward those that get it right out of the box and those that can develop, within the cap, quickly and efficiently.
        Looks like Red Bull was best at all of this in 2022.

  6. I cant help to think that the financial row is going to get much worse next year. All these teams trying to catch up to RB are going to use all the financial tricks from the others teams that the FIA allowed this year. It is not just car development, but re learning how to game the system close to the edge without going over.

    1. The changes to prevent porpoising will provide some opportunities for next year. The teams who messed up their start of year like Mercedes and McLaren will also get an opportunity to reset and not shoot themselves in the foot. Ferrari should hopefully fix their unreliable (yet powerful) engine over the break.

    2. The FIA didn’t allow anything – they penalised it. One of the mitigating factors was that they believed Red Bull didn’t overspend on purpose so it’s going to be very difficult to convince the FIA you made a mistake when you’ve already shown them you can do it correctly.

  7. In all honesty, Mercedes never gave up and their development is amazing, just as good as Red Bull if not better. Teams like Ferrari especially should be extremely concerned about their inability to develop their cars year in and year out. All one has to do is look at the Management of Mercedes and Red Bull compared to the Management circus which prevails within Ferrari. Well done Mercedes.

  8. @spetz i agree with you on your understanding of what Mercedes challenges are. The zero pod design us actually a brilliant one. However as you said the wind tunnel and simulations gave them perfect world outcomes which unfortunately and rarely the engineers did not forsee. I believe they will be much more stronger next season. Some people are confusing the mercs poor performance reasons by directly blaming the zero side pod design where as its mote to do with the floor.

  9. Oliver Shoesmith
    3rd November 2022, 22:37

    So nice to see a proper discussion. Rather than everyone at each others necks. I’ll use this site more often.

    Excited for next year given the progress merc has made these last few months.

    Really hoping we get a 3 way battle next year

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