Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has promised “radical” change after describing the Bahrain Grand Prix as one of his “worst days in racing”.
Lewis Hamilton finished the opening race of 2023 in fifth, two places in front of George Russell in seventh and almost a second-a-lap off the dominant Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Serio Perez who started the season with a one-two finish.
Mercedes have continued with the car concept from 2022 that saw the team that had won eight straight constructors’ titles drop to third in the pecking order, but just one race into 2023, Wolff is already planning to abandon it, admitting that it “hurts” to see Red Bull so far ahead.
“One of the worst days in racing,” Wolff complained on Sky Sports F1.
“Really not good at all, we were just lacking pace front, right, and centre.
“Red Bull is just on a different planet. That is what hurts because they are so far ahead, it reminds me of our best years because we just put a second on everybody else.
“That is the benchmark and we have to do one step after the other to come back and we can do that. We can, absolutely we can.
“I think it needs to be much more radical in the steps than hope for a three tenths upgrade.”
Wolff then told reporters in Bahrain: “I think we’ve almost doubled if not if not tripled the gap to Red Bull… and this is what we need to look at.”
After starting seventh, Hamilton battled his way into fifth on the opening lap, but was overtaken by the improving Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso with 18 laps remaining and lacked the pace to fight the struggling Ferrari of Carlos Sainz late on.
Earlier in the weekend, Hamilton described Mercedes’ current concept as “on the wrong track” and after the race, now even believes the team is moving “backwards”.
“We definitely can’t fight Ferrari at the moment,” Hamilton said. “They were much quicker than us today, as were the Astons.
“We’re the fourth fastest team. We are going backwards, we have a lot of work to do to close that gap.”
He added to Sky Sports F1 that he will be calling for immediate upgrades to ensure that the gap to their rivals doesn’t widen.
“Unfortunately the car is not there at the moment,” Hamilton said.
“We are just lacking downforce and we have got to work really hard to add that ASAP.
“Anything from in the wind tunnel, we need it tomorrow. We have really got to push massively to try and close that gap.”
Analysis: Reality hits for Mercedes | The car has not worked
Sky Sports F1’s Ted Kravitz believes that the reality of their current situation hit home for Mercedes at the Bahrain Grand Prix, but remains doubtful of whether a change at this stage is going to be enough to save their season.
An upgrade at Imola, race six in the calendar, was expected to be the next significant change for the Silver Arrows, but now it seems their engineers will be tasked with a new concept entirely.
“Why is it then, that Toto calls it one of the worst days in racing?” said Kravitz.
“I think it’s because the reality has struck, they know where they are, there’s no messing around, there’s no more talking about fuel levels or anything like that. This car has not worked.
“They give it one more chance and, already, Toto is calling it a day after one day.
“Now, you might say it’s a bit foolhardy. Does he not want to, like Christian Horner, take a sample of two or three races? No.
“He says this doesn’t work, and what I thought was key about the three tenths is that now we know about this Imola upgrade – it was only going to be worth three tenths.
“What? I thought this Imola upgrade from Mercedes was going to solve all of their problems.
“This concept hasn’t worked, so they’re onto concept three. They’re going to need a third concept in two-and-a-half years and that is, essentially, to do what Aston Martin have done because Toto Wolff was absolutely clear: there’s nothing wrong with our power unit, there’s nothing wrong with our rear suspension, there’s nothing wrong with our gearbox all of which is on the Aston.
“But if you’re a designer at Mercedes, how are you going to feel?”
The Formula 1 2023 season continues with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from the sport’s fastest street track in Jeddah.
The action is all live on Sky Sports F1 from March 17-19, with Sunday’s race at 5pm.