‘Their car’s half ours and they gained 2s’

Mercedes admit the leap forward made by their engine customers Aston Martin shows the progress they should be making.

Aston Martin delivered on its pre-season promise in qualifying yesterday as Fernando Alonso took fifth place on the grid with a lap which was almost two-and-a-half seconds faster than the team’s best effort at the same circuit 12 months ago.

Alonso narrowly beat the two Mercedes drivers to fifth place on the grid, pipping George Russell by four thousandths of a second. Russell said that showed what was possible for his team.

“You’ve got to take Aston Martin’s case,” he said after qualifying. “I think they probably had a good basis last year and they added a load of performance over the winter. And if it’s possible, if anybody can do it, we can do it. So I think they’re a good example of what is possible.”

George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Russell was pipped to fifth by Alonso

Mercedes endured a difficult 2022 campaign with its W13 chassis, which was prone to porpoising. Now they have addressed that problem with their new car, Russell believes Mercedes will be able to make performance gains over the coming races.

“We went into the season knowing that we’re not going to hit the ground being the fastest car,” he acknowledged. “But we wanted to make sure that we had a car that could build upon.

“It took us probably 16 races last year to get a car that we were relatively happy with. But I feel we’re in a much stronger place to build upon. So I guess from our first upgrade package onwards, we’ll probably see. But for now, this is probably where we’ll sit for the coming couple of races.”

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The similarities between the AMR23 and the W14 reveal the areas where Mercedes need to progress. “They gained two seconds in half a year and their car is half ours from the engine, gearbox and the rear suspension,” said Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff, who pointed out his team’s wind tunnel is also used by Aston Martin. “So given there’s a lot of parallels, we just need to acknowledge that they’ve done an outstanding job.”

Mercedes’ shortcoming is largely down to aerodynamics, Wolff believes. “If it was mechanic[al] and suspension the Aston Martin should have it too.”

Aston Martin placed seventh in the world championship last year but were the third-quickest team in qualifying yesterday. Meanwhile Mercedes are as far away from pole position as they were 12 months ago.

“We started last year with six tenths [deficit] and we are starting this year with six tenths and that is the reality,” said Wolff. “And our aim, whilst being humble about it, is to fight for victories and the world championship. So whatever is between us and and pole position is less relevant.”

Yesterday Wolff admitted Mercedes will have to rethink the concept of its car in order to become competitive. “We are finding good downforce in the tunnel. We have found good downforce in the tunnel since many months,” he said. “But we’ve got to look at how we can optimise this in a way where maybe we find more of that.

“What I really enjoy is working in the team and discovering that. And I said it last year sometimes it’s important for the long time to get it wrong. I trust every millimetre the engineers and we’ve got the physics wrong and now we need to correct them because there’s another three years of regulations to go.”

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2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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