Martin Brundle senses tension at Mercedes with refusal to ditch Plan A philosophy

Mercedes team principal and CEO Toto Wolff. Bahrain March 2023. Credit: Alamy
Mercedes team principal and CEO Toto Wolff. Bahrain March 2023. Credit: Alamy

Martin Brundle believes things “must be tense” behind the scenes at Mercedes at the moment, after a tricky start to the season in Bahrain.

The team began the season with hopes of reeling in the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari that was there for the majority of the 2022 season, but the deficit to Red Bull in particular will have their teams back at their Brackley and Brixworth bases working hard to try and recover a significant margin.

Lewis Hamilton expressed his belief after the Bahrain Grand Prix that Mercedes “didn’t listen” to his feedback and thoughts on the direction of how to develop the W14 last year.

Even though he was quick to add “that doesn’t mean we can’t get it right moving forwards,” those words marked a break from the seven-time World Champion’s usual way of praising his team after races.

Team boss Toto Wolff offered a tough assessment of his own as Mercedes begin the year looking to chase a gap to Red Bull, and potentially even Aston Martin and Ferrari, conceding that Red Bull could have the potential to win every race in the 2023 Formula 1 season.

With that backdrop and several changes having happened behind the scenes at Mercedes in recent years, former Formula 1 driver Brundle thinks the team in its current form “hasn’t gelled yet”, and patience is needed if they are to pull themselves back towards the front.

“It seems to me that Mercedes went the wrong way in 2022 and refuse to turn around,” Brundle wrote in his post-Bahrain column for Sky Sports.

“Even Lewis and Toto were openly expressing their disappointment at certain points of the weekend, and normally they only sing the praises of the teams at Brackley and Brixworth. It must be tense at the team right now; the quality is there, it just needs direction and oxygen to calm heads.

“’Zero-sidepod concept’ is not the buzz phrase they’ll want to hear again, but the mantra from the team was that to change direction would necessitate a step backwards first before working up and understanding a new philosophy of aerodynamics. George Russell has already said that he’s prepared to suffer that pain for longer term gain.

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“They dogmatically turned the Mercedes into a late winning car last season, but I don’t see or hear the appetite for another year like that.

“In the early phases of the hybrid era, they had such a hugely dominant power unit – they haven’t got that anymore. When the window was open to improve the power units, they lost out.

“They’ve also lost key people like Andy Cowell, James Vowles, and others, with James Allison also currently focused elsewhere. The remaining talent pool is immense, but it hasn’t gelled yet.

“And before changing the philosophy and architecture of a Formula 1 car you need to understand what you want and where you’re heading, which is especially difficult in the cost-cap era 23 race season.”

In the aftermath of the Bahrain Grand Prix, James Allison, ex-chief technical officer at Mercedes, was rumoured to be returning to the F1 team in an official capacity to help the Silver Arrows overcome this tough period. However, PlanetF1.com understands those reports are wide of the mark.

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