Spanish Grand Prix: Mercedes dare to dream of world title challenge after turnaround
Mercedes had talked for weeks about unlocking the hidden potential of their car. At the Spanish Grand Prix, they finally achieved it.
Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning drive from the back of the grid to fifth place, while George Russell enjoyed his second podium of the season.
Despite Red Bull taking a one-two as race winner Max Verstappen moved into the lead in the Drivers’ Championship, Mercedes packed up at the Circuit de Catalunya just as buoyed by their turnaround in fortunes.
In the wake of Miami, team boss Toto Wolff had fielded questions about the possibility of scrapping their current concept and starting all over again with 2023 in mind.
After Barcelona, he believes Hamilton and Russell finally have a championship-winning car. “Can we fight for a world championship?” he asked. “We bet we can but we just need to have a car able to finish first and second. We have reasons to believe we can get there.
“The odds are against us but motor racing is a different ball game. We’re pushing flat out to bring us back in the game. That looked like a world championship-winning race car.”
A new floor and wing for this weekend erased the porpoising down the straights, which has been their biggest issue, although it continued in the high-speed corners, showing there is still room for improvement.
However, while their topline speed is now a match for the Red Bulls and Ferraris, they struggled for pace in the low-speed corners. As such, that could mean a step back at the next two races in Monaco next weekend and Baku a fortnight later.
“We have been particularly off the pace in slow corners in the last sector due to overheating,” said Wolff. “That might be different in Monaco. My expectations for Monaco are lower than on any other circuit.”
Hamilton’s race in Spain was compromised when he punctured as a result of a lap-one coming together with Kevin Magnussen, which dropped him more than half-a-minute behind the backmarkers. He suggested retiring the car to save the engine before scything his way through the field to finish in the top five.
Afterwards, he said: “A race like that is like a win and feels better when you have come from so far back. I had to get through a lot of adversity.”
Asked if he thought the car now had the potential to win races again, Hamilton added: “Yeah, definitely. We have made a lot of improvements with the car, the race pace is much better. It’s a great sign we are going in the right direction and that gives me great hope that at some stage we will be fighting for a win.”
Russell had led the race at one point following the earlier retirement of Charles Leclerc when he lost power. And the Briton estimated that the Mercedes upgrades had halved the disadvantage to Ferrari and Red Bull.
“This is probably the start of our season,” he said. “We’ve now finally solved our issue. We can now focus on bringing more performance. We’re six races behind but there’s no reason why we can’t pull that back. I’m here to win, I’m here to fight.”