Damon Hill reveals ‘anxiety’ over Mercedes aero department following horror Sao Paulo GP
Damon Hill has expressed doubt over whether the Mercedes aerodynamics department is capable of closing the gap to Red Bull under Formula 1’s current regulations.
Red Bull have dominated since radical changes to the regulations were introduced at the start of the 2022 campaign, romping to back-to-back constructors’ titles after Mercedes had won the previous eight in a row.
Mercedes compounded their problems by retaining their flawed 2022 design concept for the 2023 campaign, before finally moving away from it – as much as possible under the sport’s budget cap – in the early stages of the season after realising they were once more significantly off the pace.
While the expectation is that Mercedes will move towards a design more similar to the class-leading RB19 for next year, Hill appears to have doubt over whether they are capable of executing the changes.
“My anxiety is this, which is that for a long time, Mercedes’ dominance really was down to their power unit. They had the best power unit for a very long time,”
And the aerodynamics were always slightly different to Red Bull’s. And if you remember towards the end of the previous Formula 1 regulations, they persisted with their relatively flat looking rake on the car, whereas Red Bull were absolutely huge.
They led the way and everyone started following Red Bull with this very high rake. It looked like a rat running along the car. It had a very high back.
But Mercedes stuck persistently or doggedly with their with their other… they looked like they were running a different aero concept on their car in the previous regulations, and then along come a new set of regulations…
“What I’m saying is, is the Mercedes aero department missing a trick here?
And they’ve lost quite a few good aero people to other teams as well, over time.”
Hill’s comments come the week after Mike Elliott left his position as Mercedes chief technical officer, months after he had been moved away from the role of technical director.
Schiff: How can Mercedes be outperformed by customers?
Mercedes’ decision to change design comes significantly later than some other teams, with the likes of Aston Martin and McLaren, both of whom have their engines supplied by Mercedes, appearing to have benefitted hugely from conforming towards Red Bull’s design.
While their in-season development has let them down, Aston Martin surprisingly came from seventh in last year’s constructors’ standings to start the 2023 season as Red Bull’s closest challengers.
Meanwhile, updates brought to the McLaren midway through the campaign have established Lando Norris as world champion Max Verstappen’s most consistent challenger over the second half of the season.
Naomi Schiff told the Sky Sports F1 Podcast: “You’ve got to ask how has a team like McLaren, who from at least the power unit perspective is a customer team of Mercedes, how have they so dramatically been able to turn it around? How were Aston at the beginning of the season, so dramatically able to turn it around and why is a team like Mercedes still struggling?
“Obviously, they didn’t bite the bullet at the beginning of the year or during the winter period last year to completely change their concept, and I think there are some major regrets about that because they could be much further forward today.
But when you’re essentially working on a mechanical base that is faulty and you’re just trying to make the best of a situation, it’s not going to be great.
“At the end of the day, they’re a team who’s won multiple world championships. They know how to build a car.
“I have some faith that they will be able over this winter to turn their situation around. But then again, as I say, Red Bull is so far up the road and they’re doing the same thing over the winter period.
“So it’s always going to be a question mark to see where they end up next year.”