The most furiously debated topic on Formula 1 forums, our comments section and Facebook pages included, is the question of the Mercedes W13 state-of-readiness ahead of the 2022 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
My opinion, speculative too, is that they are not in trouble. In fact, they had the audacity to build two packages for the season, the Barcelona ‘conventional’ version and of course the radical sidepod-less which is nothing less than a W13B.
If the Bahrain package is not up to par, Mercedes can switch to the more conservative first edition of the W13, and in tandem develop the B-version as the season progresses, and release it when and if the performance tips towards the extreme version of their 2022 car.
Also having track specific cars might turn out to be handy for the Champs in the long term of this very long Championship season.
I am thus going out on a limb to predict that if, after the three days of Bahrain F1 Testing, the numbers don’t stack up in favour of the second package, they will opt for the Barcelona-spec which – we should remember – ended the final test day first and second, Hamilton fastest and the team’s newcomer George Russell second best.
Why not unleash it to get a solid start to the year? DNFs at this time of the year will prove very costly in what is looking to be the season with the finest margins ever; Red Bull and Ferrari in there fort sure, McLaren and others hovering. So Mercedes playing catch-up might not be as simple as it was in the previous era they dominated.
Jad Mallak: We will have a zero-sidepod Merc in Bahrain, it might not be the fastest but it will get there
Editor Jad Mallak is not so sure Merc will revert, predicting that they have opened the door on the aggressively packaged newer car because: “The W13, Bahrain version, may not look like a winner yet, but I believe Mercedes have worked too hard on developing that concept to then go on and abandon it at such an early stage.
“I feel they will be doing all they can to get it in decent shape for Bahrain, and even so, most pundits have put it third fastest as a worst-case scenario, so no train-smash for Mercedes at the season opener in that regards, keeping in mind that Lewis and George will have the talent to drag that car onto the podium.
“Mercedes will then go on developing the car, and my gut feeling tells me that once that car is dialed in, it will be a beast, as I do not believe for a second that the World Champions just forgot how to build a fast F1 car.
“Their concept is so radical that it needs time to be fine-tuned, and they didn’t have the advantage that Ferrari had throwing two seasons in the trash to produce the F1-75.
“We will have a zero-sidepod Merc in Bahrain, it might not be the fastest, but it will start its journey towards becoming so at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.”
In closing, clearly what will roll out of the pits from Qualifying on Saturday will determine whether Mercedes will err on the side of caution to go conservative, or opt for the radical W13 package.