Mercedes are in deep trouble, as evidenced at the season opener in Bahrain two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have a handful to drive this weekend as witnessed during Friday’s free practice in Jeddah.
Had Russell not hauled the awkward W14 around by the scruff of its neck, man-handling the unwieldy beast of a car until he popped up fifth on the timing screens, just under half a second of Max Verstappen’s benchmark time in the Red Bull.
Hamilton never found the sweetspot on Friday, ending the day a disappointing 11th for his efforts, which were half a second shy of what younger teammate Russell could produce. If the pair were on similar setups and run plans, the seven-time F1 World Champion has work to do and a lot to think about overnight.
Mercedes trackside boss Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director summed up the problem: “The pace when we get the lap together didn’t look too bad, but the car hasn’t been easy enough to drive so that’s something we’ll look to improve ahead of qualifying.
“After Bahrain, we came here with realistic expectations. While the team back in the UK is working hard on developing us to a better place, our focus has been to maximise the potential of what we currently have. There were a couple of scheduled upgrades that look to be working OK but while taking us in the right direction, they are not a huge step.
“The sessions themselves went smoothly; we were struggling with the front end in the first session and may have over-corrected for the second session. Nevertheless, we’ve got plenty of information to pick through to work out the setup for Satruday,” concluded Shovlin.
Russell: We’re not sure what power modes everyone was running
Despite his strong showing, Russell was under no illusions: “As much as we would love to, given all the hard work everyone is putting in, we know we won’t find one second overnight. Red Bull are clearly out in front, but we are learning lots about our car.
“These learnings will help us in both the short and medium term. As is always the case in practice sessions too, we’re not sure what power modes everyone was running so we will know more,” added Russell.
Echoing his Mercedes teammate, Hamilton did not beat about the bush either: “I struggled in both sessions today, but we completed the run programme we had and tried to learn as much as possible.
“We will continue to go into the details overnight and focus on improving the balance of the car to make it easier to drive. It’s a tough car to drive but I know everyone is working so hard at the factory.
“It won’t be solved overnight and will take some time, so we just have to be patient and give it everything we can here at the track,” added Hamilton, who will compete in his 312th Grand Prix, on Sunday, when he lines up on the grid for the race in Jeddah.
Hamilton won the first Saudi Grand Prix in 2021 but has not won since then as he endures the longest winless spell of his illustrious career and indeed with Mercedes.