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Wolff: We’re better but Verstappen having an easier time

Mercedes buoyed by the success of the new direction they are taking with the W14, for Silverstone they have another even more substantial update package to the one that served them so well at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Released in Monaco, what can be called the Mercedes 14B after ditching the zero-sidepod concept with little discernible effect at a venue unsuitable for new car roll-outs, but by Barcelona it was clear they were back on the right path.

After beating a failed concept to death in total darkness for the past season and five races, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the once-serial F1 World Champs. Lewis Hamilton is much happier in the ‘new’ car and is showing really how good he is.

After the double podium in Barcelona with Hamilton second to Red Bull’s Spanish Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen and ahead of George Russell, in the other Black Arrow, finishing third place.

Hamilton’s third place, after a stirring battle with his old foe Fernando Alonso, working wonders in the Mercedes-powered Aston Martin, the pair battling for second in the 2023 F1 drivers’ standings are separated by 15 points at this stage of the season.

Whether they admit it or not Merc of course ‘must’ beat their F1 customers to get to the dominant #1 Red Bull, and to do so Toto Wolff revealed on Sky F1: “We’re bringing a larger one to Silverstone, then we should have another one before shutdown. It’s just that the learnings have accelerated a lot since we changed some of the conception architecture, and there should be decent steps coming in the next four races.”

Austria is next on the F1 calendar, Red Bull’s home turf where last year Charles Leclerc rained on their parade with a fine victory over Max, but this year with the nearly triple F1 World Champion in the form he is in, and the Reds pottering around in Noweherland, that is unlikely to happen this time around.

Wolff: Maybe cruising is the wrong word for Max…

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 18: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 and the rest of the field at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 18, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec. (Wolff by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Aston Martin are sure to be in there with evergreen Alonso, and a resurgent Mercedes will also flash a warning light to the Bulls, who despite their clear advantage with the gorgeous RB19 are not ones to step off the gas, even when Adrian Newey’s creations tend to get better and faster as a season evolves.

After Austria, it’s Silverstone, Hamilton and Russell’s home race, a stone’s throw from the headquarters in Brackley and Brixton, their only home race now that Germany is off the F1 calendar. And of course, if memories linger, Max and Lewis have unfinished business at the hallowed venue. Maybe this time they can last the entire race in battle, rather than just a few corners. They sort of owe it to themselves and F1 fans alike, a proper race without contact.

Reflecting on the weekend in Montreal, Wolff reckoned: “For us, we didn’t expect to perform in Canada because how the car DNA is at the moment is more for the high-speed corners, so it’s encouraging not be not so far away, but one must not forget that Max is cruising in the front.

“Maybe cruising is the wrong word. Max is still having an easier time in the front, not cruising, but still I think there is margin, so there’s quite a gap to catch up.”

As for victories anytime soon, Wolff was not optimistic: “I think the margin is still too big to really be thinking that Max is under pressure. I don’t know how much it was this race, maybe two-tenths a lap or so, but still far off.”

Although the W14 is now a far better car to race, it’s more geared for fast-sweeping corners than the niggly chicanes that make up Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and although the results are getting better they need to work on the slow stuff, which in the end means traction out of turns.

Which remains an issue according to Wolff: “That was the problem of the car all along since we started last year. We have a strong front but we still trailing and still not good enough and we’ve seen that today, particularly out of the low-speed corners with traction and stability.”

Meanwhile, talk is cheap but money buys the whiskey…

Newey: My career realistically on a countdown

“It is the mechanical concept that’s all intertwined, there’s not one thing,” explained Wolff. We’re understanding better the simulations, the time correlates with what we are seeing on track, and that’s been our problem over the last one-and-a-half years.

“We are seeing good performance gains that are coming in in the tunnel, we are seeing better understanding of what the car needs in order to go fast, what the setups need to look like. So generally the steps are getting bigger now, I think we are making good inroads,” ventured Wolff.

Hamilton agrees with his Mercedes team boss: “We’re definitely getting closer. It’s going to be a battle of development, I guess, over the rest of the season. I reckon Max’s team are already working on next year’s car, so we need to take our eye a little bit off the ball and focus on next year also but yeah, happy to be up there.

“In truth, it doesn’t feel a huge difference to the beginning of the year. There are some elements of the car which do feel different and obviously with the upgrade but it’s just simply just have a little bit more downforce on the car.

“But the characteristics of the car are very, very similar to what we had earlier on in the year and so we need to… for the future, for the next year’s car, you need to take a lot of these different things off and change them for sure,” added Hamilton.

Meanwhile, talk is cheap but money buys the whiskey, and Red Bull are doing the buying, while the others, bar Aston Martin, do a lot of talking but in the end, the numbers drown the chit-chat and shouts the truth out loudest:

2023 F1 drivers standings after Canada Rd8