Earlier this month Mercedes principal Toto Wolff said he’d rather win a grand prix than finish second in the constructors championship.
Victory, he said, would be a bigger achievement for a car that’s proved so troublesome all year.
But why not both?
Having romped to a one-two victory in São Paulo Grand, Mercedes finds itself just 19 points behind Ferrari in the fight for a runner-up finish in the teams title standings.
That’s still a long shot. Mercedes hasn’t managed to outscore Ferrari by such a margin all season when all four cars have finished.
But there’s also no doubt that the update package brought to the car in the United States last month has moved the German marque into second in terms of pure pace — and close enough to Red Bull Racing that it doesn’t take much of a stumble from the leading team to battle for victory.
“Since Austin we've had a very good car in the races and we've had pretty good race pace challenging right at the front,” Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott said.
“I've described it as being a bit like peeling the layers of an onion. The first layer was the aero bouncing which we had at the beginning of the season. The second layer was some of the ride issues that then came in after that.
“We wanted to know: is there another layer?
“Then in Austin we came with an upgrade kit that took that understanding … and since then we've seen a good performance level from the car.”
It’s extremely positive progress for the team for next season, for which it now feels like it’s back on the right track. But will it be enough for the last race of this season?
Wolff admitted the layout of the Yas Marina Circuit, which is about traction rather than flow, will better suit Ferrari and Red Bull Racing than the W13, but he added, “Given the surprises we've had this year with W13, we'll just have to wait and see”.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was more wary.
“We’re clearly on a bit of a defence mode, because Merc were untouchable (in Brazil),” he said. “They were just simply the quickest car.
“I think it’s been a few weekends like this, so in Abu Dhabi we need to expect them to win, and we need to either do damage limitation or go for the win ourselves.”
In the last race of a long season, there’s always a chance. And at the scene of 2021’s heartbreak, the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could see the green shoots of recovery take root.
A conventional weekend will help Red Bull Racing stretch its legs again after its Brazil blip, and Max Verstappen will stamp his authority on the season for a final time. The fight between Mercedes and Ferrari will be close, but Mercedes is back on the attack and will take second — though it won’t be enough to overhaul the Scuderia in the championship.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.