The German marque harbours hopes of joining frontrunners Ferrari and Red Bull Racing before the season ends, but to get there the team will need to more fulsomely understand the car it’s so severely struggled with so far this year.
It’s yet to master the bouncing at high speed, which is forcing it to run at a higher than optimum ride height, but the team says that once it can ameliorate the so-called porpoising, the car’s latent pace will be unleashed. It’s just a matter of time.
“We are in a learning race, and the first two weekends have shown we still have plenty to learn,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “At the moment our track performance is not meeting our own expectations, but everyone at Brackley and Brixworth is focused on understanding the problems and finding the right solutions."
“There won’t be a magic fix for the next race weekend, but we’re pushing to steadily bring gains over the upcoming races to hopefully move us closer to the front of the pack. Until then we need to maximise each opportunity and make the most of the package we have.”
But time is of the essence, even in a record-breaking 23-race calendar. Every manhour spent problem solving and not improving the fundamentals of the car is one given away to its potential rivals in the ultimate battle for the championship.
Maximising its Melbourne performance — that is, having its cars finish fifth and sixth at least — will be crucial to keeping touch as work continues.
“There are various challenges ahead of us, but that’s something we relish and is when a team really shows its true spirit,” Wolff said. “Lewis and George are making an important contribution to the overall effort, providing feedback, spending time in the simulator and working together to help push us forward.”
While Mercedes comes to terms with its own issues, the race is on between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing to master the new Albert Park layout. The track demands lower downforce this season, and strategy is more open thanks to a wider and faster pit lane and an increased opportunity to overtake.
Red Bull Racing has won in Melbourne only once in its history; Ferrari has won twice in the last 10 years.
With wins and poles split evenly between them so far this season, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll emerge ahead at the Australian Grand Prix.
There’s so little to pick between Red Bull Racing and Ferrari this season, but there’s a small bit of hypothetical logic to the pick. Ferrari will run more downforce, which will be neutralised down the straights by DRS in qualifying, but in the race it will be too penalising against the slippery Red Bull Racing car, which will get Verstappen his second straight win.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.