Column | Are Mercedes in a transition phase?

11-05-2021 08:30 | Updated: 16-06-2021 13:01
Column
Column | Are Mercedes in a transition phase?

Four races into the season and Mercedes have already experienced quite a hectic few weeks, with announcements on multiple key areas of the team and its future. All happenings point to the German team having an unstable footing from now and into the future. Will they be able to cope?

Current car & upcoming reg

Mercedes were seen to lack pace and rear-end stability during preseason testing in Bahrain. Since then, they’ve been chipping away, gradually developing the car to get closer to the Red Bulls on pace. So far, they’ve been successful, claiming 3 out of 4 victories since the season kicked off, and look set to continue the good progress into the Monaco Grand Prix.

However, the cost cap has already set in. The crossover point will have to be managed effectively to ensure decent performance for the current season, while not heavily compromising the upcoming one. Mercedes will also need to learn to reach an even higher level of efficiency to outpace the competition, with the spending set to reduce into the future. They’ve already experienced the headaches of the cost cap, citing Imola’s Russell-Bottas collision as a potential momentum reducer, development-wise.

Staff

Recently, Mercedes came out and announced that Red Bull were able to lure only 15 of the 100 Mercedes HPP employees away from Brixworth. While it is a low hit rate, it still means that key personnel will have to be replaced, and shows that Red Bull may have some enticement factor over the German team. 

James Allison was also announced to move away from “technical director” role, and hold the new position of “chief technical officer”, with Mike Elliot to fill the empty space. Having Allison now manage technical staff back at base, Elliot will be left with the task to continue Mercedes’ renowned engineering innovations. While Allison will still be available in case minor clarifications are needed, Elliot will need to get to speed rapidly and knuckle down on the 2022 car designs.

Drivers

Mercedes sit in an unusual situation, with three of their drivers holding contracts set to expire this year. With noises from Hamilton stating that “he plans to be here next year” & Wolff planning to “nudge” Hamilton into new talks soon, the expectation would be that the reigning champion would stay on for at least one more year. However, a difficult situation sits before them in the form of their second seat. On the one hand, the experienced Bottas, loyal to the team. The other, young hotshot George Russell, with raw speed and (usually) a calm head on his shoulders. If George isn’t signed, he could be poached by other teams, eager to sign the hardworking Briton to support their own futures. If he is signed, Mercedes risk a Gasly-Red Bull situation, where a young driver may experience incredible pressure at a top performing team. They may also risk on-track clashes between their champion driver and Russell, which may jeopardise potential points hauls.

Verdict

Mercedes can’t afford to lose their future driver for the sake of present comfort. Besides, they have seen Russell manage expectations on his one-off Mercedes showing at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Bottas unfortunately has not posed a strong enough challenge to his teammate, or the hard-charging Max Verstappen

Now, Toto Wolff has the sharpest mind on the grid when it comes to team management. He was instrumental in constructing the team into the title-winning juggernaut that it is today. His management structures and signings have stayed rigid and effective in the past, so there is little doubt that he’d be unable to guide Mercedes through the upcoming turbulence.

Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see. 

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