Wolff: 'Mercedes may not start any closer to Red Bull'

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Mercedes fans hoping that the team has used the winter off-season to bounce back from its disappointing 2022 campaign may have to wait a bit longer for progress, according to team principal Toto Wolff.

The squad's historic run of eight consecutive world championships came to an end last season, when they hit a number of problems with the latest W13 chassis that adversely affected handling and performance.

While they appeared to be getting on top of their problems with 'porpoising' as the season went on - culminating in their only race win in the penultimate grand Prix of the season in Brazil - Wolff warned a lot of work remains ahead of them.

George Russell (GBR), Mercedes AMG F1 and Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing 12.11.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sprint

"I think we have understood how we fell back, where the shortcomings are, and where we have gaps in understanding," Wolff said this week, as reported by Motorsport.com.

"We're working hard on putting a car on the ground that has addressed all of that," he continued. "But we will only see when starting testing whether we have unlocked the potential that we believe has always been in the car."

Mercedes finished third in last year's team championship. Red Bull dominated with 17 wins for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez giving them a total of 759 points compared to 554 points for Ferrari, with Mercedes in third with 515.

"We have no doubt: when you're starting behind by half a second, it's going to be difficult to catch up to such great organisations like Red Bull or Ferrari," Wolff acknowledged

"Having said that, we are super determined in doing just that - but we need to set our expectations at a realistic level," he said. "If we perform in the way we hope, then we'd like to be part of the racing at the very front.

"I think that would be a starting point," he added. "But we don't take that for granted. It could well be that the gaps are like they were at the end of last season.

"I think there's so much potential still that within our car - within the concept, the way we drive the car, etc. - that maybe our development slope can be steeper in the months to come."

It's not yet known whether Mercedes will rethink the core concept of its chassis for 2023. Last year's model featured a startling 'zero sidepod' design but Wolff has said the DNA of the car could change, while hinting that the slimline look could be retained.

Speaking in a separate interview with Auto Motor und Sport, Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott said that the team had been surprised that no one else had spotted the 'zero sidepod' opportunity in Formula 1's new rules.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W13 - engine cover and sidepod. 28.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Budapest, Hungary, Preparation

"We were surprised that no one else found this loophole," Elliott said. "When you’ve gone down this path, it’s very hard to copy anything else.

“We’ve been trying to understand the issues and get into a position to predict the performance variations from track to track," he added.

Elliott insisted that the W13's revolutionary design hadn't been one of the main issues affecting the team last year. “It has nothing to do with the shape of the sidepods, but more to do with how we designed the car and what our goals were.

“At the beginning of the season we had to deal with aerodynamically generated bouncing like everyone else,” he said. “That masked the real problems of the car.

“With our upgrade in Barcelona, we got rid of most of the aero bounce. The bouncing that was still there at the end was caused by bumps - it’s inherent in these cars that are just above the road.

“At first we couldn’t explain why it always looked different from track to track. Later our predictions became more accurate. Our simulations gave us a pretty accurate indication of which track would be good or bad for us.

“We now also have a good theory of what we need to do so that this doesn’t happen to us again next season. That gives us confidence," he stated. "But in Formula 1, unfortunately, you never know everything.”

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