'Mercedes must rediscover unconditional will to win' - Hakkinen

(L to R): George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14 and team mate Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14 battle for position. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images
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Former F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen says that Mercedes must dig deep to find the iron determination to win at all costs, that was at the core of their dominant run in the sport from 2014 to 2020.

The team suffered a body blow when Lewis Hamilton lost out on an eighth title to Max Verstappen in the final race of 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Verstappen has since won three titles, with Red Bull taking the team title in 2022 and 2023.

The dominance of Red Bull last year in which they won all but one of the 22 races has been unprecedented and left its rivals reeling, even though Mercedes edged Ferrari for the runners-up spot in the constructors' standings.

With no sign of Red Bull letting up anytime soon, Mercedes is focusing on recovering from a tough spell in 2022 when the return of ground force aerodynamics left them grappling with 'porpoising' and other handling issues.

Mercedes' latest W15 challenger is set to be unveiled on 14 February, a week before pre-season testing at Bahrain which will host the first Grand Prix of the season at the end of the month.

While word from Brackley is positive it remains to be seen whether Mercedes will be able to take the fight to Red Bull in 2024, Hakkinen believes it will take a major change in overall team approach beyond just a new chassis.

“There has not been a question mark over the team for a long time," Hakkinen told German-language newspaper BILD this week.

“But after a decade full of success, the past two seasons have left their mark on the people in charge and the employees," he continued.

“And that’s good. They have to be angry now and develop that unconditional will to win again," he explained. “The team has to develop that old blind understanding again, which is currently missing.”

Mika Hakkinen (FIN).
19.03.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Qualifying Day.
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But Hakkinen didn't think that this season was necessarily a foregone conclusion in terms of delivering another championship double for Verstappen and Red Bull.

“How often have there been teams and drivers who were considered certain world champions even before the first lap of testing was completed and then it didn’t happen?” he pointed out.

“[Verstappen] still needs the right team boss, the right car, pit crew, management – everything has to be right,” he said, adding that the same had been true for Hamilton during his golden run at Mercedes.

“It is clear that it is still Lewis’ team," Hakkinen replied when asked whether it was time for the baton to be passed to his team mate George Russell after Hamilton completed a second full season with out a single race win.

(L to R): Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director with Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
17.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Practice Day.
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"Last season Hamilton finished third [in the championship] and Russell only eighth. That didn’t surprise me," he said. "Lewis wanted to show everyone that he still has it, while George was and continues to be under immense pressure.

“When you’re the team-mate of a seven-time world champion, all eyes are automatically on you," he noted. “It’s the same with all teams, but different for George as he is racing against a record champion.”

Hakkinen is also keen to see how his old team McLaren will fare this year after their dramatic upturn in performance over the course of 2023, despite a stuttering start to the season.

“I expect a lot from McLaren," Hakkinen said. “With Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, they probably have the strongest driver pairing next to Ferrari.

“Piastri is putting pressure on Norris, and Verstappen will also feel that this year,” he said, adding that in his view both Norris and Piastri “have the potential to become champions”.

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