‘Definitely lacking’: Norris criticises Mercedes power unit but emphasises one key strength

Mercedes and their customer teams got off to a stuttering start to the 2022 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend.

McLaren drivers Lando Norris laments the fact that the Mercedes power unit is struggling in comparison to Honda and Ferrari, but sees the silver lining in the fact that it also appears to be one of the more reliable packages.

All six of the bottom cars in the final classification at the season-opening 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix were Mercedes powered, with McLaren’s season getting off to a horrible start as Norris ended the race 15th, one place behind team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

The Mercedes team themselves struggled as Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell qualified fifth and ninth respectively and looked comprehensively slower than Ferrari and the Honda-powered Red Bull.

READ: ‘We couldn’t live with that’: Horner explains why Leclerc was able to keep Verstappen at bay in Bahrain

They did manage to pick up a podium through the seven-time champion, but only after Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had retired from the race due to reliability issues.

This gives Norris a positive perspective in that there is plenty of scope for improvement for Mercedes’ customers, such as McLaren.

“You still have a Mercedes in third and fourth,” he said, as quoted by RacingNews365.com.

“I mean, it’s definitely not helping. I think we’re definitely lacking on that end compared to the other guys. But I saw some other problems with other guys as well, so reliability is good, and I guess that’s a positive at the minute.”

Nico Hulkenberg stepped in for the COVID-struck Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin last weekend, and ended the evening 17th having out-qualified team-mate Lance Stroll.

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He found during the race that the Mercedes engine did not deliver the same performance on the straights as he became accustomed to during his two race appearances with Racing Point in 2020.

“[The engine felt] sort of off today,” he added.

“Even with DRS sometimes I [just wasn’t] catching people. We seemed to be a little bit down on speeds on the straights.”

His team principal, Mike Krack, expressed his concern but agreed with Norris in that the P3 and P4 achieved by Hamilton and Russell respectively is an indication that, while Ferrari certainly appear to have the edge, there is performance to be capitalised upon.

“This [lack of performance] is an observation that we had already quite early,” he explained.

“But, on the other hand, we see the Mercedes factory team finishing third and fourth, so still, you can do the job.

“I think, for us, the first thing is to build a quicker car before we go too much into [that]. Before we go too much into the subject, I think we should sort out our problems.

“I think the opposition has made maybe a bigger step, and that’s something we need to catch up on.”

Mercedes’ performance has also been adversely influenced by the “porpoising” complication caused by the new technical regulations, in which the car, now incredibly low to the ground due to the new technical regulations, bounces off the ground and causes poor visibility, as well as a lot of discomfort, for the drivers.

As a result, Russell testifies that there are various different aspects that need to be considered, not just the power unit.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s purely engine; there’s a number of contributing factors,” he stated.

“I think we are quite draggy. It’s a number of factors and probably the drag level and the bouncing is contributing to it. It is going to slow you down because we’re smashing into the ground, rather than going forwards.

“I think the lap time deficit we have currently is about 50 per cent on the straights and 50 per cent in the corners.”

Team principal Toto Wolff agrees that the chassis needs to be looked at before any definitive conclusions can be made surrounding the engine, citing Ferrari’s improvements across the board as an illustration of the fact that the Silver Arrows are being outperformed in the corners too after the Scuderia’s one-two in Bahrain through Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

“I think we need to analyse the drag levels first, before we really make a judgment of whether we’re lacking power,” he added.

“I don’t think that there’s big differences between the power units but, clearly, Ferrari made a big step forward.

READ: Russell worried by Haas ‘pace advantage’, expecting ‘lonely’ racing with Hamilton

“Last year, they weren’t totally competitive and today, if you look at the singular event in Bahrain, it looks like they’ve outperformed everyone else.”

Former Formula 1 driver Marc Surer recently told Formula1News.co.uk that Mercedes may be able to claw back some of the disparity to Ferrari at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit this weekend due to its lengthy flat-out sections, and he was not inclined to suggest that Ferrari have necessarily have built a better engine than the Brixworth engineers this year.