Hamilton and Mercedes will ‘challenge for wins’ after Spanish GP

Mercedes head into the European season aiming to close the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull after a sluggish start to 2022.

Former Formula 1 driver Marc Gene anticipates that the Silver Arrows will close up to Red Bull and his current Ferrari team with a fresh batch of upgrades, but it won’t happen just yet.

Gene scored two points finishes with Minardi and Williams in 36 entries in F1, and served as a Ferrari reserve driver for 10 seasons before becoming an ambassador of the Scuderia. 

He has watched as Charles Leclerc has won two of the opening three races in the 2022 season, and he leads the Drivers’ Standings.

READ: Red Bull solved porpoising troubles ‘by accident’

The Scuderia have masterfully capitalised on the new technical regulations introduced ahead of the new year, while the Silver Arrows have fallen from grace after struggling with “porpoising” and handling issues caused by the ground effect aerodynamics.

Mercedes have managed two podiums this season through Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, but they have had to rely on some terrible misfortune for Red Bull to accomplish that, and they have been a long way off the pace of the Milton Keynes and Maranello sides.

They were an average of around a second a lap slower throughout the Australian Grand Prix weekend than the pace set by the Prancing Horses, and Hamilton’s elimination in Q1 in Saudi Arabia beforehand was an indication that raising the ride height to improve speed down the straights only serves as a detriment to their cornering speed.

They placed the sensors back on the 37-year-old’s car in Australia having previously removed them to save weight, and will have therefore manged to collect more information on what the issues are.

So it could be either a set-up proclivity or a fundamental problem with the chassis and floor design, and Gene reveals that the speed of their recovery will depend on that.

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“I can see it, but I can’t see it in the short term unless it’s a set-up issue. If it’s a set-up issue they could find it at some point very quickly,” he told Sky Sports. 

Ferrari have all but confirmed that they will not be introducing anything new to their car at the upcoming Emilia Romagna Grand Prix due to the heavily restricted testing times as Imola will host the first sprint event of the year.

It remains to be seen whether Mercedes have adopted a similar approach – particularly considering the necessity for proficiency given the new budget cap – so the 2009 Le Mans winner with Peugeot anticipates that the Brackley squad will arrive into Montmelo in Barcelona for the second European race of the season with more substantial alterations.

“If it’s a problem of bringing development parts, it’s very hard for Imola for example. I think for them it’s going to be more Barcelona,” he added.

“Barcelona could be a place where big updates are being brought in and that’s when I expect Mercedes to make a big step and challenge for wins.”

For Mercedes, they will be aware that avoiding a submergence into the midfield fight is almost as paramount as striving to return to the top and, with evolution happening thick and fast to the all-new machines, Mercedes strategist James Vowles places a big emphasis on development.

“When we get back to the European season, teams will generally bring more performance upgrades so I suspect you will see an evolution of our competitors and we need to make sure we, at the very minimum, keep up with that,” he explained.

READ: ‘Long way to go’ for Russell to claim number one driver status from Hamilton

“The work that takes place now is a review of what has happened in Melbourne and an understanding of what we need to do going forward into Imola, and progress the car into a championship winner.”

Initial reports claimed that Mercedes will arrive at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix with a new floor to help eradicate their bouncing problem, but a legacy of the sprint race in Imola might be that this gets pushed back to the Spanish Grand Prix after the teams head to Miami.