The Mercedes F1 Team’s wait to return to the top-step of the podium may have its best chance to end at this weekend’s French Grand Prix, where the German team are predicted to have their strongest round of the season.
It’s been a disastrous year for the eight-time defending Constructors’ Championships, who are all but certainly out of both title fights.
The team’s early-year struggles have seen them fall well behind in both championships; the German’s are currently 122-points behind Red Bull Racing, with George Russell 80-points behind Drivers’ Championship leader Max Verstappen.
However, things have been taking a turn for the better as of late, with Sir Lewis Hamilton having finished on the podium at the last three races.
The W13 has become much more competitive with each upgrade introduced, with a significant improvement having been made since the team solved their spine-damaging porpoising problem.
The team are not only featuring on the podium more often; they are also battling with the leading duo of Red Bull and Ferrari too.
Team principal Toto Wolff believes the gap is now “two to three tenths” per lap; however, it is quite often much larger.
“We still have to solve that problem,” he said.
Russell also thinks the team are getting closer, especially after finishing not too far from the podium, despite having served a five-second time penalty.
“The positive thing is that I was only about 15 seconds from the podium,” said the Brit, who finished P4 at the Austrian GP.
Mercedes’ next problem to solve is power, with the W13 lacking in that department compared to their frontrunning rivals.
Some are even predicting either a Mercedes victory, or pole position this weekend at Paul Ricard, a track which is renowned for its impeccably smooth surface.
Qualifying has traditionally been the Brackley-based team’s problem this season, which has seen them have to come back through the field during the race.
Mathias Lauda, son of Mercedes’ late chairman Niki Lauda, told Servus TV that by qualifying well, then they would have already solved their biggest problem.
“If they could start further up the grid, they would already be up there at the front,” he said.
Verstappen isn’t expecting Mercedes to win this weekend; however, the Dutchman does think that the German’s will be challenging for victories by the end of the season.
“Maybe at the end of the season. We’ll see,” said the Dutchman.
“They are better than at the start of the year, but they need just a little bit more.”
Hamilton’s 2021 rivalry with Verstappen has failed to resume this year with Mercedes not being on fighting-terms with the Austrian side; this could all change, though, should the Silver Arrows find their mojo.
Should the pair ever fight again, Verstappen isn’t expecting the battle to be the same as it was last season.
“It will be different if we fight each other again,” said the reigning World Champion.
Whilst Verstappen is less-optimistic about Mercedes’ chances this weekend, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is definitely considering them as a potential winner this weekend.
The Red Bull boss has staggeringly predicted a “six-driver fight” on Sunday, with Mercedes certainly “getting closer”
“We expect Mercedes to be fast at Paul Ricard,” revealed Horner.
“There are clear signs that they are keeping their porpoising problems under control.
“They’re getting closer to us,” he warned.
“I expect a six-driver fight, which is a fabulous thing for the fans.
“They’re getting involved which will sometimes help us and sometimes hurt us in the battle for the world championship.”
With Mercedes definitely getting closer to the front, it’s looking likely that Hamilton will continue racing in F1 next season.
Many wondered whether the seven-time World Champion would decide to retire from the sport, following on from the team’s sensational fall from being the strongest team in the paddock.
Former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, was one of many who thought the 37-year-old would walk away.
Since Mercedes’ fightback, though, Ecclestone now thinks otherwise and expects Hamilton to remain in the sport.
“At the beginning of the year, I was ready to bet that Hamilton would win the eighth title and leave,” he is quoted by Speed Week.
“But now it does not look like he will leave Formula 1. Maybe he realised that making money in the fashion industry is not as easy as it is here,” concluded the controversial figure.