After a string of good performances, it was back to reality for the Mercedes F1 Team at the Belgian Grand Prix, after their podium run came to a disappointing end, with Sir Lewis Hamilton also enduring his first DNF of the season.
The weekend went from bad to worse for the Silver Arrows, after Hamilton qualified 1.8 seconds behind Max Verstappen, with George Russell 2.1 seconds behind the Dutchman.
To see both Mercedes drivers around two seconds off the pace was staggering and quite simply unimaginable to see, given that they are the reigning eight-time Constructors’ Champions.
The race initially got underway well for the German team, with Hamilton in third and Russell in fourth; however, by the time they exited Les Combes, the team were ready to go home.
Hamilton was in the slipstream of Fernando Alonso for P2 and opted to swoop around the outside of his former team-mate at Les Combes.
However, the British driver cut across the Spaniard who had gone into his blind spot, resulting in contact between the two.
Alonso caught the right-rear tyre on Hamilton’s W13, sending the rear of his Mercedes into the air almost vertically.
The 37-year-old performed somewhat of a nosedive, before heavily landing back on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The Brit was immediately told to retire, with damage to the floor and power unit crucially having been reported.
Russell battled hard throughout the race and managed to salvage a fourth-place finish; it did mean, though, that for the first time since the Monaco Grand Prix there was no Mercedes driver on the podium.
The poor result further cemented Mercedes’ position this season, with the reigning World Champions all but certain to lose their crown.
Hamilton and team principal Toto Wolff have certainly had enough of the W13, with both already looking forward to next season, despite eight races still remaining.
The W13 will most definitely not be lining-up alongside the team’s championship-winning cars in the Mercedes-Benz museum at the end of the season, with Wolff wanting it to be sent to the “caves”.
“That car I don’t think is going to have the highest place in the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart,” said the Mercedes boss.
“Maybe it’s going to go in the caves.”
The team’s 2022 car is certainly one they “won’t miss”; however, there is no guarantee that their 2023 car, the W14, will be any better.
Mercedes clearly got the new regulations completely wrong when designing this year’s car, whereas Red Bull Racing have aced the RB18 after claiming their tenth win of the season in Belgium.
The Brackley-based team have faced an onslaught of problems this season, most notably the porpoising phenomena.
They’ve suffered from the bouncing issue more than any other side, with some questioning whether it has anything to do with their ‘disappearing sidepods’ which they dramatically unveiled at the pre-season test.
After taking onboard such a staggering yet challenging concept, Wolff has admitted that changing the ‘philosophy’ of their design will see the team lose further ground.
The team need urgent answers with time already running out, should they wish to switch their focus to building a title challenger next season.
“It’s a very difficult situation because we obviously have a certain concept of a car,” Wolff said, referring to the ‘disappearing sidepods’ philosophy.
“It’s not like we can experiment a lot this year and simply dial stuff out and test.
“So whatever we decide for next year needs to be carefully evaluated because clearly, our data doesn’t give us the results, doesn’t correlate with the reality, and we have massive swings in performance that we can’t really get on top of.
“In this very moment to take a decision for next year, whatever it may be, changing the concept dramatically, how can we be sure that that’s the better direction to go because clearly, we will be starting way back?
“Now that is going to be part of the decisions – the discussions we’ve had already – in the upcoming few weeks of what do we want to do about it.”