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Mercedes’ deficit to Red Bull “doubled or tripled”

Mercedes will tackle the question of how to respond to their poor start to the 2023 season “straight at the beginning of the week” said team principal Toto Wolff after Sunday’s race.

The team’s hopes of shrinking its deficit to Red Bull were shattered in Bahrain where the reigning champions scored a dominant one-two. The first Mercedes home, driven by Lewis Hamilton, finished fifth and was 50 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen.

After beginning last year in uncompetitive shape, Mercedes regained ground over the course of the season and took its sole grand prix win of 2022 in the penultimate race. But Wolff admitted much of that progress has been reversed at the start of this season.

“When you look at where we were at the end of the season when it seemed like we caught up a lot and it was just a matter of which circuit suited us and which not,” Wolff told media including RaceFans.

“I think we’ve almost doubled if not tripled the gap to Red Bull. And this is what we need to look at.”

Hamilton admitted Mercedes had the fourth-quickest car in Bahrain but Wolff said the sheer scale of their deficit to Red Bull is more troubling. “Everything in between – the Ferrari, the Aston – that’s just a sideshow.

“Having said that, I mean, what Aston Martin was able to achieve is a good inspiration because they came back from two seconds off the pace to be the second-quickest team, probably, on the road.

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“With us, everything’s bad. The single-lap pace was still good but in the race we saw the consequences. To put it bluntly, it’s just we were lacking downforce and when you’re lacking downforce you’re sliding the tyres, and when you’re sliding the tyres you’re going backwards.”

Earlier in the weekend Wolff admitted the team will have to rethink its entire car concept in order to produce a machine which can compete for wins.

“As a matter of fact the gap is very big and in order to catch up you need to make big steps, not the conventional ones by adding a few points [of downforce] every week because everybody else is going to do that.”

Mercedes have “lost a year in development” compared to their rivals, said Wolff. “In order to have a steeper development curve you just need to take these decisions.

“As I said before Aston Martin took that decision and they came back strong. So if we start from our base, maybe we can come back strong and chase the Red Bulls. That’s the ambition.”

Wolff confirmed the team realised soon after its launch that it wouldn’t be competitive at the start of this season and has begun appraising alternative designs.

“We’ve looked at other ideas and haven’t stood still,” he said. “And that’s not only since two weeks when we saw that we haven’t been able to close the gap, but we’ve done it since a while just to be open-minded. Still with an emphasis on making this work, obviously, but we’ve already looked at different concepts.”

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2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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