Have the Silver Arrows found their silver bullet? That was the big question on paddock lips in Barcelona last night after Mercedes enjoyed another fruitful Friday, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finishing second and third-fastest respectively in practice ahead of tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Naturally, both drivers furiously played down their chances of mixing it with the big boys, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Russell had already insisted before practice that the Brackley team, who have arrived with substantial upgrades to their car, had not “suddenly found that killer switch” to bump them up into the podium positions. They were, Russell said, merely hopeful that they had found some answers to point them “in the right direction”.
Even after finishing just 0.117sec off the pace of Ferrari’s championship leader Charles Leclerc, with Hamilton only 0.087sec further adrift, Russell was playing it uber-cautious. “I don’t know to be honest,” he said. “In Miami, we were the quickest on Friday, so let’s see.”
However, neither Russell nor Hamilton could completely disguise their optimism. “The car is definitely reacting differently and we definitely don’t have the porpoising on the straight,” Russell admitted, referencing the kangaroo-like bouncing up and down which has plagued Mercedes’ season thus far.
“Yeah, that was good,” agreed Hamilton, who described himself as “super happy” with the progress made since Miami. “Big, big, big thank you to everyone at the factory for not giving up and continuing to push,” he added.
The big question is whether this is another false dawn or whether the improvements are for real. After the frustrations of Florida, there is a make-or-break feel to this weekend in terms of Mercedes’ car.
No one is denying the W13 has potential. The problem is the team have been scrabbling in the dark trying to unlock it. Team boss Toto Wolff admitted in the wake of Miami, where Russell and Hamilton finished fifth and sixth respectively, that the team’s engineers were completely baffled by the data they were getting off the car as it did not correlate with the feedback their drivers were giving them.
This was, Wolff said, an unprecedented issue for the eight-time constructors’ champions.
The reason this weekend is seen as so crucial is that the Circuit de Catalunya, more than any other track, offers a reliable performance guide. With the amount of testing teams do here, they have a baseline they simply do not have anywhere else. Russell admitted before practice that the weekend was a key one in terms of Mercedes’ season.
There are still 17 races remaining. Plenty of points to be won and lost. And both Ferrari and Red Bull, for whom Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen were fourth and fifth fastest respectively in practice, have dropped plenty of points already this season.
First things first, Mercedes have to keep the pace they showed yesterday. “I think we’re on our way,” Hamilton admitted last night.
“That’s the first time I’ve driven down the straight without bouncing. Well, we still have some bouncing. But it’s way, way better.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
Spanish Grand Prix qualifying, Sky Sports F1, 2.25.
Spanish Grand Prix, Sky Sports, tomorrow 12.30.
Telegraph Media Group Limited