The competition is teasing, experts are wondering: what's going on with the former subscription winner and series title holder Mercedes?
"We know it hurts you too," the team even wrote in a letter to their fans and assured: "We will not panic or react reflexively."
A victory is unimaginable
After the low point right at the start in the desert of Sakhir, where Formula 1 record world champion Lewis Hamilton humiliatingly did not even make it into the second qualifying round and finished fifth in the race, team boss Toto Wolff can for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix not yet promise the big turnaround. "Some minor developments" are there, a "game changer" is not, he announced.
In 2021, when Mercedes had still built a title-worthy Silver Arrow, Hamilton won the premiere on the high-speed circuit in Jeddah. A victory on Sunday (6:00 p.m. CET) is hardly conceivable.
Mercedes boss Wolff wants to become even more radical
"At Mercedes, the start was just as bumpy as it was last year. I just don't think there will be a quick solution," Red Bull's motorsport director Helmut Marko emphasized in an interview with the Formel1.de portal. "Mercedes' zero sidepod concept has failed," said Britain's Telegraph. To the surprise and no less astonishment, the Mercedes bosses had stuck to the concept of the previous year's model for the W14 and practically dispensed with side boxes on the car.
They would now have to be more radical in their next steps with the car, Wolff announced on the frustrating night in Bahrain, where he had not skimped on criticizing the car and thus the concept. This, in turn, did not go down well with everyone. Former racing team owner Eddie Jordan dismissed Wolff's criticism as insincere.
"I hate hearing something like that," Jordan was quoted as saying in the British media, which, among other things, also reported on an emergency meeting at Mercedes after the initial shock without further reference to evidence. "Since Bahrain we have had open and honest discussions, on the basis of which we have started to draw up our plan how we want to fight back," said Wolff himself in the official preview of the German factory racing team for the second of 23 races of the season. Plain text days with the former industry leader or simply: crisis mode.
Hamilton wants the eighth title
Makes things a bit more piquant: Aston Martin of all things, and thus one of the teams that drives with Mercedes drives, is perceived with its new car and especially with the two-time world champion Fernando Alonso more as a challenger for defending champion Max Verstappen than Hamilton and his teammate George Russell. The fact that Hamilton is in his last year of contract and is negotiating a new contract with the team is also important.
It should also be clear that he still wants to win the eighth world title, which would make him the sole record holder ahead of Michael Schumacher. However, it is also obvious that Hamilton cannot compete with the RB19 and Verstappen with the current W14. In Bahrain he finished more than 50 seconds behind the Dutchman.
"There are many good reasons to stay with Mercedes," mused ex-driver and TV expert Martin Brundle on the Sky Sports F1 podcast, among other things. Great drivers, such as Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher, would not have been afraid to go elsewhere. Brundle speculated accordingly at Hamilton, but concluded that Ferrari itself had enough problems and Red Bull was very happy with a number one (Verstappen) and a number one and a half (Sergio Perez).
Other racing teams also survived crises
The team from Austria went through a phase similar to that of Mercedes, as did Ferrari. The Scuderia dominated with Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s, the German won the title five times in a row before Alonso, now 41 years old, ended the era of success. In 2007, Kimi Räikkönen, a Ferrari driver, returned to the World Championship throne, since then all attempts have failed.
After the triumphs from 2010 up to and including 2013, Red Bull survived the depths of the merciless high-tech spectacle on four wheels faster and ended Hamilton's dominance with Verstappen in 2021. The question remains: can and, above all, when can Hamilton, who is the second week of the race of the year, just as he liked it, with a 15-kilometer run and a dip in the sea, to start overtaking again with Mercedes in the fight for the title?