Toto Wolff provided an apt, if unappetising, analogy for Mercedes’ pre-testing troubles as he said the Bahrain sessions had proved crucial in highlighting the problems with the new W12 car – and given the team a chance to fix them before the season itself gets underway.
Gearbox issues for Valtteri Bottas and the Finn’s indictment of the W12 as “snappy and unforgiving” were followed by a spin for Lewis Hamilton on day two that brought out red flags, and a further spin at the end of day three. It was far from the smooth sailing that we’ve come to expect from the dominant force of the turbo-hybrid era – but team boss Wolff said he would be worried regardless of Mercedes’ mixed showing at the test.
“I always worry, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but pre-season testing is always exciting because you always find the hair in the soup, things that are not good and we had quite some struggle in the first few days,” he said.
Reigning champion Hamilton and trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin also warned that Mercedes have their work cut out after the last three days of testing – and Bottas hinted that he’d have preferred Mercedes to have completed a shakedown of their car ahead of testing to flag up out any reliability issues – but Wolff said the team had not become complacent, nor did they regret forgoing a shakedown.
“It’s not a matter of complacency,” continued Wolff. “There’s a reason why there are not many teams winning World Championships or doing it with consecutive championships. It’s an organisation that needs to stay energised and motivated at all times, and that’s not trivial.
“The shakedown, if it’s done in the right conditions, allows you to understand a little bit more, but our failures in the first days were not down to doing or not doing a shakedown,” he added.
With two weeks remaining until the first race of the season, Wolff explained the next steps for the Silver Arrows to ensure they start the season on the front foot against a resurgent Red Bull.
“On the job list is that we will crunch the data,” he said. “Try to understand where we performed well, and where not, where we had good correlation to our simulations and the tunnel and where not, and just generally, it’s like sleeping overnight on an idea. Next day you wake up more intelligent.”
Given the Silver Arrows’ remarkable run of seven consecutive world championship doubles in the past seven years, it would perhaps be foolhardy to write them off entirely after this test, but we’ll only get a true picture of where they stand at the first race of the season – the Bahrain Grand Prix at the end of March.