Mercedes director outraged after double DNF: Mercedes' Hampered Start to the 2024

The Mercedes team started the season below all expectations and at the Australian Grand Prix both their cars had to leave the race

by Sededin Dedovic
Mercedes director outraged after double DNF: Mercedes' Hampered Start to the 2024
© Clive Rose / Getty Images

The 2024 Formula 1 season began with a shock blow for Mercedes. After a period of dominance, the Silver Arrows face an unexpected and brutal reality. Their double DNF (did not finish) at the Australian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell retiring, paints a clear picture of their long-standing struggles at this time.

This result extends the period of failure that began with the regulation changes in 2022. Although he managed to secure second place in the constructors' standings last year, their only victory was a weak reward compared to their previous success.

Mercedes entered 2024 with optimism, believing their significant car overhaul would return them to the top step of the podium. However, the Australian Grand Prix served as a stark wake-up call, revealing a car that was visibly slower than its rivals.

The new car will definitely have to go through a few more checks, because looking at the race in Melbourne, it could be said that this is the key factor in the poor results, even though Mercedes optimistically announced it at the beginning of the year.

Team principal Toto Wolff's post-race remarks underlined the depth of Mercedes' woes. Describing the situation as "super difficult" and "very brutal", he admitted his immense disappointment. "Hard to take, super hard. I'd be lying if I said at all times I felt positive about the situation and optimistic.

You just have to overcome the negative thoughts and say, 'we're going to turn this around' It's very, very brutal today." Wolff said, visibly worried. Wolff is one of the most successful directors in Formula 1, having won eight consecutive Constructors' titles under his leadership.

Wolff's frustration is understandable. Red Bull appear to have extended their lead from last year, while Ferrari's one-two finish in Australia suggests they have made significant strides. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc took first and second place respectively, heralding great things to come, as next year Ferrari is joined by the legend of the sport, Lewis Hamilton.

Toto Wolff and Austria and Mercedes with George Russell of Mercedes and Great Britain and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Great B© Peter Fox / Getty Images

Gap at the front of the pack isn't the only worrying aspect for Mercedes.

Their midfield rivals, McLaren, have also seemingly leapfrogged them in terms of performance. The team's struggles raise questions about the car's development. Mercedes believed that their new design solved the shortcomings of last year's car.

However, the current performance suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the car's behavior. Wolff himself admitted: "We don't understand some of the car's behaviors." "We started this season believing that this car is better than last year," he said.

"Then you look at last year where Leclerc dropped out and Sainz was fourth on the road, McLaren was 17th, 18th or 19th and now they're 40 seconds ahead of us. On the one hand, I want to punch myself in the nose. On the other hand sides, it's a testament that when you get things right, you can turn around pretty quickly and keep believing.

It's a very tough time right now," Wolff admitted. While Wolff might be tempted to take the blame, he emphasizes the technical nature of nature. He refutes the idea of complacency, stating, "We haven't swallowed the stupid pill since 2021." Instead, he points to a "physical problem" that requires a deeper understanding of the car's characteristics.

Interestingly, Wolff's situation is unique compared to other team principals. His 33% ownership stake in Mercedes creates a complex scenario. Unlike the typical team manager who might resign and move on, Wolff remains inextricably linked to the team.

He describes himself as being stuck on a "hamster wheel", unable to simply leave. "I'd be the first to say, if anyone has a better idea, let me know, because I'm interested in turning this team around as soon as possible. And I'll be happy to contribute and see what that would be or who it might be.

We have a physics problem, rather than a philosophical or organizational problem." Mercedes will undoubtedly increase its efforts in the development of the car. Analyzing the data, conducting further wind tunnel tests and potentially revisiting key design decisions are likely to be on the agenda.

The team will have to find a way to unlock the car's true potential and bridge the gap to the leaders. Although unlikely in the short term, exploring strategic collaborations with other teams in specific areas could be an option.
The Australian Grand Prix exposed Mercedes' vulnerabilities.

However, it is still early in the season and there are still many races. Mercedes has a proven track record of success, and their ability to bounce back from challenges is undeniable, we've already seen that. The upcoming races will be a real test of their character and ability to be at the very top this season.