Toto Wolff suggests Mercedes will have to change its car concept after not making a big enough step forward over the winter, with Aston Martin outqualifying them at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes stuck with its zero-sidepod concept over the winter, saying it felt it wasn’t a major performance differentiator as it worked on other aspects of the car. However, after qualifying sixth and seventh in Bahrain and seeing Fernando Alonso — in the Mercedes-powered Aston Martin — take fifth, Wolff concedes the team needs to consider a change of direction.
“I don’t think this package is going to be competitive eventually,” Wolff said. “We gave it our best go over the winter and now we need to regroup, sit down with the engineers, who are totally not dogmatic about anything — there are no holy cows — and decide what is the development direction that we want to pursue in order to be competitive to win races.
“It is not like last year when you score many podiums and eventually you get there. I’m sure that we can win races this season, but it’s the mid and long term that we need to look at and which decisions we need to make.
“We hit our targets. We hit our targets and that’s why we gave it our best shot. The moment comes when the stopwatch comes out and that showed us that we are not good enough and we have not got enough downforce. We have to find solutions to fix that.”
Despite the apparent pessimism after the first qualifying session of the season, Wolff says the structure and personnel within Mercedes is the right one to deliver results.
“In this team we blame the problem and not the person, and at the end I have responsibilities and I’d need to fire myself if I want to do something. So, we had all the ingredients to be successful – the people and infrastructure that won eight championships in a row. We got it wrong last year, we thought we could fix it by sticking to this concept of car and it didn’t work out.
“We need to switch our focus on to what we believe can be the right direction, what is it that we are missing and therefore those data points this weekend are very important. We have seen on the GPS where we are lacking performance and we have seen where we are good, and we just need to sort out what that is and whether that is sticking bigger sidepods on the car or really subtle things that bring performance is a different question. Definitely within the group we will embark on untrodden paths.”
Wolff also says Aston Martin’s performance is a wake-up call to Mercedes given the shared technology between the teams, even if his bigger focus is on the gap to Red Bull.
“We started last year with six tenths and we started this year with six tenths and that is the reality. Our aim, while being humble about it, is to fight for victories and the world championship, so whatever is between us and pole position is less relevant because now Fernando is there, we can only take our hats off for what they achieved.
“They gained two seconds in half a year and their car is half ours, from the engine, gearbox and rear suspension and using the same wind tunnel. There are a lot of parallels and we need to acknowledge that they have done an outstanding job.”